NEW DELHI: Relatives of people killed by the Indian army in Kashmir have told Arab News they are doubtful of finding justice, a day after the military admitted it had “exceeded” its brief by killing three “unidentified terrorists” in South Kashmir’s Shopian district in June this year.
On June 17 Abrar Ahmed, Imtiyaz Ahmed, and Mohammad Ibrar – cousins from Jammu district’s Rajouri area – were killed in an encounter in Amshipora village.
For weeks after their deaths, when photos of the three men were flashed on media channels across the country, their families questioned the army’s version of events.
Mohammed Yousuf is the 50-year-old father of Abrar Ahmed.
“It has been my demand right from the beginning that all the three bodies be handed over to the family members and that their fake encounter should be brought to light and the truth should be told,” he told Arab News. “It gives me some hope now that the army has admitted the mistake and set up an inquiry to find out the truth.”
He expressed his sadness that his son and the two men with him were being called terrorists. “How can I believe that justice would be done when you are calling simple daily wage workers terrorists? I will fight for justice till my last breath.”
On Friday, the Indian army said in a statement that the troops had “exceeded” and “contravened” the rules.
“The inquiry has brought out certain prima facie evidence indicating that during the operation, powers vested under the AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Power Act) 1990 were exceeded and the do's and don’ts of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) as approved by the Hon’ble Supreme Court have been contravened,” defence spokesman Col. Rajesh Kalia said in a statement.
The AFSPA is a law that extends indemnity and power to security forces to operate in a “disturbed area.”
Kalia added that authorities had directed officials to initiate disciplinary proceedings under the Army Act.
However his statement failed to appease those who drew attention to the encounter that led to the loss of three lives.
“We still demand that there should be a high-level judicial enquiry,” Jammu-based activist Sohail Malik told Arab News. “Those found guilty should be held accountable, and there should be compensation to the poor families who lost their young ones. We will keep on fighting for justice. You cannot keep on picking up young guys and killing them in encounters.”
The army’s statement also drew a sharp reaction from Srinagar’s former police chief, S. P. Vaid.
“Killing innocent youth and show(ing) them as terrorists is the most heinous crime and those involved should be charged for murder,” the former director-general of police in Jammu and Kashmir tweeted on Friday.
The June killings and subsequent army statement has hit a nerve for Aqib Sofi of Srinagar's Batamaloo area who wants justice for his mother after she was killed two days ago.
Early on Thursday morning, Sofi and his mother were going to their bakery and stopped their car a few meters away from the store when they saw a security forces’ cordon in the area.
The group opened fire on their car and a bullet struck his mother on the back of her head, killing her instantly.
“What was the fault of my mother?” he told Arab News. “Why does she deserve to die this way? Is the life of a Kashmiri so cheap that you can take it at your whim?”
He said that nobody from the administration went to apologize after her death. “Security forces are here to kill us, not to protect us,” he added.
On Tuesday residents in the Sopore area protested against what they called the custodial killing of 23-year-old Irfan Ahmed Dar.
He was allegedly picked up from his shop on Monday afternoon and taken to the local police station for questioning.
His brother Javed was picked up later, but released in the night.
On Tuesday morning Irfan was declared dead, with the police referring to him as one of the overground workers of militant outfits.
Police said that Irfan had tried to escape when he was taken to another place and that they found his body later.
“The police killed my younger brother and cooked up the story,” Irfan’s older brother, Waheed Dar, told Arab News. “Can you imagine anyone can escape from the custody of the Special Operation Group? This is how Kashmir is. Those who are in charge of protecting you are the real threats to the people. How and where will I get justice for the killing of my brother?”
Jammu and Kashmir’s Inspector General of Police Vijay Kumar and director-general of police were unavailable for comment when contacted by Arab News on Saturday.
Srinagar-based human rights activist Khurram Parvez challenged the culture of “encounters” in Kashmir.
“All these encounters are basically suspect for us and, therefore, we believe that all these encounters should be investigated,” he told Arab News, saying that in all such cases the force used was “disproportionate for sure.”
“Why is it that the army does not believe in neutralizing and arresting the militants and believes in killing them only? The government is least interested in ending the militancy. It wants the militancy to be sustained. Therefore, it is provoking the people of Kashmir through murders and torture as the killing of a woman in Batamaloo and the killing of a young boy in Sopore prove.”