Srinagar: Tension is mounting in Kashmir after four civilians including three youth and an elderly woman were killed in two days during clashes between security forces and civilians over the alleged molestation of a schoolgirl by an Army man in border district of Kupwara. Sources say that 35 civilians have been injured so far.
Even as locals were protesting the three deaths, a tear gas shell fired by the forces to disperse the crowds hit a youth Jehangir Ahmad Wani of Drugmulla, in his head, resulting in his death.
On Tuesday, Nayeem Qadir Bhat and Muhammad Iqbal Pir, both in their 20s fell to army bullets on Tuesday afternoon after the forces resorted to firing to disperse a group of villagers who were protesting against the molestation of the girl by a solider of army’s 21-Rashtriya Rifles battalion, inside a public lavatory, close to an army bunker, in main market of Handwara town.
Terming the killings “highly regrettable”, the Army’s Srinagar-based spokesman, Lt Colonel NN Joshi said “anybody found guilty would be brought to book”.
According to Dr Rouf Ahmad, Medical Superintendent Handwara hospital, 22-year old Pir, a resident of Drugmulla village, had bullet injuries in head and his “brain was scattered all over his face” while Bhat (23) from Herpora village, had received bullets injuries in his abdomen. A 60-year old woman, Raja Begum of Langate who was hit by a stray bullet in her head succumbed to injuries during the night.
Bhat was an undergraduate student and a promising batsman, who had attended an Under-19 national coaching camp after his exemplary performance at state level while as Pir was a shopkeeper.
The killings took place when Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, who assumed office just a week ago is in national capital for past two days, meeting several union ministers. The deaths triggered massive protests in Handwara which spilled over to Srinagar and other districts, leading to brewing anger across the Valley.
In Handwara protestors set ablaze the static bunker in main Chowk of the town amid continued clashes till late night Tuesday following which police this morning deployed additional forces as authorities imposed curfew in Kupwara and some areas of Srinagar to control the fast deteriorating situation.
Civilians and policemen injured
The clashes however erupted again today in Handwara and police and CRPF resorted to aerial firing and teargas shelling to disperse people, resulting in injuries to more than 10 people, taking total the toll of injured civilians to more than 35 including three youth with bullet injuries.
Police said at least 10 of its personnel were injured in the ongoing clashes with the protestors in Handwara including a sub-inspector level officer, with reports that a police posts was also set on fire by protestors in Langate, the native police of deceased woman. “We are trying to control the situation,” said deputy inspector general of Police North Kashmir Uttam Chand.
With her government under criticism over the killings, chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, who is in New Delhi, met defense minister Manohar Parikar, seeking time-bound inquiry and “exemplary punishment” to those involved in the incident.
“Prompt action will act as a deterrent against such incidents in future… Handwara likes incidents shake the confidence of people and adversely impact efforts of the State government in consolidating peace dividends,” Mehbooba said in an official statement following her meeting with the Parrikar. That Mehbooba led Peoples Democratic Party is in alliance in J&K with Bhartiya Janata Party which puts more pressure on her to ensure swift action in the killings.
“It is a litmus test for her (Mehbooba) to ensure justice in this case,” said a political analyst who teaches at Kashmir University, arguing that any delay to probe the killings would further erode PDP’s popularity in the Valley where people are already skeptical about the party’s alliance with the BJP.
Former chief minister Omar Abdullah questioned the “self-promoting tour” of his successor Mehbooba. “Three people died as a result of firing by security forces & what does the J&K CM do? She continues her self-promoting tour of Delhi,” Omar tweeted referring to Mehbooba Mufti’s two day visit to Delhi where she called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and several union ministers, after taking over charge on April 4.
Separatist groups questioned the silence of the state government and the central government on the killings saying the assurance of a time bound probe into the killings was “mere eyewash. Such probes happened in the past and were given a silent burial,” said separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani of the Hurriyet.
Army assures early probe
Following Mehbooba’s meeting with union defense minister in New Delhi, Northern Army Commander Lt Gen DS Hooda visited Handwara, assuring early completion of the enquiry ordered into the killings.
Later in the day, the army, facing public anger over allegations of molestation against its soldier, released a video of the victim girl’s statement in which she is seen denying the allegation. The army however said it did not know who had filmed it. On its part the J&K police said it has registered a case and started the investigations.
“We will investigate the allegations of molestation and also the circumstances that led to the killings,” said Inspector General of Police (Kashmir range), SJM Gilani.“We are ascertaining who shot the video and where was it shot. But as of now the girl has not given any written complaint. Right now our priority is to bring situation back to normal,” said the IGP.