by Shams Irfan
SRINAGAR: On the eve of Burhan Wani’s second death anniversary, troops from 1 Rashtriya Rifles, entered Hawoora-Redwani area of south Kashmir’s Kulgam district, with apparent intent to lay siege. Within minutes, it led to a crisis and two young men and a teenage girl was killed.
The news about the killings spread like wildfire. Train was stopped. Internet was snapped. Massive deployments were made across Kashmir and officials in the governor’s administration started meetings to review the situation.
With internet snapped and not many people willing to talk, there is official and an unofficial version to the gory killings of the day.
“Without any provocation they started vandalising shops and thrashing people,” said a local who wishes not to be named. “They also damaged a few bikes.”
A small group of boys, who were sitting on the roadsides, reacted by pelting stones on them. Soon, a few more boys joined them. “Without a warning army started firing towards these boys,” said a local who wishes not to be named. “They fired with a clear intention to kill them.”
The first round of firing by army left around three boys, including Shakir with bullet injuries. Shakir, who lived nearby, was immediately evacuated from the spot by his friends.
As they carried Shakir towards his house with two bullets in his abdomen, army started chasing them. “They left him (Shakir) outside his house, under a Chinar tree, as he was already dead, and called his neighbours and family,” said a local who wished not to be named.
Within no time around hundred people, including Shakir’s friends, family and neighbours came running towards the spot where he was kept. One of them was Shakir’s next door neighbour’s daughter Andleeb. “However, before they could have picked him up army came,” said an eyewitness wishing anonymity. “This led to another round of stone pelting.”
This time army once again fired on the protestors who had assembled near Shakir’s body. “The firing was so intense that nobody dared to go near him,” said a local. “If helped in time, he might have survived.”
But instead, two more people were hit by bullets, including Shakir’s neighbour Andleeb. “It was complete chaos as they (army) fired indiscriminately on people,” said an eyewitness.
Fifty-five-year old Abdul, who lives barely 300 metres away from Shakir’s house, was sitting in his house, when he heard intense gunshots. As a natural reaction he asked for his family, including his two sons and daughter. “I rushed outside to see what has happened,” recalls Abdul, who refused to give his real name.
For a while there was a brief calm. Then after five minutes or so, another round of gunshots, this time more intense, and closer, terrified Abdul. “I could hear people shouting and crying at the same time,” recalls Abdul, who is yet to come out of the shock.
A few minutes later, Abdul heard loud knocking at his front door, and ran out quickly. “There were around two dozen boys carrying a half-dead boy in their arms,” recalls Abdul.
Then one of the boys shouted at Abdul in frustration, gadi kadiv jaldi (get a car quickly). In no time three vehicles were arranged including Abdul’s. “A local boy named Irshad was bundled in my car and we quickly drove towards Frisal village,” said Abdul.
In order to stay out-of-the sight of army, they took an alternative route to reach Frisal, the closest health care centre to Hawoora village, located 3 kilometres away. “I drove as fast as I could, knowing every second matters,” said Abdul. “But the way Irshad was bleeding, we knew he could succumb anytime,” records.
As Abdul, along with two dozen boys reached Frisal health centre, they were confronted by army men stationed at Frisal garrison, located near the hospital. “They fired in the air to terrify us or maybe they wanted us to go back. But I didn’t stop at all,” said Abdul.
To everyone’s horror Irshad was declared dead within minutes of his arrival at the hospital. There, Abdul and others came to know that a local tailor’s son Shakir, who was the first one to get shot, was also lying dead at the same hospital. A few minutes later another cars reached Frisal hospital carrying Shakir’s neighbour Andleeb. Like Irshad and Shakir, Andleeb, a Class 7 student at Government Middle School, Akbarabad, was declared brought dead.
Amid slogans and tears all three bodies were brought back to Hawoora, a small village of 510 households, yet to come out of shock.
While Abdul and others were away at Frisal, army-men, who had come in half-a-dozen vehicles, after firing at civilians, charged towards nearby Government High School, Hawoora, and dragged a male student out of the classroom. “I am not sure who this boy is as many people are still missing,” said Abdul. “There is absolute chaos here. Everyone is looking for his kids. No one knows how many have been taken by the army so far.”
Enraged by army’s act two-dozen school children along with a few teachers started protesting inside the school compound. “There are around ten girls still in shock as they were literally dragged out of their classrooms,” said a resident who wishes not to be named fearing for his life.
When Andleeb’s body was brought back to her modest home, people from nearby villages started rushing towards Hawoora. As family was waiting for Andleeb’s mother, who had gone to her in-laws, there was a sort of miracle. “For a brief moment Andleeb opened her eyes,” said Abdul.
Youngest among three sisters, Andleeb was quickly bundled into a vehicle and driven towards Qaimoh hospital. “Everybody was hoping for a miracle,” said a heartbroken Abdul.
But, at Qaimoh hospital, after a quick check-up, Andleeb was declared dead, for the second time in a matter of hours.
With a broken heart Andleeb’s father Ali Mohammad Alie, a labourer, whose meagre income could barely feed his family, accompanied his daughter’s dead body home, one more time.
Living side-by-side both Shakir Ahmad Khanday, 22, a first year student at nearby Qaimoh, who was youngest among two sons, and Andleeb’s houses were in mourning.
A few metres away, Irshad Ahmad Lone, 20, a college dropout, who worked at a local sawmill making apple boxes, was brought home too. Son of a farmer Irshad was third among five brothers and a sister.
