Two teachers shot dead by militants in Kashmir school

Two teachers have been shot dead by militants in a school in the Indian region of Kashmir, the latest in the spate of civilian killings that have targeted minorities and heightened tensions in the troubled state.

Three assailants entered a government school in Eidgah, in the region’s capital, Srinagar, on Thursday morning and shot dead the principal, Supinder Kour, and her colleague, Deepak Chand.

Authorities blamed the targeted killings on militants who are fighting the Indian rule in the region, as part of a decades-long insurgency with an allegiance to India’s neighbour and rival Pakistan.

Witnesses who spoke to the Guardian verified that the two teachers were killed by the assailants after Kour was singled out as a Sikh and Chand as a Hindu – minority groups in the Muslim-majority region.

According to fellow teachers at the school, Kour had been inside her office when militants stormed the premises armed with weapons and demanded that all staff members gathered in the room.

“They demanded our identities,” said a teacher, who requested anonymity. “All the staff members who were Muslim were asked to leave while principal madam and another teacher, Deepak Chand, were asked to stay in the room.”

While they were leaving the office, the teacher said he could hear the pair pleading with them to not harm them. Witnesses said Kour and Chand were brought out of the building and shot dead near the porch of the single-storey school building. There were no students present at the school because of Covid-19 restrictions.

Suljeet, the 13-year-old daughter of Kour, described how earlier that day she had been excited after her exams went well and she had spoken to her mother over the phone. It was just minutes after that call that Kour was shot dead. “Why would someone kill her? She was a teacher,” Suljeet said.

The two teachers are the latest casualties in the spate of civilian killings in the region in the last few days, all blamed on militant groups. At least seven civilians have been shot dead in different attacks in the past five days, six of them in Srinagar. Four of those killed, including Kour and Chand, belonged to minority groups.

The back-to-back killings have shaken the region and heightened tensions between communities in Kashmir. Dilbagh Singh, the police chief of the region, called 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,” Singh said.

The killings have also undermined promises by the Indian government, led by the prime minister, Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), that their actions in Kashmir would lead to greater security in the region, which has been long disputed between India and Pakistan and has been home to a violent insurgency for more than three decades.

In 2019, in a move that angered and frustrated the citizens of Kashmir, the region was unilaterally stripped of its semi-autonomous status and brought fully under the control of the Indian government. Many Kashmiris feared it would lead to demographic change in one of India’s only Muslim-majority states.

Since then, militant rebels in the region have intensified their attacks on non-locals living and working in Kashmir, as well as leaders of the BJP. About 80 civilians have been killed in such attacks since the region’s autonomy was scrapped, including at least 28 this year alone.

There were fears that the attacks would lead to an even greater crackdown on Kashmir by the Indian government. Authorities tightened security at checkpoints across the capital and locals said they were being subjected to harassment. On Thursday night, a civilian was shot by government forces after his vehicle reportedly did not stop at a checkpoint.

A rebel group known as the Resistance Front (TRF) – associated with one of the main Islamic militant groups operating in Kashmir, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) – claimed responsibility for two of the civilian killings last week, which included a Hindu chemist and a taxi driver. However, no groups have taken responsibility of the assassination of the two teachers on Thursday.

Mehbooba Mufti, a former chief minister of the region, blamed the Modi government for the situation. She said that the government’s claim of building a new Kashmir “has actually turned it into a hellhole”.

Hindus and Sikhs living in Kashmir now fear they are being targeted. Kour’s neighbour Ravinder Singh, also a Sikh, said: “It has become difficult for us to stay here now. Why was she killed? What was her fault? We need guarantees from the majority community here.”

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