The survivor speaks of his friend killed in cold blood
Shopian: When Zubin Mehta was conducting a concert at the serene shores of Srinagar’s Dal lake, the 14th Battalion of CRPF was putting in action a plan to brand four youth as terrorists after killing them in an “encounter” in south Kashmir’s Shopian district.
On September 7 in 2013, the CRPF said that the four militants were killed in Gagren village, in the outskirts of Shopian town, where they were planning to attack their base. Three among the youth, police said, had ‘no record of involvement in any subversive acts’, while police identified the fourth as a Lashkar-e-Toiba commander of Pakistani origin.
The official response to the staged encounter was denial, followed by setting up of a commission to probe the killings. While the probe –ordered after another youth was killed by government forces during protests over the staged encounter on September 13 – has found CRPF guilty, not action has been taken against them.
Adil, who survived the CRPF firing on that fateful day, now reveals the events leading up to the death of his friend Tawseef. The two, along with a third friend, Ishfaq, were riding a motorcycle on way to an Shopian’s Government Degree College where Adil was to write his examination. Tawseef, who Adil says, had set up a carpet business in Shopian town a week before, joked about becoming “richer than Dhirubhai Ambani.”
Tawseef had insisted on giving Adil and Ishfaq a ride, knowing that he would need to settle his friend’s nerves before the examination started in the college at 2:30 p.m. The two left at 12:30 p.m., Adil says, and stopped on the way to fill the petrol tank. They then dropped Ishfaq at his uncle’s and drove ahead.
The bike was passing by the CRPF camp in Gagren. Adil says, “Grim-looking soldiers stood inside the bunker at the gate of the camp, holding their automatic guns; their nozzles jutting out through the small openings.” As Tawseef turned his motorcycle’s left indicator on and began to negotiate the turn, Adil says a swarm of soldiers standing at the square “horrified us”.
Troopers signaled and Tawseef halted the bike. Two soldiers in riot gear, Adil says, pointing their guns at them, and came closer.
“A CRPF man asked where we are going and why. He asked us to show the registration paoers for the bike. Tawseef couldn’t find them and politely said ‘he had forgotten them at home’. Then CRPF trooper went away, signaling to us to wait and not move,” said Adil.
“Sir, I have to appear in an exam. Please let us go,” Adil pleaded and took out his examination card. The trooper didn’t hear him, or pretended so, and continued walking towards the camp. He says that my worries grew. Tawseef resumed searching for registration papers “in places where he had earlier found nothing”.
In a little while, another biker was stopped near where Adil and Tasweef stood. The CRPF men sought his identity card, says Adil. The biker took out an election card, he says, and the CRPF trooper studied it closely.
“After a moment, there was a sudden bang followed by another. Rapid, incessant bursts of gunfire filled the air. We did not know where it came from. We started running for our lives,” Adil says.
The two friends ran towards the college road, Adil running ahead.
“When I looked around, I saw Tawseef limping, screaming and beseeching me to wait. He was hit,” he says. “I saw that Tawseef was not able to walk. Blood was oozing out of his body and I stopped.”
But the gunfire didn’t stop. As he turned back to help his childhood friend, he felt as if ‘an ant had bitten me on left side of my abdomen’ and his left leg, was in pain and was becoming heavier. “As if dogs were pulling at it”.
His hand felt a sticky fluid oozing out. Blood. Adil too was hit by a bullet. He says he fell besides Tawseef who was unable to walk, “almost dead”.
Adil says, “Tawseef’s throat was dry. He wanted water. No one gave him water. We were talking to each other in sign language. I felt it was the last day of my life. I began chanting prayers and repenting for my sins,” he said.
On other side of the road, the CRPF troopers had taken positions, knees on ground, and their fingers kept pulling the triggers. The barrels were pointed at Tawseef and I. They fired indiscriminately, as if they were shooting target boards.”
Some time had passed, when a person drenched in blood, fell between them. “I don’t know where it came from. It dropped from sky. I thought we were going to die like this,” says Adil.
Soon after the firing stopped, the CRPF troopers crossed the road and walked towards the pile of injured youth. “‘Take us to the hospital.
Give us water’, I kept asking them. But they were not listening.”
Instead, the troopers assaulted Tawseef with gun butts. Adil says, “I was howling, ‘no, no, no’, begging them to leave him alone, that he will die if they didn’t stop. How could they beat a half dead person! They weren’t humans.”
Adil saw the troopers grab Tawseef and drag him inside a standing police jeep. At the CRPF camp, the forces dragged Adil to a shop front and kept him there for some 15 minutes. “They wanted to record my statement first. All I could hear was the tramping of feet, slamming car doors and babbling voices. Then a CRPF officer grabbed me and shoved me into an ambulance. They put me in the front seat but I kept telling them that we came together and that we would leave together.”
Adil was taken to the Shopian sub district hospital, and referred to Srinagar’s SMHS hospital after first aid. Doctors in Srinagar found a hole in the left side of his abdomen. Miraculously, the bullet had not pierced any internal organs. A small hole was sewn shut with three stitches. But a vacuum was left in Adil’s life, never to be filled.
Rafiq, Tawseef’s brother was going to atraders meet when he heard about the gunfire. He called Tawseef on his mobile phone a couple of times, but there was no answer. Worried, he rushed to the hospital where a milling crowd was anticipating arrival of the injured. Rafiq says a white-colour police jeep arrived and he saw his brother in it.
He still remembers tawseef’s last words – “tresh” (water).
“First I only saw a face smeared with blood. My legs refused to walk.
I could not decide anything. I was frozen stiff, like ice. Then I gathered some courage and went near the ambulance. Seeing my brother craving for water, I tore open a glucose bottle and give him some water,” Rafiq says.
Adil says every night before going to bed, the scene of the soldiers shooting appears in front of his eyes. “I believe it is a memory that has to live with me forever. I have never visited the college again. I quit studies,” he says, shuddering at the thought of passing by the spot of the incident again.
On October 1 2013, chief minister Omar Abdullah ordered a judicial probe into the killings and a one-man commission led by Justice (Retired) M L Koul was set up to probe the shootout. Adil cannot remember the exact date of the first hearing, but faces present at the meeting still haunt him.
Four months after the commission was set up, Adil’s hope of justice reflected in the optimistic note he wrote to the commission. But all hopes are long gone. “They only torture me mentally by asking same questions, again and again,” he said.
In July 2014, commission submitted its first report indicating the CRPF for innocent killings. The commission while justifying the killing of Pakistani militant Abdullah Haroon, had termed the other three slain youth as innocent and had demanded compensation to the families of victims. It sought stern action against the guilty CRPF troopers.
Almost three years after the commission submitted its first report in 2014, no action has been initiated against the CRPF troopers. “It is a murder of justice,” Tawseef’s father, Ghulam Mohammad Bhat, told Kashmir reader.