BANDIPORA, Jammu and Kashmir ― Falak Feroz wanted to get one last look at her husband Waseem Bari but the other mourners stopped her from removing the shroud covering his dead body.
“It will cause you more pain,” a woman mourner said.
On 8 July, Bari, a 35-year-old youth leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) living in Bandipora district in north Kashmir, his 24-year-old brother Umar Sultan and father Bashir Ahmad Sheikh, were shot dead by two suspected militants of the Laskhar-e-Toiba group.
The gunmen fired indiscriminately at the three men when they were at a grocery shop run by Sultan next to their house in Muslimabad-Kaloosa town of Bandipora, Bari’s cousin, Shahid Wani, said.
All three men were declared dead on reaching the hospital.
With three dead bodies in front of her in a room full of mourners, Feroz cried, “If I had any idea that you would leave me like this, I would have never let you go.”
The 28-year-old had married Bari five years ago. The couple had two children, a three-year-old girl and a three-month-old boy.
In conflict-ridden Kashmir, those who engage with the Indian state — party workers, village chiefs and policemen — are hunted by militants and often shunned by their fellow Kashmiris. Then, there are the people who work for the BJP, the party that unilaterally scrapped Kashmir’s special status and split Jammu and Kashmir into two centrally-administered Union territories.
Militants have killed at least three BJP leaders since 2017.
BJP candidates for the first ever election for block chairmans, held two months after the Narendra Modi government rescinded J&K’s special status on 5 August, were forced to hide in nondescript hotels in Srinagar.
Kashmiris who risk their lives by participating in grass-root politics and elections have always criticized the authorities for not providing them with adequate protection.
Last month, suspected militants shot dead Ajay Pandita, a 40-year-old Sarpanch, in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district.
Bari, however, was assigned 10 Personal Security Officers by the state but none of them were present when he was gunned down.
Feroz, Bari’s wife, cried, “Who will play with your kids, my beloved. What will I tell them when they look for you?”
In a conversation with HuffPost India, Feroz said that Bari left the house to see his brother and father in the shop next to their house at around 8:30 pm on Wednesday night.
Moments later, Feroz heard loud gunshots.
“I tried to go out to check what had happened. But I was stopped by our neighbours,” she said,
In a press conference at the Bandipora Police Station on Thursday, Inspector General of Police, Kashmir, Vijay Kumar, said the attack on Bari was “pre-planned” and carried out by two Lashkar-e-Taiba militants - a local man and a foreigner.
On a busy road in Muslimabad-Kaloosa, Bari’s two storey house stands out because of the BJP party’s flags fluttering from its roof.
Bari had been a dedicated party worker who helped the BJP set up base in Bandipora, said 31-year-old Mudasir Ahamd Wani, who heads the BJP in north Kashmir.
“He was a core member of the party in the area. He was dedicated to the people who used to come for help,” he said.
The 35-year-old commerce graduate, however, wasn’t always with the BJP. Before joining the BJP in 2014, the year that Narendra Modi swept to power at the Centre, Bari worked as a party worker for the Omar Abdullah-led National Conference.
“He was politically active since his college days,” said Bari’s cousin, Shahid Wani.
Bari was assigned 10 Personal Security Officers (PSO) by the state, but he was not someone who lived in fear, Wani said.
The fact that none of his bodyguards were present when he was gunned down, and there is a police station right opposite his house, has left Bari’s family and friends speechless.
His 10 bodyguards were at the back of his brother’s shop when they were gunned down, his cousin Wani said.
“Everyone here is shocked how the attack was executed,” he said.
Conceding the lapses in security, the J&K Police on Thursday dismissed all 10 PSOs from service and arrested them.
Omar Abdullah, former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir and National Conference leader, deplored the killing of the Bari family in a tweet: “Sorry to hear about the murderous terror attack on the BJP functionaries & their father in Bandipora earlier this evening. I condemn the attack. My condolences to their families in this time of grief. Sadly the violent targeting of mainstream political workers continues unabated.”
Living in fear
Many linked to the BJP in Kashmir either keep their identities hidden or live away from their families.
Among the women mourners at Bari’s residence, 32-year-old Naheed Qamer Tilat, the BJP Mahila Morcha president in Bandipora, said that she lives in fear.
“We have been asking for security for a long time but there has been no response from the side of the government. We have told senior leaders of the party about the issue but our plea has no update,” she said.
Tilat said that every day before sunset, her family makes sure to lock all the doors and windows of the house.
“We do not even allow people close to us to enter after dusk because we never know what our fate would be,” she said.