On a sunny afternoon in last week of January, the villagers in Gunowpoara in south Kashmir’s Shopian district were on the dusty roads and fields, many of them had just returned from the house of a young militant who was killed in an encounter with forces, one civilian was also killed in the firing that day. People from the village and neighboring areas were making a beeline towards the house of Firdous Ahmad.
Even banners in memory of militants were placed on the corners of the villagers. The army men of neighboring Balpora camp passed through the area and tried to remove the obstacles on the roadside that led confrontation. Villagers however allege that in the evening army men led by a major came and used bullets to break the protests and stone pelting resulting in the death of three youths – Javeed, Suhail and Rayees Ahmad. Nine other civilians were injured in the firing.
The killing of civilians attracted large scale condemnation not only from the separatists but also from the mainstream politicians. It sparked a debate in the current session of assembly at Jammu where J&K chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti told the legislators this case will be taken to its logical conclusion. She even spoke to Defense Minister, Nirmala Sithamaran who assured her that action will be taken if any soldier is found guilty.
J&K CM Mufti said that she does not accept that the Army gets demoralised by such actions. “The Army is an institution and has done a wonderful job. But a black sheep can be anywhere … Among judges there can be black sheep, but we can’t paint every one with the same brush. If some Army officer has committed a mistake, an FIR has been lodged and it is the duty of the government to take it to a logical conclusion.”
After assurance from Defense minister, the J&K Police registered a case of murder against the army and even named the army officer who was leading the soldiers. Locals blame the army for the unprovoked firing and said that it could have been avoided. Even many people questioned the theory of the army that fire was opened in self defense. ‘Do soldiers shoot in head when they open fire in self defense,’’ wrote one of the face book user.
Even former J&K chief minister, Omar Abdullah also questioned the use of force and said that ordering a magisterial probe into the killings of civilians in Shopian and simultaneously registering an FIR against Army is creating confusion.
Abdullah while addressing the state assembly said that at a time when the government has already registered an FIR there was no need to order a probe by Magistrate.
“We are giving confusing signals. On one side, magisterial inquiry has been ordered which would have made sense if FIR was registered against unknown persons. But FIR has been registered reportedly with name of an army Major and one other,” said Omar.
He said that if we know the names in murder and attempt to murder case, then what is the need of magisterial inquiry.
“I will request you not to do politics. We need to give justice to those who lost their lives or received injuries and then take steps to stop this sequence.”
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah sparred in the Legislative Assembly during the discussion over Shopian killings. The NC leader reacted sharply when Mehbooba Mufti said that Omar had once said that attacking bunkers is like committing a suicide. “I remember once Omar Sahab said that attacking bunkers is like committing a suicide. It means that you will invite bullets if you pelt stones on bunkers,” she said.
Angered by the remarks, Omar accused Mehbooba Mufti of playing politics over dead bodies. “You only know how to play politics on dead bodies. I tried my best not to politicize the issue,” he said. He clarified that he had cited an example of youth who was arrested by police for pelting stones on a bunker in Srinagar.
“When the youth was quizzed by the police, he told them that he was cheated in love and wanted to commit suicide. But his friends told him that he shouldn’t commit suicide as it is forbidden in Islam. He was told that he should pelt stones on CRPF bunker and he will embrace martyrdom if they fire bullets on him,” Omar said.
On its part, the army said that soldiers opened fire in self defense and the soldiers who were moving in a convoy were attacked by a mob of 200 – 300 people. The army said that protestors tried to lynch an officer.
However, registering of case against army didn’t go down well within the coalition partner BJP. Even on the floor of the house in presence of J&K chief minister many BJP legislators expressed their unhappiness over the registering of FIR against army and sought it withdrawal.
Even some senior Central leaders of BJP also questioned its own coalition government led by Mehbooba Mufti in the state for naming the army in the FIR, especially Major Aditiya.
Under pressure, the next day after police registered case, the detailed army version was incorporated in the case. Though some media channels had said that army filed a counter FIR against the villagers, however police said no counter FIR was filed, but army’s version was also incorporated in this case. Whatsoever will be the conclusion of this case, however, it is clear that even after remaining in three years in government there are differences between the PDP and its coalition partner.
When former J&K chief minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed forged an alliance with BJP, he had said that its just north pole joining with the south and this alliance was being formed in the interests of all the regions of the state. However, it seems even after remaining in power the legislators of ruling party instead of thinking about the interests of the state are only interested in politicking and playing to galleries.
Even BJP legislators questioned the government before investigation and wanted that no case should be lodged against the army. Three youths were killed and how could have it been possible for the government to defend army who as per the locals used excessive force to ‘teach villagers a lesson.’ Though on the same evening the youths were killed the government announced magisterial probe into the killing, however, nobody has any trust on these probes as in the past all the recommendations made by the inquiry officers were dumped.
So time has come when government at least for its own face saving should do something to restore the confidence among the masses.
The credibility of government is at stake and government has to do something to restore it, especially in south Kashmir, where majority of people are already disgruntled and many youths are taking to guns. The fresh spate of civilian killings has even forced state government to think on the deferring the panchayat polls.
The government had earlier plans to hold panchayat elections in the second or third week of the February, however, in the recently held meeting at Jammu, all the mainstream politicians asked government to postpone the election as the situation is conducive for these polls and the civilian killings always contribute in making situation worse.
Even the civilian killings will also undermine the fresh efforts of reconciliation taken by the centre’s newly appointed interlocutor, Dineshwar Sharma. Both the state and the centre governments can in no way afford another turmoil year in Kashmir, especially when there is already tension on the Line of Control and civilians and soldiers from both sides are losing lives on daily basis. Time has come when both Centre and state should think on those measures that will help to restore peace in the Valley instead of putting it back in the lap of violence.
In no way the civilian killing is acceptable and there should be a stern message on the ground to the forces that while dealing with militants in no way civilians should be harmed.