Srinagar: As the civilian killings in a reported armed encounter between separatist militants and security forces drew wide-spread public outrage, Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha on Thursday ordered a magisterial inquiry into the whole incident that took place in Srinagar’s Hyderpora area on Monday night.
“The government will take suitable action as soon as the (inquiry) report is submitted in a time-bound manner”. He also said that his administration “wants to reiterate its commitment of protecting lives of innocent civilians and that it will ensure there is no injustice”, he said. The inquiry will be held by an officer of the additional district magistrate.
Amid mounting tensions, the policemen carrying sophisticated firearms and wearing bandannas to cover their faces late Wednesday night swooped in Srinagar’s media hub Mushtaq Press Enclave and forcibly evicted the family members of the slain civilians Muhammad Altaf Bhat and Dr, Mudassir Gul who were on a sit in to demand return of mortal remains of their kin for proper burial as per local Islamic tradition.
The authorities first snapped electricity to the area and then policemen arrived there and, before evicting the protesters, they put out the candles lit in the memory of the slain off, snatched the placards and then lifted them one after another to put them in police vans. Abdul Majeed, 62, elder brother of Bhat could be seen pulling a policeman's AK 47 rifle towards his chest and yelling ‘You dahshat gard (terrorists) shoot me, shoot me too.”
While being detained, the bereaved chanted "We want justice…it is we the family members who have the right on the bodies of our dead."
The police had said on Tuesday that since there were some fears of law-and-order problems, they decided not to hand over the bodies of the civilians to their families and instead took them to far off Handwara and buried them there. The Lieutenant Governor is silent on the families’ demand of returning the mortal remains of their kin even though various mainstream parties had solicited his intervention in the matter.
Former chief minister and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) president, Mehbooba Mufti, said that she wanted to visit the bereaved but the police has locked the gates to her Gupkar Road residence here and also placed a ‘bunker vehicle' crisscrossing the main entrance. She tweeted, “Again under house arrest & PDPs @SAAQQIIB & @Suhail_Bukhari too have been arrested. The pattern of using innocent civilians as human shields & then denying their families the right to a decent burial shows that GOI has plumbed new depths of inhumanity.”
Earlier while reacting to the police action against the protesting families of the slain civilians, she had said, “Instead of handing over mortal remains of the innocent civilians, police has arrested the family members for demanding the bodies of their loved ones. Unbelievably ruthless & insensitive. Least they can do is return the mortal remains immediately.”
In another tweet, she said, “Their narrative right from the start was based on lies to escape accountability. They don't want to be held accountable for their actions & that’s why they are muzzling voices that speak up against such injustice & atrocities.”
Former chief minister Omar Abdullah on Thursday afternoon sat on a protest sit-in along with his National Conference colleagues near his home in Srinagar's posh Sonawar area to demand the return of mortal remains to the families of the slain civilians. Meanwhile, the government sources said that the bodies are likely to be handed over to the families and that Lt. Governor Manoj Sinha is currently discussing the pros and cons of it with senior police and administration officials.
Abdullah earlier said, “This is the naya Kashmir of 2021. This is how the J&K police fulfils @PMOIndia promise to remove “dil ki doori & Dilli se doori. It’s outrageous that the J&K administration did not allow the families to conduct a peaceful sit-in protest.”
He also said, “I’ve rarely seen families who have been wronged conduct themselves with such dignity. They have been reasonable in their demands & dignified in their conduct. The result of this is visible for all to see as the police drags them away in the dead of night,” he said, adding, “LG @manojsinha_ should reach out to these families, hear them in person & then give them the bodies of their loved ones. It’s the only right thing to do, it’s the only humane thing to do.”
Former minister and chairman of JKPCC Sajad Gani Lone tweeted: “What on earth Has happened to the administration. Why can’t they present a human face. Why are they so intent on presenting a very inhuman and ugly face.”
Kashmir’s Inspector General of Police, Vijay Kumar, had on Tuesday expressed regret over the civilians’ killing but added that “as per our source and digital evidence” Gul was a “top-ranking overground worker” of the militants and Bhat was apparently harbouring them. He had said that two militants-one of them possibly a Pakistani national killed in the “encounter” were running a “hi-tech” hideout in a commercial building in Srinagar’s Hyderpora area owned by Bhat.
The families have strongly denied the charge and termed the IGP’s claims as “a bundle of lies” to “cover-up the cold-blooded murders of innocent civilians.”
Abdul Latief Magray, who had shot into prominence after killing a militant with a stone in J&K’s Ramban district in 2005, too has questioned the police’s claim that his son Aamir Ahmed was a “hybrid” militant killed with an alleged Pakistani national in Monday’s ‘gunfight’. He claimed that his 24-year-old son was working as a labourer at a shop in Srinagar. “Myself and my family have always stood by India. Is this (killing of his son) the reward that they have given to us for being patriotic Indians?”, he asked.