Srinagar: The Jammu and Kashmir administration has opened an investigation against the Army following the killing of two civilians, whose bullet-riddled bodies were recovered outside an Army camp in Rajouri district on the morning of Friday, December 16.
Agitated protesters tried to burst through the gates of the Army camp in Rajouri’s Falyana area following the mysterious killing of Shalinder Kumar and Kamal Kishore, both locals. Their severely injured bodies were found outside the Army TCP Alpha Gate in the area, minutes after a string of gunshots in the predawn hours of December 16 woke residents.
The J&K Police have filed a case at Rajouri police station (FIR No: 645/2022) under sections 302 (murder), 307 (attempt to murder) and 323 (voluntarily causing hurt) of Indian Penal Code and Section 7/27 of the Arms Act (punishment for using arms).
A third person identified as Anil Kumar, 39, a resident of Uttarakhand, was also injured in the firing and he is undergoing treatment at District Hospital Rajouri. “His condition is stable,” the hospital’s medical superintendent, Dr Mehmood Hussain Bajar, told The Wire.
Residents said that the slain men, belonging to poor families, had been working at the canteen of an Army hospital in the area for many years. “As a matter of routine, they were going to the canteen in the morning when gunshots rang in the air. It was still dark and when we came out, they were lying in a pool of blood on the road. Some 10-15 empty bullet cartridges were also recovered near the gate,” said a local, who didn’t want to be named.
The news of the killings was met with shock and anger. Hundreds of agitated residents, including women, along with the families of the victims, assembled outside the Army camp. Accusing the Army of being involved in the killings, the residents staged a protest with the dead bodies. They also burnt a fire in the middle of the road, closing the Poonch-Rajouri highway temporarily.
A video from the site of the protest shows more than dozen grief-stricken women circling the body of a young man wrapped under a printed blanket while slogans for justice are heard in the background.
In the meantime, as anger continued to build, an argument broke out between locals and soldiers, during which some locals tried to burst through the gate of the Army camp, demanding that a sentry who they accused of having opened fire be produced. “Stones were also pelted at the Army camp. In reply, security forces used teargas and aerial firing to disperse the protesters,” witnesses told The Wire.
Army denies allegations
The Army has however denied the allegations. In a statement, the Jammu-based White Knight Corps said that there was “fatal casualty of two individuals” in a “firing incident by unidentified terrorists” in Rajouri. “DIG Rajouri and and DC Rajouri are at the incident site. Investigations are underway,” the statement said.
A team of senior district officers including Deputy Commissioner Vikas Kundal, Senior Superintendent of Police (Rajouri) Mohammad Aslam and district administration officials arrived in the area to pacify the protesters. Besides demanding FIR against the Army, locals also sought cash compensation for the aggrieved families and government employment for their kin.
“They were poor men. Whatever they earned, they spent in feeding themselves and their families. What was their fault? People come out for morning walks and if a similar incident happens, who will be responsible?” another local asked.
Sources said that the CCTV camera footage in the area will be scrutinised. The district administration has also announced ex-gratia of Rs one lakh for the next of kin of the deceased. Locals claimed that the Army has given a written undertaking that it will support the education of the children of the men who died.
The Wire could not independently verify this undertaking.
“The bodies have been sent for postmortem examination to Government Medical College Rajouri. A thorough and professional probe will be carried out. We will share the details once it is completed. The administration has assured the locals that the probe will be taken forward in a fair manner,” Deputy Inspector General, Haseeb Mughal, said.
People Democratic Party President, Mehbooba Mufti, and J&K Bharatiya Janata Party president Ravinder Raina condemned the killings. “Tragic that two innocent lives were lost allegedly due to the firing by the army. An impartial probe must be carried out to ensure that culprits are punished & justice is served,” the former J&K chief minister tweeted.
Expressing grief over the incident, Ravinder Raina also demanded a “thorough probe” into the firing and “justice” for the families, “It is a painful incident. The army is also disturbed by the killings. Police has filed an FIR and promised to get to the bottom of the incident. Anyone found guilty will be punished,” he said.
The killings took place at a time when Rajouri has seen a revival of militancy in recent years. A suicide attack on an Army camp in the district’s Darhal in August this year resulted in the killing of five Army soldiers. Two fidayeen attackers of Jaish-e-Mohammad outfit were later also gunned down.