J&K: Mysterious civilian killing near Rashtriya Rifles camp sparks protests; army blames terrorists as police begin inquiry

The mysterious death of a civilian allegedly at the hands of the Indian Army last night in central Kashmir’s Budgam district has only increased tension in the Valley. After protests broke out in Budgam, authorities snapped internet services to prevent further law and order problems. Relatives of the deceased, Ishfaq Ahmad Ganie, are blaming soldiers of a Rashtriya Rifles camp at Chattergam for his death. Soldiers of this camp have been accused of 'targeting civilians' — this is the third such incident in the past seven years — and in one case, even its own men.

Ishfaq, a resident of Budgam's Magraypora, was shot in the head and left leg a few hundred meters from the camp. He was taken to a local hospital in Chattergam, but was referred to Srinagar's SMHS Hospital “critical” condition. Doctors put him on advanced life support. “He had bullet wounds in the head and leg. He succumbed this morning,” a doctor said. Ishfaq's cousin Muzaffar said his kin was a carpenter and the incident occurred when he was heading home. “He was neither a militant nor an informer. The army killed him for no reason,” Muzaffar alleged.  “Is it possible for militants to kill a civilian 300 metres from an army camp with the forces having no knowledge of the incident?”

Ishfaq Ahmad Ganie's relatives attend his funeral in Budgam. Image courtesy: Muneeb ul Islam.

Ishfaq Ahmad Ganie's relatives attend his funeral in Budgam. Image courtesy: Muneeb ul Islam.

The army's Srinagar-based spokesman Colonel Rajesh Kalia denied the accusation, and said Ishfaq was “shot by terrorists, 500 to 600 metres away from the camp”. The army said a Quick Reaction Team reached the spot and found Ishfaq in “a pool of blood.” The army also clarified that reports of an “individual lobbing a grenade on army camp and retaliation are completely baseless.”  However, after protests and widespread condemnation, the Jammu and Kashmir Police started its own investigation. Budgam senior superintendent of police Tejinder Singh said the army informed the police about the incident and the investigation is on.

This is the third time such an incident has occurred near the Rashtriya Rifles' Chattergam camp. The first occurred in October 2012, after soldiers fired at a Tata Sumo vehicle, killing one of its own jawans.  The soldiers, according to investigation carried out by the army, thought the people sitting in the car were militants. That incident left Ghulam Ahmad Sheikh, a Kashmiri soldier of 35 Rashtriya Rifles dead and two others injured. The occupants were returning to the camp to resume their duties.

The second incident occurred on 3 November, 2014, when soldiers of the 53 Rashtriya Rifles fired, reportedly without provocation, at a Maruti car at Chattergam, killing teenagers Faisal Yusuf and Mehraj-u-din Dar and injuring two others. The teens died on the spot and the incident sparked protests and shutdown across the Valley. The army said it asked the teenagers to stop the car, but they refused, which led to the encounter.  The Narendra Modi government termed the incident "highly regrettable", said a fair inquiry will be held and action will be taken against those found guilty. "The Budgam incident in the Kashmir valley is highly regrettable. A fair inquiry will be held and action taken against those found guilty," Defence Minister Arun Jaitley tweeted.

Later, an Indian Army inquiry indicted nine soldiers, including a Junior Commissioned Officer of 53 Rashtriya Rifles, for killing the youth in “cold blood”. The army retracted its initial statement and apologised for the incident. “The court of inquiry found gross violation of rules of engagement by the soldiers. They have been indicted. There has been a total failure of the command by the officer in-charge of the army column,” the army said after the inquiry. It is not clear if Northern Command later gave soldiers legal immunity or if they were dismissed.

Meanwhile, 14-year-old Muskan Jan, who was allegedly injured in cross-fire when militants attacked an army camp in Sher-e-Kashmir Agriculture University’s (SKAUST) campus at Khudwani last Thursday, also died on Saturday morning. “She slipped into a coma after suffering a gunshot injury to the skull. She was undergoing treatment at SMHS hospital where she breathed her last this morning,” a doctor said. Thousands of people attended the funeral prayers of the girl, who was laid to rest at her ancestral village in Kulgam.

This year, at least a hundred civilians have been killed in Kashmir. Local insurgency has increased after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in 2016. “Three civilians, including a 14-year-old girl, have been killed in last three days. These unabated civilian killings are a cause of concern for every right-thinking person in the state and the country. The killing are highly condemnable and they should stop immediately,” Mohammad Yusuf Taragami, the CPM leader and former MLA from Kulgam, said.

“In Kashmir, killings of teenagers are commonplace. The reasons for these murders is often nothing more than the sadism of the one or other party involved in the conflict. It is heart-rending to learn about civilian killings, which have become norm of the day. How can the government claim normalcy when such cold-blooded murders are taking place?” he asked. Former chief minister Mehbboba Mufti asked the governor to ensure security agencies avoid collateral damage and are held accountable.

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Updated Date: Nov 24, 2018 21:16:24 IST

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