A Timeline on Civilian Killings in Kashmir

The Handwara Killings, Source: Facebook;

When Jammu & Kashmir Police’s Media Centre issued a statement on the killing of two young boys at the hands of armed forces in north Kashmir’s Handwara town on April 12, it sounded all too familiar.

A description of events unfolded in this carefully drafted police statement: “Today afternoon an alleged incident of misbehaviour with / molestation of a girl by an army man took place in Handwara town. Within minutes, public in large numbers gathered there and attacked the army bunker in Handwara chowk. They assaulted the personnel deployed there, ransacked the bunker and attempted to set fire to the bunker etc. In retaliation the security forces deployed used force to disperse the violent rampaging mob. In the process, two individuals namely Mohammad Iqbal R/O Bomhama, Kupwara and Nayeem Qadir Bhat S/O Gh. Qadir Bhat R/O Banday Mohalla, Handwara, sustained fire-arm injuries. They were evacuated to hospital where they, unfortunately, succumbed to their injuries.”

“J&K Police deeply regrets the loss of life. A criminal case has been registered in Police Station Handwara and investigation launched to ascertain the facts,” it added.
After all, these killings were not the first of their kind in Kashmir. And sadly, these won’t be the last. That is the sad reality. The new normal in Kashmir; Kashmir’s unarmed civilians killed in cold blood have become mere statistics in the larger Kashmir narrative.

The Police issue a statement of regret, the army promises probes and punishment to the guilty while expressing regret in an authoritative language, the political bishops across the board sell dreams and also deliver sermons, and the pro-freedom alliance Hurriyat Conference gives a call for valley wide shutdowns against these killings. This cycle has been repeated so many times. Yes, so many times.

All of the Kashmir valley has observed a strike against the killing of four persons, including an old woman and a bright cricketer Nayeem, for the last two days. On April 14, it will be the third straight day of a complete shutdown and strike and even curfew in parts of Kupwara and Handwara; curfew-like restrictions have been applied to some parts of downtown Srinagar.

But there will be no ‘national’ prime time television debates on the killings of four unarmed civilians in Kashmir, because most channels will be busy on debating how a rich man’s son lost 108 kilos in 18 months. In sharp contrast, when some outstation (read non-Kashmiri) engineering students received minor bruises at Srinagar’s NIT last week, Indian television anchors were outraged, shouting on the Newshour at 9!. Why should they care at all if four Kashmiris have been shot dead by the Indian armed forces? The ‘national interest’ lies in protecting the guilty soldiers.

Questioning the impunity of the Indian Army under the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) will ‘demoralise’ the forces working under “extraordinary circumstances” in Kashmir, dealing with a hostile (unarmed) population!

All the four civilians were shot at in Handwara after the locals there staged protests against the alleged molestation of a minor girl by the army, which the army has, since, denied.

At least 27 others are injured. The loss of Kashmiri lives however makes no news because some player in the cash-rich IPL cricket game has hit some monstrous sixes!
The London based human rights body Amnesty International too has issued a statement to saying that “security forces should refrain from excessive use of force against civilians”. “Authorities must conduct a full and independent criminal investigation into the killing of three [now four] protesters in firing by Indian Army personnel in Handwara, Jammu and Kashmir. Those responsible must be prosecuted in a civilian court of law. An incident of alleged sexual assault against a teenage girl by a soldier, which is believed to have led to the protests, must also be promptly investigated,” the AI said.

The Handwara Killings, Source: Facebook

So who cares when it comes to civilian killings in Kashmir?

After this latest killing spree, the newly installed coalition government headed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) will have a lot of explaining to do. This killing spree is part of a larger malaise. Killing people for sport in Kashmir has become an ugly routine since the early 1990s. To kill is an attempt to silence the voices that call for a political resolution to the Kashmir imbroglio and further, to prevent them from articulating their political and economic aspirations. To kill is to instil a fear of the state and its security apparatus in the hearts and minds of the people. To kill is to criminalise and de-legitimise the political opinion of the people.

Jammu and Kashmir’s first woman chief minister Mehbooba Mufti has met the Indian Defence Minister, Manohar Parrikar, on the morning of April 13, a Wednesday, in New Delhi and “discussed with him the unfortunate firing incident at Handwara yesterday in which three [now four] civilians, including a woman, were killed.” “During the meeting, the Chief Minister called for a time-bound enquiry into the incident so that those responsible for the deaths are handed exemplary punishment,” a statement released by Jammu and Kashmir’s Information Department said.

