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In Kashmir, accidental blasts due to uncleared explosives at encounter sites take a grim toll; children among killed

On a Friday afternoon in February this year, a loud bang left two children soaked in blood at Rahmoo village in Jammu and Kashmir. After a grenade exploded near a river bed, eleven-year-old Intizar Bashir and his 12-year-old playmate Junaid Bilal lay writhing. Five days later, the older one died at a hospital in Srinagar. Hours before the explosion, the curious children had brought the grenade from a gun battle site in the neighbouring village of Drubgam, in which two militants were killed on 1 February, according to a police report.

 In Kashmir, accidental blasts due to uncleared explosives at encounter sites take a grim toll; children among killed

Junaid Bilal Wani, who died after a grenade accidentally exploded in Kashmir. Image procured by Nisar-ul-Haq

The explosion led to injuries to Intizar's face and arm. His father, 42-year-old Bashir Ahmad Bhat, said, "The blast tore off the flesh from my son’s face, and we had to get his arm operated...The children just picked up the shells out of curiosity. Security forces told us that my son was lucky that the grenade did not explode in his hands but hit a river bed."

Junaid's father Bilal Ahmad Wani said that his son succumbed to multiple shrapnel wounds that he had received in the head and limbs. “A fragment of a shell had hit him in the head and he died at a hospital in Srinagar,” he said, adding, “I was praying at a mosque when I received a call from a neighbour telling me that my son was wounded. I was deeply shocked and it left me shattered.”

Wani said that the government is considering compensating the families as "the police report mentions that they are not involved in any criminal case.” He added, “We have filed an application for compensation with the office of the Deputy Commissioner, Pulwama.”

The explosion at Rahmoo is among a string of such incidents reported in Kashmir. Several people have sustained injuries, while some people have died due to leftover shells exploding. In some cases, children collect shells from sites of gun battles between security forces and militants. In some other cases, blasts take place while people remove the rubble of damaged houses.

In a recent such example, on Wednesday, two boys were wounded as they were playing with a shell in Kulgam area of south Kashmir. They were fiddling with the shell near a water tank, when it burst, leaving them injured, said a police official. He described the blast as “mysterious,” adding that the nature of the explosive that resulted in minor injuries to the boys is being ascertained.

In Kashmir, for several years, human rights activists had campaigned against the use of a large swathe of a land close to a civilian area in central Kashmir’s Budgam as an artillery firing range. Following public pressure, the army abandoned the area. But now, explosives that are not cleared from encounter sites are posing a new threat.

Intizar Bhat, who was injured after a grenade accidentally exploded. Nisar-ul-Haq

Intizar Bhat, who was injured after a grenade accidentally exploded. Nisar-ul-Haq

In the past four months, fatalities have been reported in at least half a dozen explosions across Kashmir. In October 2018, 6 people died and dozens were injured in an explosion at an encounter site at Kulgam. In another incident, a shell exploded as a boy was playing with it, while another one detonated at a school in Sirnoo area of Pulwama, leaving several injured. Fatalities in similar incidents have been reported from Shopian as well.

Human rights activists have denounced authorities for their failure to clear shells from gun battle sites. Activist Mohammad Ahsan Untoo said that it is the responsibility of the government forces to clear explosives from gun battle areas.

“In some cases, bodies of militants are left badly charred as the houses are blown up through the use of heavy shells. The forces are not adhering to their own standard operating procedures (SOPs). They don’t sanitise areas to clear explosives,” he said.

However, Senior Superintendent of police (SSP), Kulgam, Gurinderpal Singh, said that youth converge at gun battle sites, and disrupt operations launched to clear the areas of any explosives.

“We even put up banners asking the youth not to gather near encounter sites until combing has been completed. But they don’t adhere to the advisories, due to which, at times, it becomes difficult to ensure a foolproof clearing operation,” he said.

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Updated Date: May 04, 2019 17:59:12 IST