Chronicle of a Tragedy Foretold

  • Shabir Ibn Yusuf
  • Publish Date: Apr 22 2017 9:46PM
  • |
  • Updated Date: Apr 22 2017 9:46PM
Chronicle of a Tragedy Foretold

                                    Illustration by Suhail Naqshbandi/KI

How a series of miscalculations by the security establishment led to the April 9 killings

 

The killing of eight young men in firing by government forces during the Srinagar parliamentary by-election on April 9 has shone a harsh light on the state’s failure to assess the intensity of public anger and adequately prepare for the security risk it posed, especially in Ganderbal and Budgam.

The eight men, aged between 15 and 25, were killed in six separate incidents. At least 53 civilians were injured, seven from bullets, 25 from pellets and 21 from teargas shells. Of those injured by pellets, most were hit in the eyes.

On March 28, a Hizb-ul-Mujahideen militant was slain in an encounter at Durbugh village in Budgam. Three men in their 20s were also killed and 18 people wounded when the police and the army fired at a group of villagers who had surrounded the encounter site and were pelting stones at them in an attempt to help the besieged militant escape.

In protest, Chadoora tehsil, in which Durbugh falls, observed a complete shutdown. Demonstrations were organised every day until April 8, the eve of the by-election, and government forces had to be deployed to keep the situation from getting out of hand. Almost every day, mostly young men visited the encounter site. “A large number of youth was there every day. They would take pictures,” Muhammad Jalal, an elderly resident of Durbugh told Kashmir Ink. “They came from every corner of the district.”

But this build-up of anger and emotion was “totally ignored” by the state apparatus, a former Senior Superintendent of Police who served in Bugdam pointed out. “After every incident, you have to carry out an assessment before executing any other task,” he added. “Lack of this assessment resulted in a situation where seven youth lost their lives.”

Budgam has long been counted as one of the more “peaceful districts” in the valley, ‘peaceful’ being shorthand for less incidence of militancy, fewer street protests and sparser deployment of military and paramilitary. Indeed, even during last year’s “uprising”, when much of Kashmir was heavily garrisoned, only 21 companies of paramilitary forces were deployed in Bugdam district. For the election, 80 more companies were deployed, including 26 of the BSF. As requisitioned by the J&K government, the central home ministry, on March 22, sanctioned 200 additional paramilitary companies for providing security during the by-elections. These forces, pulled from Jharkhand, Manipur, Nagaland and some others states on April 1, were supposed to arrive here on the evening of April 3. However, they did not arrive until April 7, just a day before they were to be deployed at polling stations. The delay was caused by the closure of the Srinagar-Jammu highway due to bad weather. After their arrival, they were straightway rushed to Budgam and Ganderbal, while reserve forces were deployed in Srinagar.

As a rule, any new force coming to Kashmir has to undergo a month-long “training capsule” at Khrew Military Training School before they are deployed. In the course of the training, the military or paramilitary personnel are made aware of the prevailing situation and how to tackle it. “The training capsule has been given to the new force for the last 30 years,” a senior police officer who asked not to be named told Kashmir Ink. “They are taught how to deal with the situation, about human rights and other issues confronting them in the field.”

And since 2008, paramilitary personnel are equipped with riot gear before they are sent out in the field. “They are provided shields, lathis and teargas canisters to deal with the situation,” the officer said.

Clearly, there wasn’t time to train the paramilitary forces deployed in Budgam and Ganderbal on April 7; they were not even given shields, lathis and teargas canisters. “To deal with stone-pelting protesters, the forces thus had firearms such as AK-47s, carbines and INSA rifles,” said a mid-level police officer who was on “election duty” in Budgam. “When you get attacked, you will obviously defend yourself with the weapon that is available.”

So, when faced with protesters in Dalwan on election day, the BSF used live bullets, killing Faizan Fayaz Dar, 15, and Abass Jehangir Rather, 22, both students of Higher Secondary School, Dalwan. In fact, according to one of the 32 FIRs registered in connection with the killings, “all seven youth killed in Budgam and Ganderbal fell to bullets of the BSF and CRPF companies brought from other states for election duty.”