Regardless of what happens to the PDP-BJP partnership in the immediate future, the fact is that the PDP knows fully well how successfully it has hoodwinked its own voters by promising them, first to fight the BJP’s Mission 44+ electoral dream and then ‘joining hands with the enemy’, an ultra supremacist party, simply to grab power.

A Timeline of Killings in Kashmir

February 2016
Meanwhile, not that long ago (in February 2016) Kashmir was on the boil after the killings of Danish Farooq Mir, a student of bachelor of Technology (B-Tech) at the Islamic University of Science and Technology (IUST) in Awantipora, and Shaista Hameed, who was pursuing her Master’s degree after completing her Bachelors in Education (B.Ed).

The debate on the “collateral damage” in encounters between militants and armed forces isn’t new to Kashmir. Both Danish and Shaista were residents of south Kashmir’s Pulwama district and got killed in police and army firing following an encounter between a group of militants and government forces at Kakapora.
Police claimed to have killed one militant in the encounter. The slain militant was identified as Adil Ahmad Shergojri alias Abu Bakar, son of Muhammad Ashraf, resident of Banderpora, allegedly bearing allegiance to Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT).

How the Events Unfolded
While the world celebrated or observed Valentine’s Day on February 14, Kashmir Valley witnessed bloodshed as two civilians, including a girl student, got killed in Pulwama district. Four others received injuries. Doctors confirmed that both Danish and Shaista had bullet wounds above their waists. After being hit by the bullets they were removed to Pulwama and Pampore hospitals, but the doctors declared them as “brought dead”.

Both factions of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), headed by Syed Ali Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq respectively, and the pro-independence Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) led by Mohammad Yasin Malik had given the shutdown call against the killings.

The Srinagar-based head priest and chairman of a faction of the APHC said that “killing civilians during peaceful protests was now a new normal in Kashmir.”
“Unfortunately, killing civilians and unarmed protesters has become a routine, a new normal, in Kashmir because the government forces enjoy unbridled powers, whether under elected governments or under Governor’s rule,” the Mirwaiz said.

“The Indian soldiers deal with the protesters in a violent manner. After each killing severe restrictions are placed, and curfew is clamped. There is no accountability here,” he added.The Hurriyat chairman also said that the enquiry initiated by the authorities into the latest killings was a “farce”. “This vicious cycle of violence will only be repeated. We have to wait to receive one more body bag,” he said.He was proven right after four more civilians were killed by the armed forces on April 12, this time in north Kashmir’s Handwara town. After each civilian killing, the police and army come up with a strangely worded statement. Yes, a carefully drafted but strange statement.

The Srinagar-based English Daily ‘Rising Kashmir’ report revealed that at least 26 civilians were killed in Kashmir from January 1 until August 11, 2015, while 29 civilians died in 2014. Between August to December 2015, 26 more civilians were killed in Jammu and Kashmir, taking the civilian death toll to 55.

The Police Version

 “Today (February 14) security forces/police components of Pampore, Awantipora, Kakapora, 50 Rashtriya Rifles (RR) and 183 battalion of CRPF laid cordon in Astan Mohalla Kakapora, Pulwama. As search was going on, the militants hiding in a house opened indiscriminate firing on security forces. The police started evacuating civilians trapped inside the cordon. A large number of people were evacuated but a lady named Shaista while taking cover was hit by a bullet. She was evacuated to hospital where she was declared dead. Some more miscreants/ stone-pelters received bullet injuries in the cross fire. A large number of people despite imposition of Section 144 CRPC came near encounter site where militants were firing indiscriminately on security forces from inside. They were pelting stones on security forces. One terrorist was killed in the encounter, identified as Adil Ahmad Shergojri alias Abu Bakar, son of Muhammad Ashraf, resident of Banderpora, affiliated with LeT. Due to heavy stone pelting and ensuing law and order situation the security forces had to resort to tear smoke shelling as a result of which some protesters received injuries. Due to heavy stone pelting two terrorists managed to escape. Six army men received injuries in the stone pelting. Apart from this, 15 policemen also got injured in stone pelting.”