But Irshad’s family had one more tragic news waiting for them. Irshad’s younger brother Zahid Ahmad Lone was also injured in the firing. He was shifted to Srinagar’s SMHS hospital for specialised treatment. His condition is stated to be critical.
A few hours later the funeral prayers of Shakir, Irshad and Andleeb were held in the nearby Mishkoora village.
An Area Domination Patrol (ADP) of Army while moving in general area Hawoora, Kulgam came under heavy stone pelting. As the ADP tried to extricate, they were chased by an aggressive and menacing crowd of 400-500 persons which kept building up and coming dangerously close. Troops while exercising extreme restraint, cautioned the stone pelters, who, however, failed to relent and repeatedly threw petrol bombs and stones at the patrolling party. At one point of time some unidentified terrorists also fired on the column. This resulted in some soldiers receiving grievous injuries. In response to this grave provocation and to ensure security of own troops, controlled firing was resorted to by the Army which resulted in unfortunate loss of human lives. The matter is being investigated to ascertain facts on ground.
An army patrol in District Kulgam while moving through Hawoora Mishipora area this afternoon was pelted by miscreants. Consequently army tried to disperse the miscreants and in the process five individuals sustained injuries.
The injured persons were evacuated to nearby hospital. However, later three persons succumbed to the injuries including a girl while the other two individuals are stated to be stable. Police has started investigation into the matter.
In unofficial capacity a police source said that around 35 personnel from Khudwani based 1-RR had gone for sizing – a sort of survey in which the army is seeking record of residents and their homes – to which residents objected. It was reacted by damage to some property that led the entire village to come on roads.
“Initially there were a few stones but after the property damage the entire village came out,” the source said. “Army opened fire in which five persons were injured of whom three were killed and two were injured; one of them is still not out of danger.”
The sources said almost 20,000 people attended the three funerals. Officially, 8000 people are reported to have joined the funerals. After the incident IG Kashmir S P Pani has visited Khanbal and presided over a meeting. No yatra or an army convoy will be permitted on Sunday, the decision said. There was no report of any clash in the area after the killings.
A senior police officer in Srinagar said the Area Domination Party (ADP) had gone to arrest a boy from the school and it triggered the crisis. “Many militants attended the funeral and some of them spoke as well,” the officer said. “The details of the speech are being collected.”
Some news photographers who covered the funerals said the locals told them that the soldiers actually provoked youth soon after they entered the village at around 10:45 am. They later barged into a village, allegedly took a ninth grade students to which a teacher protest. The teacher, the local told them was beaten and it triggered commotion as a result of which announcements were made on mosque loudspeaker. It was later that protests and stone pelting took place in reaction of which army fired on them. “We were told that two youth were hit by bullets when they heard the noises and came from the fields,” one photographer said. “Residents said some youth were arrested before and after the firing.”
Governor N N Vohra presided over a high-level meeting at the Raj Bhavan and reviewed the security situation. Lt Gen Ranbir Singh, Northern Army Commander, specially flew to attend the meeting.
Expressing deep anguish on the loss of civilian lives, including a teenage girl, Governor reiterated the vital importance of the laid down Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) being most strictly adhered to by Army and all Security Forces to avoid incidents of civilian casualties and collateral damages, even in situations of extreme provocation. He also re-emphasized the crucial importance of sustained collaborative action and synergy between the Armed Forces and the State Police with the civil administration in dealing with difficult situations, particularly to ensure against the loss of civilian lives.
The killings in a major incident, first of its kind in Vohra’s latest rule, triggered mass condemnations from all sides. Separatists have called for observing Sunday as black day. They have asked for funeral in absentia for the slain trio. Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL) had already called for the strike in memory of teenage rebel Burhan Wani.
“Firing live bullets on civilians in order to kill them reflects the policy of Government of India to crush all dissent with use of absolute force and might,” JRL said in statement. “It becomes clear that a green signal has been given to Indian armed forces to wipe off all Kashmiris without any distinction of being armed or unarmed.”
The statement said the killings are aimed at instilling fear among Kashmiris and “show them the ruthlessness with which they will be dealt.”
These killings, lawmaker Engineer Rasheed said have exposed the intentions of security forces and Governor’s administration. Rasheed army authorities not to justify the killings, insisting, that black sheep in the army doesn’t allow any opportunity to Kashmiris as they get praises from radical elements and a large section of biased ultranationalist media.
“Army and other security agencies have been given free hand and the mainstream political parties have mostly preferred to confine their role to finding space in changing political scenarios from time to time,” Rasheed said. “The apologetic attitude of mainstream politicians has encouraged all those elements to whom human lives don’t matter. Let the mainstream parties show some shame and take a stand overuse of disproportionate force being used against those unarmed civilians, who have voted MLA’s to at least speak about their fundamental rights especially right to live with honour and dignity.”
Rasheed has asked the army chief to punish the killers as “it is high time for top army high brasses to introspect and find answers why do their top claims of showing restraint fall flat after every assurance.”
Yousuf Tarigami, the fourth time MLA from Kulgam said the incident is a “big shock” and setback to any effort to restore peace. “Is the blood of Kashmiris so cheap and are Kashmiris so expendable? The policymakers need to understand it that nothing can be achieved by excessive use force and it is the only political dialogue which can bring peace. Killings will only deteriorate the situation further,” Tarigami said.
In the past, Tarigami said brutal killings have inflamed the situation and if immediately such type of incidents are not stopped, there is apprehension that situation in the Valley may turn ugly again.
Trade body KTMF has asked civil society to play in wake of the killings. “Killing unarmed civilians is against the ethics of humanity or has New Delhi declared war against such civilians,” Yasin Khan was quoted saying.