Four days after the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) killed four youth in the south Kashmir town of Shopian, ironically around the same time when musical maestro Zubin Mehta was holding his peace concert in Srinagar, one more youth was shot dead on 11 September by the same CRPF camp, triggering fresh protests in the town and a call for a shutdown.
The deceased has been identified as Rafi Hussain Rather, 28, of village Saidapora, a driver of a Tata Sumo. According to the police, Rather was shot in the face when he was passing the camp where people were protesting against the 8 September killings. After hearing the gunshots, locals rushed to the spot, only to find him dead. Rather’s death takes the total number of killings in Shopian since Mehta’s concert to five.
Following the incident, separatists called for a shutdown in the state on 12 September. In a statement, Hurriyat (G) Chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani called for protests across the state. Newly floated Awami Itihaad Party leader Engineer Rashid decided to gherao the Civil Secretariat on 12 September to protest the killing and highlight the “helplessness of the state government in protecting the people from the security forces”.
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who had earlier issued statements after similar incidents, has been silent over the deaths. This despite the fact that Shopian has been in turmoil and the continuing protests are threatening to spread through the Valley on the pattern of the 2009 unrest, which was triggered by the alleged rape and murder of two women by security forces in the same town.
However, state Congress president and Omar’s coalition partner Saifuddin Soz termed the killings “deplorable and highly painful”. Soz asked the government to share the “verified facts” with the people. Meanwhile, PDP president Mehbooba Mufti was stopped on her way to Shopian on 11 September.
There have been several versions of the 8 September killings. First, the CRPF said it had killed four terrorists who had attacked their camp at Gagran on the outskirts of Shopian. It subsequently claimed that only two of the four killed were terrorists. The J&K Police, who investigated the killings, identified three as civilians with “no previous record of militancy against their persons” and the fourth, a “non-local looking person”, as a Lashker-i-Toiba militant Abdullah Haroon.
“The evidence collected from the spot and subsequent verifications suggest that he (the fourth person) is Abdullah Haroon of LeT,” the police statement said. “One pistol, two grenades and a diary were recovered from the spot. Besides the mobile phone recovered from his pocket contains a video clip showing weapons snatched from the police and CRPF personnel in the incidents of Arwani and Awnera areas of Shopian. Further the mobile phone has Dialer/Skype software which is available with Lashkar commanders.”
However, local people have disputed this fact, saying that the fourth was a Bihari labourer. “ He was a Bihari mason. He was not a militant,” said Ghulam Mohammad Bhat, a resident. “The police is lying.” But nobody has so far has come forward to identify the body of the alleged Lashker militant, not even Bihari labourers working in the town. Police handed his body to the residents at Keharward village on 8 September, who buried him after a proper Islamic funeral. “If he is a civilian, then somebody should identify and claim his body. But there is nobody,” said a police officer. “What does this prove? This proves that the police is right”.
However, the CRPF story about the killings has not gone down well with most people in Valley. According to CRPF spokesperson Kishor Khushal, the youth were killed when they were passing their camp on two motorbikes and when asked to stop, one of them shot at the paramilitary personnel.
“Six youth were riding on two bikes and were signalled for security check. One of them refused to show his I-card and abused the sentry and then pulled out his pistol and opened fire. He fired two rounds from close range which missed the target after which his pistol got locked. Our men fired in retaliation killing four of them on spot and injuring two. The sixth person managed to flee from the spot,” Khushal said.