Srinagar: A small trench dug in a field at Sirnoo in the southern part of Kashmir was the hideout of three militants including former army man Zahoor Ahmad Thoker, who had joined Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) after fleeing with a gun from an army camp in Kashmir.
On Saturday, a large number of army and policemen surrounded them from all sides. In the gun battle that ensued, the three militants including Zahoor were killed. Though a cordon was laid early morning, a routine now in Kashmir to foil protests around encounter sites, by the end of the day seven civilians were dead and many others had been wounded.
SOPs not followed?
The Saturday's encounter has raised several questions on whether or not the government forces are following their own standard operating procedures (SOPs) during encounters.
As per the SOPs not only are the people to be duly warned, other measures including use of tear smoke shells have to be made to disperse the youth.
The residents of Sirnoo said that they weren’t aware of the encounter in the area until they heard the gunshots early in the morning. Zahoor’s father, Abdul Majeed Thoker, said that he "heard the gunshots early in the morning before his son was killed in the gunfire along with two other militants".
"We were handed over the body by the police later in the afternoon,” he said.
“The forces have been scouting the area for the last several months. On Saturday, we were unaware of the cordon until we heard the gunshots. My other son was also picked up by the police a few months ago and they were seeking the whereabouts of my son (Zahoor). But it was only late in the afternoon that Zahoor’s body was handed over,” said Majeed.
Earlier, the police said in a statement that while they were carrying out the anti-militancy operation, "A crowd who 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 (sic)."
Ravideep Sahai, Inspector General of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), says that the security forces including the CRPF, are well trained and "follow the SOPs".
However, an official of the senior superintendent of police (SSP) rank admitted, on condition of anonymity, that the "SOPs were being violated".
"The SOPs get violated as at times operations are being carried out in a difficult terrain. Though the security forces are required to use water cannons to disperse the crowd, we can’t do see in hilly areas,” the official said.
'All civilians were shot in upper body'
Besides the seven civilians from the crowd who were killed on Saturday, at least 32 others were injured. Medical Superintendent of District Hospital Pulwama, Abdul Rasheed Parra, says that many of the civilians who arrived at the hospital were fired at on their upper body parts.
"We had received at least 26 injured and six other people were brought dead to the hospital. Out of the injured 12 were shifted for specialised treatment to Srinagar. All those who had died had received bullets in critical areas of the body like chest, neck and head. Of those, who were referred for specialised treatment, one had received a bullet in the abdomen, one also had a shoulder injury and another in the eye.”
Civilian deaths near encounter sites have become routine in the state. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) figures reveal that this year up to 2 December, 37 civilians were killed. Officials said that most of these civilians were gunned down near encounter sites, where government forces claimed, "they (civilians) were trying to disrupt the anti-militancy operations".
In Prichoo area of Pulwama, which is located few kilometres away from Sirnoo, Abdul Hamid, uncle of 14-year-old Aqib Bashr who was killed on Saturday, said that he had received the bullet in the head due to which he had died on the way to the hospital.
Bashir was laid in the grave with a bandaged head that was soaked in blood.
Another youth was hit with a bullet in the abdomen in the same area, local residents of Pirchoo said. He was later referred to the SMHS hospital where he is still recuperating.
Can specialised forces help?
Following the killing of civilians in Kashmir, the political parties have been seeking that the forces shouldn’t not only exercise restraint but use better crowd control means by way of deploying specialised forces. However, Ravideep Sahai, Inspector General of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), IG Sahai says that deployment of the specialised force like the Rapid Action Force (RAF) will not help.
"In Kashmir, the situation is different than that of other parts of the country. It is a mix of militancy and law and order. We can’t deploy the specialised forces like the RAF to deal with incidents of militancy,” he said, adding that “during the exchange of fire at an encounter site between security forces and militants, there is a chance that anyone from the crowd who is near the gun battle site might get hit by a stray bullet".
Contrarily, in the Sirnoo encounter, local residents claim, the civilian deaths followed after the gun battle was over.
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Updated Date: Dec 17, 2018 23:10:30 IST