Kashmir’s deceptive calm was shattered in the first week of October as unidentified assailants gunned down at least five non-combatants – including a well-known chemist – in a span of 48 hours in the heart of the capital Srinagar.
Of the five civilians, four were killed in various parts of the summer capital Srinagar. One was a street vendor from Bihar while the remaining four were locals.
Makhan Lal Bindroo, the owner of one of Srinagar’s best-known pharmacy, was shot dead by unidentified gunmen on Tuesday evening at his shop.
According to available details, the 68-year-old was shot point blank. The wounded Bindroo was immediately removed to a nearby hospital, but the doctors declared him brought dead.
The scene of the attack where Bindroo was killed is barely a few hundred metres from Sherghari police station, also known as Cargo, and is surrounded by the civil secretariat on one side, which is about half a kilometre away, and the highly fortified Bakshi Stadium on the other.
Jammu and Kashmir Police (Kashmir Zone) on the department’s official Twitter handle said that the attack was carried out by armed militants. “#Terrorists fired upon owner of Bindroo Medicate namely Shri Makhan Lal Bindroo near Iqbal Park #Srinagar. He was shifted to hospital where he succumbed to his injuries. Area cordoned off & search to nab the terrorists is going on,” the police said on Twitter.
Bindroo’s pharmacy is a household name in Kashmir. A Kashmiri Pandit, Bindroo never left the Kashmir Valley. Along with his spouse he stayed put in his homeland even in the worst of times, in the 1990s, when the region witnessed departure of scores of Pandit families.
“My father Makhan Lal Bindroo, a Kashmiri Pandit, will never die. You can just kill the body and he will be alive in the spirit. I will not shed tears. I salute my father. He is going like a warrior,” Dr Shraddha, Bindroo’s daughter, told reporters at her Srinagar residence where mourners had gathered to offer condolence.
About seven kilometres from Srinagar’s Iqbal Park where Bindroo was shot dead, a street vendor selling bhelpuri was also shot point blank at Madina Chowk in Hawal area. The police identified the slain as Virender Paswan.
A significant number of migrant labourers from Bihar, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and other states live in rented accommodations in Hawal. Most of them work as painters, masons, carpenters, daily wagers, hawkers and vendors in various parts of Kashmir. Some also refer to Hawal as ‘Bihari Chowk’.
Police officials blamed armed insurgents for the killing. “#Terrorists killed one non-local near Madina Chowk Lalbazar #Srinagar. The deceased person has been identified as Virender Paswan resident of Bhagalpur Bihar, a street hawker, presently residing at Alamgiri Bazar Zadibal. #Search in the area is in progress,” the police said.
On the same evening, October 5, suspected militants also shot dead Mohammad Shafi Lone, reportedly president of a local taxi stand in Naidkhai, Shahgund area in north Kashmir’s Bandipora district.
Officials said government forces immediately launched massive search operations in the area to nab the assailants. “Another #terror incident reported in Shahgund area of #Bandipora where coward #terrorists shot dead a civilian. He has been identified as Mohd (Mohammad) Shafi Lone resident of Naidkhai (Bandipora). Area cordoned off & (and) search to nab the terrorists is in progress. Further details shall follow,” the police said.
Before these three killings on October 5, two more civilians were shot dead by suspected militants on October 3. The slain belonged to Batamaloo and Chattabal areas in Srinagar.
According to officials, suspected militants shot at and critically wounded Mohammad Shafi Dar, a resident of SD Colony in Srinagar’s Batamaloo area, at around 8pm. Dar, 45, was taken to Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh hospital for treatment. However, he succumbed to his bullet wounds around midnight.
Before Dar’s killing, another civilian, namely Majid Ahmad Gojri, from Chattabal, Srinagar, was shot dead at Karan Nagar, an area known for fortified security arrangements.
The killing of five civilians, four of those in sensitive Srinagar city, has sent shockwaves across the Kashmir Valley. Political parties of all ideological hues strongly deplored the killings. Former chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti deplored the killings.
Dr Nirmal Singh, senior leader of the BJP and former deputy CM of Jammu and Kashmir, released a video statement in which he not only condemned the killings but held former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti responsible for “creating an atmosphere that is leading to this violence”.
Singh drew parallels between Kashmir and Afghanistan. He accused Abdullah and Mufti of stoking communal passions in their speeches and statements, and of running disinformation campaigns.
Meanwhile, J&K National Conference in a hard-hitting statement condemned the “heinous killings in unequivocal terms”.
“I am extremely heartbroken to hear about the dastardly killing of noted businessman ML Bindroo Ji, Mohammad Shafi Lone of Naidkhai Bandipora and a non-local Virender Paswan. The heart wrenching and mindless violence has saddened me. Such barbarism should be denounced downrightly at all levels. There is no humanity found in those who have orchestrated the bloodbath,” the party statement said while quoting Abdullah, NC’s president.
Similarly, Mufti condemned Bindroo’s killing. “Condemn the killing of Shri ML Bindroo who chose to stay back in Kashmir even during peak insurgency. Such acts of violence have no place in our society. May his family find the strength to deal with this loss,” the former CM tweeted.
Condemn the killing of Shri M L Bindroo who chose to stay back in Kashmir even during peak insurgency. Such acts of violence have no place in our society. May his family find the strength to deal with this loss.
— Mehbooba Mufti (@MehboobaMufti) October 5, 2021
Omar Abdullah described Bindroo’s killing as “tragic”. “What terrible news! He was a very kind man. I’ve been told he never left during the height of militancy and remained with his shop open. I condemn this killing in the strongest possible terms & convey my heartfelt condolences to his family. God bless his soul,” the junior Abdullah wrote on Twitter.
What terrible news! He was a very kind man. I’ve been told he never left during the height of militancy and remained with his shop open. I condemn this killing in the strongest possible terms & convey my heartfelt condolences to his family. God bless his soul. https://t.co/c29M0u2PUe
— Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) October 5, 2021
Jammu and Kashmir’s other lesser known unionists like Sajad Lone also condemned the attacks on civilians.
On social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, many Kashmiris fondly remembered Bindroo and paid glowing tributes to him.
G M Naikoo, assistant professor of surgery at Srinagar’s Government Medical College, said that Bindroo was a household name for the availability of quality medicines and where the search for rarest of rare medicines would end. “Bindroo has served Kashmir for generations. Killing of Mr ML Bindroo is shocking and condemnable as is the killing of other innocent civilians, Muslims and non-Muslims,” Dr Naikoo said.
Others recollected Bindroo’s humane qualities. There was widespread and unconditional condemnation of the civilian killings. Some raised fingers of suspicion and questioned the robust security arrangements and surveillance put in place, especially in Srinagar, while others took refuge in conspiracy theories and described the killings as “diversionary tactic” with an eye on the upcoming assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh.