Srinagar: A massive controversy erupted in Kashmir Wednesday after a civilian from Srinagar’s HMT area was killed in the aftermath of a militant attack on CRPF personnel in the Sopore region of north Kashmir.
The victim has been identified as Bashir Ahmed, a 65-year-old man who worked as a civil contractor. Ahmed was accompanied by his three-year-old grandson at the time. A CRPF trooper also died in the attack.
While Ahmed’s family has released a video message on social media, accusing Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel of dragging him out of his car and shooting him at point blank range, the Jammu & Kashmir Police said he died in the exchange of fire with militants.
At a press conference Wednesday, Kashmir Inspector General of Police (IGP) Vijay Kumar said the family’s accusations against the CRPF were driven by threats issued to them by militants.
However, with the allegation gaining traction online, the police in Sopore threatened legal action against those who perpetuate the “false reports and rumours” that Ahmed was killed by security forces.
The news surfaced on some social networking sites that the civilian was brought down and killed is totally baseless and is far beyond the facts, Sopore Police refutes and denies the news and legal action shall be initiated against the false reports and rumours @KashmirPolice
— Sopore Police (@SoporePolice) July 1, 2020
Soon after Ahmed’s death, photos of his grandson from the encounter site flooded social media, including a heartbreaking shot showing the child sitting on top of his grandfather’s corpse.
Among those who shared the photos on Twitter were several top police officers of Jammu & Kashmir Police, with the official handle of Kashmir zone police force tweeting an image of the child being rescued from the site of the encounter.
This led to speculation that the photographs were being shared for publicity, even as anger erupted over what is being seen as public disclosure of a minor witness’ identity, a violation of the Juvenile Justice Act.
Kumar, however, hinted that the photos may have been clicked by security personnel, and said whoever took them would face action.
It is also a breach of the “best interests of the child” principle as required to be the basis of any action by the authorities under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which India is a state party.
— Amnesty India (@AIIndia) July 1, 2020
Social media users also slammed a viral video that purportedly showed a member of the security forces standing over Ahmed’s dead body.
‘Shot as he tried to protect his grandson’
The encounter in question took place Wednesday morning, when two militants allegedly attacked a CRPF patrol party from a mosque in the vicinity. The militants are believed to have escaped.
As the exchange of fire triggered vastly divergent accounts with regard to the circumstances of Ahmed’s death, Kumar convened an urgent press conference in Srinagar to offer the police’s version of events. At the press conference, he said some individuals were using the incident to stoke trouble by sharing false news.
“The video message circulated on social media by the son and daughter of the slain man is not true. They have levelled those allegations due to militant threat,” he said. “I want to ask whether they were present at the site of the incident. Did they see for themselves who fired? They circulated video messages blaming the forces for killing their father… which is baseless. If there is any eyewitness, they should come forward, so we can act,” he added.
Describing the exchange with militants, he said, “At around 7.30 am, when CRPF men were de-boarding from the vehicle to be part of joint naka party at model town Sopore, two militants hiding in the mosque fired indiscriminately at the CRPF men… One CRPF trooper died and three others were injured.”
Kumar added, “A civilian was also hit by bullets and died later. As the militants carried out the attack, the victim came out of his car carrying the kid but was hit by bullets.”
He claimed that Ahmed tried to flee the car after hearing gun shots, and sustained a bullet injury as he attempted to protect his grandson.
Following the exchange, Kumar said, he deliberately didn’t shut down the internet services in Sopore “just to see how people would behave”.
He also appealed to mosque committees to exert pressure on militants to not use mosques as attack bases, noting that it was the second instance in a month where militants had attacked the security forces from a mosque, the first one taking place in Pampore in June.
Asked about the identity of the person who clicked the child’s picture with Ahmed’s corpse, the IGP said, “Going to the operation area with mobiles is wrong. I will ensure police teams going for operations don’t carry mobiles along as that may pose a threat to their lives. Whoever has shared his pictures will have to face action.”
‘They ended our world’
According to Ahmed’s family, he was on his way to Handwara, just over 20 km from Sopore, when the exchange of fire began.
“We received a call, telling us someone has killed your uncle on the road. Then we went to the spot and asked some people present there what happened. They told us that the militants attacked the security forces and, in that process, they lost numerous persons,” said Farooq Ahmed Khan, Ahmed’s nephew.
“To take revenge, they took my uncle out of his car, while his grandson was in his lap, and they shot at him in the back. He was dead on the spot. Local residents watched the scene through their windows.”
Khan’s wife, who earlier worked with the police, alleged that the security forces then placed the minor on Ahmed’s lifeless body, “clicked pictures for a PR stunt and then claimed they had rescued the child”.
Another relative, Tanveer Ahmed, said Ahmed was on his way to Handwara to bring back the family help. “The grandson was extremely attached to Khan sahab, to the extent that his mother had left him with his grandparents. All day he would follow Khan sahab… Today, when Khan sahab left for Handwara, the child wanted to accompany him. Little did we know this would be the last time he saw his grandfather’s face. We are devastated,” he added.
Ahmed’s widow Farooqa Khan was disconsolate. “They ended our world, what can we say? The military personnel took him out of the car and shot him. Is this Modi’s justice? Is this our freedom?” she said.
The two major Jammu & Kashmir political parties, the National Conference (NC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), condemned the killing and demanded a probe into the incident.
In a statement issued Wednesday, NC spokesperson Imran Nabi Dar asked the government to reveal the facts that led to Ahmed’s death. “Targeting civilians, minors is condemnable, such barbaric incidents cannot be tolerated. The heart-wrenching sight of a dead man with the kid atop his chest has shaken every sane person. Incidents like these agitate one’s souls and conscience,” he said.
The PDP said the statement issued by the family was different from the official account and this needs to be probed. “This needs to be probed at a high level and a time-bound inquiry and impartial probe into the matter is what we demand from the government at present,” the PDP added.
This is an updated version of the report