Mutalhama, Kulgam: In Kashmir, militants abduct policemen at dusk. It is a careful strategy to avoid leaving footprints that can be tracked in populated areas during the day. The targets are taken away with such meticulousness that it leaves them no time to react. Brought to an orchard few miles away, militants torture them and 'confessional videos' are also shot.
On the next day, their bullet-riddled bodies are found by locals, mainly by men coming out of mosques after offering morning prayers. As news spreads and tensions swell, immediately, as if on cue, a video goes viral on social media about the deceased, listing out his 'bad' deeds, in his own words, his 'betrayal' of the Kashmir cause, his 'selling-out' of the blood of Kashmiris and such, while a gun is held at his head.
However, in case of Mohammad Saleem Shah, the abductors decided to take the risk. Saleem, a special police officer, left his home in south Kashmir's Kulgam on Friday evening for a fishing expedition with three friends. He enjoyed fishing so much that even the fear of three dozen militants active in the district couldn't deter him from following his passion.
"They came with guns and separated him from his friends," Abdul Gani Shah, 68, father of Saleem and a resident of Mutalhama area of Qaimoh, Kulgam, said on Sunday morning.
Shah is inconsolable. He intermittently cries out the name of his son, loudly and painfully, and curses his elder son for failing to get his brother home for last time so that he could hug him. Saleem was working as a labourer before going on to become a special police officer (SPO). He was inducted as constable in the Jammu and Kashmir Police in 2016 and was (at present) posted at the District Police Lines in Pulwama. Ten days ago, he returned home to arrange for his younger sister's engagement ceremony.
The flaking cement walls of Shah's home are a testimony to the poverty in which the family lives. Inside, not a single room is fully furnished and it looks like the under-construction house will take years to complete. With Saleem, who was the only earning hand of his family, gone, it is going to be an impossible task.
In Kashmir's killing fields, the toll of policemen who are abducted and later killed for being part of the police force and performing their duties, is rising. Saleem’s was the seventh abduction in a string of incidents that has sparked an urge for revenge among the security forces.
A video of Saleem leaked on Facebook shows militants interrogating the dazed policemen who looks at peace with his fate but is struggling to talk with his head help up against a tree. From a faint smile on his face, it doesn't look like he has the slightest idea of what is about to happen, one militant asks him how was it that he got promoted to the post of constable from an ad-hoc special police officer so quickly.
"We were responsible for the killing of Adil Pathan, a militant," Saleem replies. The militant asks whether he was saying it under duress. "No, I am not."
The video is cut short, so was Saleem's life.
His body was found on Khudwani-Arwani Road, a few kilometres from his home. When the forces arrived, locals had gathered at the crime scene but no one could muster the courage to step closer. Then, urged by forces, a group of locals tied the body with a red rope and hauled it into an armoured vehicle.
Acts of extreme brutality, including beheadings, have been occurring with some regularity in Kashmir now. Most of the victims happened to have either worked for security forces as informers or are men in uniform. Some of the worst cases have been reported from north where young men were beheaded and their headless bodies dumped in orchards.
Saleem’s was the seventh killing of a policeman since one year and the figure excludes the abduction and killing by militants of Kashmiri Army soldiers. In the Vehil-Chatwatan village of Shopian, there is silence at the house of Constable Javed Ahmed Dar. He was kidnapped by three gunmen when he was on way to buy medicine for his ailing mother.
The police launched a massive operation to locate Javed when he was kidnapped. He was the personal security officer of top IPS officer Shailendra Kumar Mishra. On the very next day, his body was found by the road at Dangam in Shopian. He too was tortured to death. According to police officials, he had participated in an encounter that left important militants commanders dead in Kachdoora village in Shopian.
"When they brought the body, I said I don’t want to see him. They had fired bullets in his chest," Abdul Hameed Dar, the father of Javeed said on Sunday. "It is a Kashmiri versus Kashmir situation. Can anyone afford to leave their jobs when they are the only earners in the family?"
These gruesome killings often spark an urge for revenge among security forces. And that is exactly what happened on Sunday. The forces had launched a massive search operation for rescuing their comrade, but after they received a body-bag instead, they intensified the search of the killers. That led them to the first successful operation against militants in Khudwani, a Jama'at-e-Islami bastion, where three militants, who were responsible for the killing of Saleem, were gunned down within 24 hours.
Among the dead militants is Suhail Ahmad, a Lashkar-e-Taiba member who played cricket with Saleem just few years ago in a playground that is equidistant from his home and that of the cop's in this Kulgam village.
"Islam does not permit vengeance. It asks for forgiveness," said Reyaz Ahmad Shah, the brother of Saleem, "But how can I forget that he was the only one with whom I could share my secrets? What would they get by killing a normal policeman? Wasn’t my brother a Kashmiri? If his killing will get us aazadi, then let them kill us too."
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Updated Date: Jul 23, 2018 10:20:41 IST