Timeline 2015
Civilians often become cannon fodder in a conflict zone like Kashmir. Nayeem and Iqbal or Danish and Shaista are not the only civilians to have died in police and army firings. Neither will they be the last.

Last year, 2015, as many as 55 civilians were killed in different incidents of violence in Jammu and Kashmir.

According to a report entitled ‘Jammu and Kashmir Human Rights Review-2015’ compiled by Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), the graph of killings witnessed upswing in 2015. The report claims that “militarisation” of the Himalayan region was responsible for the civilian killings.

“In 2015, the graph of killings witnessed upswing with 219 deaths, which belies the drop-in-violence claims by the government. The month long Kupwara siege by the army to catch or kill trapped militants again points to the tightening noose of militarisation which continues to be responsible for widespread violence in Jammu and Kashmir,” the JKCCS report says. Of the 219 deaths in 2015, at least 55 were civilian killings while 106 were killings of militants and 58 of armed forces.

“The gruesome killing of 55 civilians during the year [2015] belied the claim of Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, on September 15, that ‘not a single bullet was fired on civilians’ during his 7 month tenure as chief minister (when the number of civilians killed stood at 41),” the report says.

The Srinagar-based English Daily ‘Rising Kashmir’ report revealed that at least 26 civilians were killed in Kashmir from January 1 until August 11, 2015, while 29 civilians died in
2014. Between August to December 2015, 26 more civilians were killed in Jammu and Kashmir, taking the civilian death toll to 55.

In August last year, a 26-year-old civilian named Bilal Ahmad Bhat of Padgampora in Pulwama district was killed after the paramilitary Border Security Force (BSF) personnel opened fire on a group of people protesting against the death of two LeT militants in Ratnipora area.

At that time, Jammu and Kashmir Police lodged First Information Report (FIR) number 244-2015 under Section 307 against the BSF personnel, part of the Road Opening Party, in connection with the civilian’s killing.

Strangely, the BSF filed a counter FIR on the grounds that the paramilitary troopers came under attack from a mob “putting us into a life threatening situation”. On November 7, a 22-year Gowhar Nazir of HMT Srinagar, an engineering student at SSM College Parihaspora, was killed in the firing by the CRPF in Zainakote area. More than 10 witnesses had recorded their statement before the inquiry officer in this regard. He had received bullet injuries.
It was the same day when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had visited Srinagar.

Earlier Killings
As many as five civilians were killed in cold blood in south Kashmir’s Pathribal area and dubbed as “foreign mercenaries” following the massacre of around 35 members of the Sikh community in Chattisinghpora in March 2000. Even the CBI established that those killed and dubbed as militants by the Indian army were innocent civilians.

In July 2005, three teenaged boys were mercilessly killed by the army in north Kashmir’s frontier district of Kupwara. Tens of thousands of people protested against the killings.

At that time, the then General Officer Commanding the Srinagar-based 15 Corps in a press conference at Badami Bagh cantonment had said this:  “This incident was unfortunate and most regrettable. It was an ‘error of judgment’ on part of the troops who opened fire on the
teenaged boys.”

Afterwards, two more civilians were killed in Doodhipora village in Handwara while another 25-year old civilian Hilal Ahmad was killed at the hands of 27-Rashtriya Rifles in Aloosa Bandipora.

Defending the Indefensible
As government forces enjoy impunity by virtue of laws like the AFSPA in force since the mid-1990s, civilians have often found themselves at the receiving end. Official statements like “we do not shoot to kill,” “it was a mistaken identity,” “it was an aberration,” etc, have become superfluous. After every civilian killing the paramilitary forces and police argue that they fired in “self-defence” and also insist that the civilian killing was an “aberration”; the government orders an “impartial probe” and the pro-freedom resistance camp calls for a shutdown in protest.

Anyway, these killings are mere symptoms. The heavy presence of the army and paramilitary in every nook and cranny of the beleaguered valley is the disease. And that is the big, fat elephant in the room: the unresolved Kashmir dispute!

(The author is a journalist, commentator and political analyst from Srinagar. He is South Asia Journalism Programme/ Chevening fellow 2015 and Munich Young Leader 2014. He formerly served Deutsche Welle (Voice of Germany) as Editor in Bonn for several years)

Cover Picture: Nayeem Qadir Bhat, playing Cricket on the streets of Handwara, Source: facebook



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