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regular-article-logo Wednesday, 12 June 2024

Protests across Jammu over demand for security after nine pilgrims die in terror attack

Demonstrations have sprouted across the region against the attack, with the participants chanting anti-Pakistan slogans. The protests in Ransoo, home to the Shiv Khori shrine, and nearby places like Pouni, Teryath and Bharakh saw people demanding additional security

Muzaffar Raina Srinagar Published 11.06.24, 06:42 AM
An attack on a bus left nine pilgrims dead and 33 injured

An attack on a bus left nine pilgrims dead and 33 injured PTI

Protests broke out on Monday in villages near the site in Jammu where militants killed nine pilgrims the previous afternoon, demanding the deployment of security forces to protect residents and the pilgrims visiting the Shiv Khori shrine.

The spread of militancy to newer areas in Jammu has led to an increase in such demands for protection, belying the authorities’ claims of peace having returned to Jammu and Kashmir.

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An attack on a bus — the deadliest militant strike in years on civilians in Jammu and Kashmir, timed just before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s oath-taking in Delhi — left nine pilgrims dead and 33 injured.

The site of the attack in Bharakh village is about 8-9km from the Shiv Khori shrine.

The army, police and the CRPF are hunting for the militants, aided by drones and sniffer dogs, across a large swathe of Reasi district. Several people have been detained.

Police said two of the dead were from Reasi, four from Rajasthan — Pooja Sawhney, her two-year-old son Titu, and two relatives — and three from Uttar Pradesh.

Demonstrations have sprouted across the Jammu region against the attack, with the participants chanting anti-Pakistan slogans. The protests in Ransoo, home to the Shiv Khori shrine, and nearby places like Pouni, Teryath and Bharakh saw people demanding additional security.

People in Ransoo claimed that security forces had earlier been deployed in numbers to protect the Shiv Khori pilgrims but were withdrawn around a week ago, leading to gaps that the militants exploited on Sunday.

Pal Chand Sharma, a businessman in Ransoo, said the pilgrimage was the backbone of the local economy and securing it should be a priority.

“There have been a few militancy-related incidents in the far-flung areas of Reasi but this is the first time there’s an attack in our midst,” Sharma told The Telegraph over the phone.

“Shiv Khori receives around 20-25 lakh pilgrims every year. Without it, we have no economy. But only a few security personnel are deployed on the 60km stretch of road from Katra to Ransoo. There should be permanent deployment of forces at least on the stretches of the road that pass through forests and uninhabited areas.”

In recent years, Shiv Khori has emerged as a major destination for pilgrims, mostly those also visiting the Mata Vaishno Devi shrine in Katra.

Jaspal Singh, former sarpanch of Bharakh, said that deploying troops along the entire 60km stretch was not possible.

“We already have a unit of the 63 Rashtriya Rifles here, located 3-4km from the ambush site. They are always on the job. But yes, the protesters want more security personnel,” he said.

Reports say a militant in army fatigues suddenly appeared before the pilgrims’ bus and fired at the driver.

Santosh Kumar Verma, an injured passenger from Uttar Pradesh, said the militant wore a black mask.

“I was sitting behind the driver. He started firing at us, hitting the driver. The bus fell into a gorge,” he said.

“The firing continued while the bus was going down and for some 30 minutes afterwards. There was crying and wailing inside the bus. When the firing stopped, rescuers (local people) arrived.”

Ajay Gupta, another injured pilgrim, however, said the firing had lasted about 15 minutes. He said his son was among the first to eject from the bus but he himself stayed inside, scared by the gunfire.

“The bus rolled over multiple times before it was stopped by a large stone,” he said.

Officials said the National Investigation Agency, state investigation agency, and forensic teams had visited the spot.

The tragedy comes at a time Jammu’s Pir Panchal region, which includes the Rajouri and Poonch districts and was declared militancy-free years ago, has re-emerged as a major theatre of insurgency following the 2019 scrapping of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status. Militancy is now spreading increasingly to the adjoining Reasi and Udhampur districts.

Lieutenant governor Manoj Sinha has announced an ex gratia of Rs 10 lakh for the next of kin of the dead.

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