Failed Promises

The Centre’s policies have not helped in curbing militancy or establishing peace in the Valley

Fayaz Bukhari

On a cold December morning, seven civilians were shot dead in Sarnoo, an otherwise sleepy village in Pulwama district of South Kashmir. The villagers were awakened by the sound of army vehicles as they came searching for the hiding militants.

Police detaining Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) chairman Muhammad Yasin Malik during a protest

In a matter of few minutes, they shot dead three militants who were hiding in a hideout dug in an orchard in the village. As the sound of the automatic rifle fire rattled the air, villagers came out in protest. By the time the army was collecting the bodies of the three militants, the protests grew stronger. They pelted stones at the army and the security forces and in retaliation they fired at them, killing seven civilians and injuring 40 of them.

The dead included a 12th class student, Shahnawaz Ahmad, 19, whose carpenter father, Muhammad Yusuf, 45, said that his son was not part of the protesters. “My son was shot dead by troops while they were retreating from the encounter. The encounter had ended two hours before and when the troops were moving out, my son went out to fetch a bucket of water. There were protests going on in nearby villages. He was on his way back when troops fired at him from inside their vehicle. I watched him fall as he cried for help. They killed him in front of my eyes and I watched it all helplessly,” he said fighting back his tears.

Shahnawaz was one of the seven civilians shot at by troops after the encounter was over. One after another, each was rushed to Pulwama district hospital where they were declared brought dead.

The troops could have used non-lethal means to foil the protests or they could have fired in the air or below the belt to avoid deaths. “All of them had bullet injuries above their waist – on head, abdomen or chest. Throughout that day, the hospitals received more than three dozen people with varying firearm injuries”, said a doctor at the hospital.

However, the police said that while the operation was going on, a “crowd which came dangerously close from different parts to the encounter site got injured. The injured were evacuated to a hospital where unfortunately seven persons succumbed to their injuries”.

Whatever the circumstances that led to deaths, the anger is running deep here over the muscular policy of the Central government. The civilian killings, including that of seven people, lead to more anger, it is the highest number of such killings during an anti-militancy operation in recent years.

The day after the killings, the police detained separatists or put them under house arrest to foil a separatist march to Badami Bagh Cantonment in Srinagar. Separatist leaders Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Muhammad Yasin Malik said to the protesters to “ask soldiers to finish off Kashmiris in one go than one by one”.

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