Again, it was a newly arrived BSF contingent that fired into a group of protesters on Srinagar-Barsoo road in Ganderbal, killing Amir Farooq Ganie, a resident of Barsoo, on the spot. Another protester was wounded. “We were battling intense stone-pelting in the area when a BSF party arrived at Barsoo Chowk after depositing EVMs and opened fire on the protesters,” SSP Ganderbal Fayyaz Ahmad Lone told Kashmir Ink. According to an FIR filed at Kher Bhawani police station, “BSF opened fire on protesters and killed the youth and injured another.” The FIR doesn’t identify the BSF battalion.

In Budgam in particular, security officials weren’t expecting much trouble from the civilian population. “We had prepared to tackle militant attacks that were expected but the situation took a different turn,” said an officer at Police Control Room, Kashmir, all but admitting to a misreading of the situation.

The protests were intense, so much so that at least 37 polling stations had to be wound up. About two dozen Electronic Voting Machines were damaged and the protesters also torched a bus at a polling station in Beerwah. As per police records, no less than 172 incidents of stone-pelting were reported in Budgam district on polling day. In Srinagar and Ganderbal districts together, at least 41 such incidents were reported.

And because the security establishment had underestimated the scale of public anger and, thus, was unprepared to tackle the protests, is it any surprise that innocent lives were lost?

 

BLOOD ON THE BALLOT

Killing of eight people marked the Srinagar parliamentary by-election on April 9

 Faizan Fayaz Dar, 15, and Abass Jahangir, 22, were killed when the BSF opened fire on a group of protesters in Dalwan, Budgam. Faizan was buried in his village the same day at 2 pm, but Abass’ body had not been handed over to his family when this report was filed. 

 

 Shabir Ahmad Bhat, 22, took bullets in his neck and shoulder when the CRPF fired at protesters at Dawlatpora in Chadoora. He died on the way to hospital.

 

Nissar Ahmad Mir, 25, of Ratsun, Beerwah, was killed in police-paramilitary firing in Ratsun Beerwah Budgam.

 

•  Akeel Ahmad Wani, 22, of Churmujroo, Beerwah, was killed at Beerwah.

 

•  Adil Farooq Sheikh, 19, of Yarigund, Kawoosa Khalisa, district Budgam, was killed at Kawoosa  at around 4 pm. He was hit by the bullets in his face and chest. 

 

Amir Ahmad Rathray, 20, of Dadwanpora, Chadoora, was killed by the CRPF at Sogam Sunday evening. Amir, who was staying with his grandparents, was allegedly shot while on his way to tuition.

 

Amir Farooq Ganie, of Barsoo was killed on the spot when the BSF fired into a crowd of protesters on Srinagar-Barsoo road at around 8.15 pm.

 

 

Srinagar by-poll: A security exercise

 

At every booth, around 200 police and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were deployed and the contingent was headed by a Deputy Superintendent of Police.  Four booths comprised of one Sector and Sector was headed by Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP). The SSPs were brought from the districts of Srinagar, Pulwama, Police District Sopore, Handwara and Awantipora. 

Every booth had four bullet proof vehicles at  stand-by mode and patrolling by the Army in their armoured vehicle, Casper

One of the SSP’s deployed on the duty told Kashmir Ink that the entire deployment had not slept during the night.  He said Anantnag elections would be a herculean task, given the prevailing volatile situation in south Kashmir.

“We deployed all the forces at 2 am,” he said adding that the deployment during the night was only made to avoid the clashes with the people. “Even then we were expecting attacks.”  

The police and CRPF personnel were seen checking pedestrians and vehicles moving in the poll bound area and Section 144 was imposed in Budgam district. For security reasons, polling stations in many places in Budgam were clustered in a single building.

The polling booths were looking deserted and roads in most parts were blocked with logs, manned by the dozens of masked youth.

As many as 1,485 polling stations, spread across 16 segments for voting in Anantnag Lok Sabha seat on May 25.