Satpal Nischal, a 65-year-old Punjabi jeweller, has become the first casualty of the controversial land laws that allows outsiders to formally purchase land in Kashmir.
Nischal, who ran a flourishing business in the heart of Srinagar, had been living here for more than four decades. Police said militants shot him on Thursday evening in his shop. The killing has sent shockwaves in the business community. Many non-locals have set shop in Srinagar’s upscale markets of Saraibala and Hari Singh High Street.
The 65-year-old came to Srinagar as a young boy with his father and lived as a tenant in Saraibala locality for 17 years. He worked as a goldsmith in the initial years but made rapid progress, his neighbours and fellow traders told News 18. The family constructed a house in posh Indira Nagar locality and for the last 25 years, they lived amicably with their Muslim neighbours.
The entire locality and the trader community have gone in a state of shock over the sudden tragedy.
Official sources say though he owned land and a house here much before the new land laws came into effect following the abrogation of Article 370, it was apparently his decision to take up domicile for himself and his family members that may have led to his killing.
Sources said the family was recently issued domicile certificates that are pre-requisites to take up a job in local government offices, though land can now be acquired in the erstwhile state without being a domicile.
In its brief statement on Thursday, police said Nischal was killed in a terror-related case and that investigation is in progress. “Officers continue to work to establish the full circumstances of this crime,” police said.
Though family and friends were not willing to offer comment, many in Kashmir suspect the killing took place to unsettle outsiders and dissuade them from buying land after new laws had thrown open the sale of Valley’s immobile property to every citizen of the country.
Before Article 370 was read down, there was an embargo on outsiders to own such property. These have fuelled apprehensions in Kashmir that such provisions are aimed to diminish the Muslim majority character of the former state and change its demography.
And those suspicions have gained currency after militant organisation, The Resistance Front, in a purported statement on social media, owned responsibility for Nischal’s killing. The TRF said “he was an active participant of the demographic change and settler colony project of Hindutva forces”.
The outfit said he had taken up the domicile and was “neutralised” for that. The outfit warned to kill all those who became part of the programme and came to Kashmir with the intention to settle.
Inside the slain jeweller’s home, teary-eyed friends and relatives poured in huge numbers to console the family. The Nischal family were not keen to tell media what could be the reason behind his murder or the reports of acquiring the domicile.
“I don’t know that. I am here because he was our good neighbour in Sariabala. We have a long association and have participated in many family functions,” said Shabir Ahmad. “We are in deep shock and have come to express our condolence,” said Khalid Ahmad, another neighbour.
Nischal’s body was consigned to flames and his friends bowed their heads in silence. Former chief ministers Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah condemned the killing.
“Very unfortunate. There can be no justification for this kind of violence. May the soul of the departed rest in peace & may his family find strength at this difficult time,” tweeted Abdullah. Mufti also condemned the killing in strong terms. “Condemn the gruesome killing of an innocent man in Srinagar yesterday. Violence has no place in a civilised society. Deepest condolences to the bereaved family,” she wrote on Twitter.