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It may be a minor error of judgement for the man with his hand on trigger, but for those on the receiving end, it is the end.  Kashmir Life browses through some instances of mistaken identity killings in Kashmir

A resident of Zandfaran village in Baramulla, Yasin Malik is an engineering graduate. On his way to meet his relatives in Pakistan on January 25, 1999, Immigration officials at PCP Attari (Amritsar) stopped him mistaking him to his namesake JKLF leader. After they were convinced that he was not they suspected him to be, they tore a part of his passport and registered an FIR against him. Since then, Malik’s life has changed and he is still facing trial in a Punjab court.

But the ‘mistaken identity’ in Kashmir is beyond passports and detentions. In fact, in over twenty years of turmoil, ‘the error of judgment’ by the law enforcing agencies and the ‘mistaken identity’ has led to a spate of murders. These reasons are usually offered as a last resort by the security grid in cases of civilian killings after circumstantial evidences and police records disprove the usual claims that the slain were insurgents.

Over the years, scores of people, many with unfit minds, were killed around garrisons in Srinagar and other parts of the state. Security forces in most cases say that they (slain) were “suspiciously” moving and did not respond to the halt orders by soldiers guarding the belt. At least half a dozen people were mowed down around Sonawar and Gupkar alone, some of them in broad day light.

Here are some of the classic cases of mistaken identity.

Bungergund, Handwara July 2005
Troops posted in Bangergund Handwara fired at a group of children loitering around a marriage party during night killing three. Bilal Ahmad Sheikh (14), Shabir Ahmad Shah (16), Waseem Ahmad Wani (11), Manzoor Ahmad (14), and Tanvir Ahmad Shah (8) left the marriage party and were sitting outside, probably to smoke cigarettes. Army fired on them killing three and injuring one at 1:45 am. Army described the killings as mistaken identity and said troops suspected militant movement in the area which they said was under night curfew. Villagers said they had informed the local army camp about the marriage party. Dozens of people were injured in the ensuing protests.

“It was very unfortunate and the most regrettable incident”, Lt Gen S S Dhillon told a news conference after a visit to Bungergund.  “By no means, I want to justify the action but I am definite there was no malafide intention behind killing the three boys…It was error of judgment for which a court of enquiry will fix responsibilities,” he said.
“Boys had fled after being challenged. This gave soldiers an element of doubt. Had they stopped, this would have never happened.”

The incident came on top of another incident in Kangan hamlet of south Kashmir wherein soldiers dragged a boy from his house and killed him.

Marg Dewer, Kupwara April 2006
Troops shot three persons – a mother and her two sons – in Marg Dewer Kupwara killing one and injuring two.

Describing the incident as a pure case of mistaken identity, the defence spokesman Lt Col V K Batra said two parties of 18-Rashtriya Rifles were patrolling the area when they observed three persons moving around. “They were not carrying any lanterns and they did not respond to the halt direction of the troops that resulted in opening of the fire,” he said.

Chehel, Kupwara August 2006
A group of villagers from Chehal near Drugmulla garrison in Kupwara were on their way to the neighboring forests for collecting firewood when a mixed contingent of 33-Rashtriya Rifles and the Special Operations Group (SOG) opened fire on them. Though most of the group skidded safe Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din Tantray (43) and Ms Rubina (14) died on the spot.

Police registered murder cases against the army unit. Defence spokesman Col Hemant Juneja said. “They were carrying axes on their shoulders which the soldiers mistook as guns.” A court of enquiry was also ordered.

A month later, Col R S Guleria, the Commander of 33 Rashtriya Rifles was removed from his post for displaying “inefficiency”.

Taragam, Islamabad December 2006
Soldiers of 49 Rashtriya Rifles shot dead numberdar of Taragam village Sanaullah Magray, 70, when he was heading to the village mosque for morning prayers. The killing sparked heavy protests and villagers tried to block the National Highway at Qazigund.

The defence spokesman described the killing as a case of mistaken identity and issued the following statement. “On the night intervening December 17 a cordon was laid in village Taragam. At around 0630 hrs, an ambush party noticed a man approaching them. They challenged him a number of times but the man did not stop instead he bent, which the troops thought he was taking out a weapon under his phiran. The ambush party was still in doubt and fired two single shots, one of which hit him on leg and the other his stomach. The individual died on the spot.”

“The complete incident is due to a case of mistaken identify. The Army regrets the incident and a court of inquiry has been constituted to investigate into the matter,” the spokesman added.

After huge protests, police registered a case against the accused soldiers under FIR No 131/2006 under section 302.

Mazbug, Sopore April 2008
A mentally challenged 24 year old youth of Boniyar Uri was shot dead by army when he tried to sneak into the 22 Rashtriya Rifles camp in Mazbug village.

Police said Shakeel Ahmad Malik son of Ghulam Hassan Malik of Boniyar Uri tried to sneak into the 22 RR camp in Mazbug seven kilometers from Sopore town during night.

The guard on duty, police said, challenged him and fired warning shots to stop him. “He did not turn despite the warning shots in air,” police said and added, “Later the sentry fired at the intruder and he was injured.”

Shakeel succumbed to his injuries in SMHS hospital Srinagar.

Army termed the killing as unfortunate. Commanding officer (CO) 22 Rashtriya Rifles Colonel R L Sharma told a Jammu based newspaper, “It is unfortunate that a mentally challenged fell to bullets and it is regrettable. . . We challenged him and even my trooper fired warning shots in air to stop him, but he did not turn.” After the bullet injuries in leg, the army officer said that they evacuated him in their own vehicle, “He died in Srinagar, and we evacuated him and were expecting he will not die.”

Branpathri, Tral April 2008
Gamia Gujjar, 32, of Machama Tral was gunned down by soldiers of 42 RR at Branpathri Nagbal village when Gamia was heading to the mosque to offer morning prayers. Gamia was working as labourer in the village and visited his home in Machama once a week.

Army, according to police, had cordoned off the village for a search operation.
The incident sparked huge protests.
Police registered a case against the Army.

Brigadier S Patil, Commander of 1 Sector RR said army had laid a siege of the village and asked Gamia to stop before firing at him.

“I regret the killing. It is the result of mistaken identity,” he said and added, “We will help the family.

Magam Forests, Handwara April 2010
On April 14 Army handed over body of a killed septuagenarian to police in Mazbug Handwara and claimed the slain to be a militant killed during a gunfight. The slain man’s frail frame and age cast aspersions on Army’s claim.

Two days after, the slain man’s son Raj Muhammad Khan idenitified him as Habibullah Khan, a beggar of Lolab’s Dewar village. His body was exhumed after massive protests rocked north Kashmir.

An embarrassed army, which claimed recovery of an AK rifle, four magazines and 67 rounds from Habibullah changed his profile to a guide from a militant.  Police has registered a case against the army.

Police and intelligence agencies were not convinced. “Sunken eyes, flowing grey beard, wrinkled face and frail body can not belong to a militant,” a police official who saw the body after it was handed over to them on April 14 said.

The army spokesman insisted he was killed in an encounter and said, “As per our assessment, this was a group of militants and possibly the deceased was being exploited as a guide or human shield. It is believed that the weapon and ammunition recovered was possibly dropped by the fleeing militants.”

Habibullah was looking after his orphaned grandchildren by begging since his son was killed by security forces while collecting firewood in the local forests.

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A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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