Assailants have fatally shot two teachers in Indian-administered Kashmir in the third attack within a week targeting civilians in the disputed Himalayan region, police said.
Authorities blamed the rebels fighting against Indian rule for the attack in the outskirts of Srinagar, the region’s main city, on Thursday, with the administrative head of the region, Manoj Sinha, saying “a befitting reply will be given to the perpetrators of the heinous terror attacks on innocent people.”
Police said the attackers fired at a female teacher and her male colleague at the Government Boys Higher Secondary School in Srinagar’s Eidgah area from a close distance and later fled.
Both died on the spot, police said, as government forces cordoned off the area and launched a search for the assailants.
The victims, identified as Supinder Kaur and Deepak Chand, were members of the Hindu and Sikh minorities respectively.
‘This is ‘Zulum’ (injustice)’
Supinder 13-year-old daughter, Jasleen Kaur, a class VII student, was in shock.
“As usual my mother left for school at 9am. She prepared our breakfast. I talked to my mother when she was at school to inform her that my online exams went well,” Jasleen, told Al Jazeera at her home in Aloocha Bagh locality of Srinagar.
“When I called my mother for the second time after 11am, no one responded. She was probably already killed. I don’t know what to do now,” said the teenager, adding that she was informed about her mother’s killing later.
This is injustice. We are devastated. She didn’t deserve this
The other teacher shot in Thursday’s attack hails from Janipur in the southern city of Jammu.
At Supinder’s home, her Muslim colleagues and neighbours arrived to condole her demise.
“She is my next-door neighbour. We were like sisters. She was a simple and kind lady,” Nayeema Javed, 50, Supinder’s neighbour told Al Jazeera.
“Every morning, she would greet me while leaving for the office. This is ‘Zulum’ (injustice). We are devastated. She didn’t deserve this,” Nayeema said.
Thursday’s incident marks the seventh targeted killings in six days.
On Tuesday, gunmen shot and killed three men in separate attacks that police also blamed on the rebels.
One of the victims was a prominent Kashmiri Hindu minority chemist while another was a street food vendor from India’s eastern state of Bihar. The third victim was a taxi driver.
‘Attempt to defame local Muslims’
The region’s police chief, Dilbagh Singh, termed the killings an “attempt to defame local Muslims of Kashmir”.
“Killing innocent civilians including teachers is a move to attack and damage the age-old tradition of communal harmony and brotherhood in Kashmir,” the official told reporters in the wake of today’s killing.
Another police official on the conditions of anonymity told Al Jazeera that the “selective killing of minorities is a barbaric act to convey that there is no room for non-Muslims and non-locals in Kashmir. This xenophobic impulse has a larger connotation of hatred against the minorities.”
In this year, a total of 25 civilians have been shot dead by the suspected rebels.
The pro-Indian parties, as well as religious leaders in the region, condemned the targeted killings of civilians.
“Disturbing to see the deteriorating situation in Kashmir where a minuscule minority is the latest target,” the former Chief Minister of the region Mehbooba Mufti said in a tweet, adding that “the government of India’s claims of building a Naya (new) Kashmir has actually turned it into a hellhole. Its sole interest is to use Kashmir as a milch cow for its electoral interests.”
In all, 25 civilians, including political workers, have been killed in targeted assassinations this year, according to police records.
The Himalayan territory of Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan. Both claim it in its entirety.
Rebels in the Indian-administered Kashmir have been fighting New Delhi’s rule since 1989. Most Muslim Kashmiris support the rebel goal of uniting the territory, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.
India insists the Kashmir rebellion is Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. Pakistan has denied the charge, and most Kashmiris consider it a legitimate freedom struggle.
Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the conflict.
Rifat Fareed contributed to this report from Srinagar