‘Harassment, humiliation’ spark anti-army demo in Handwara

Srinagar: Army soldiers allegedly harassed and humiliated a group of people Wednesday in Handwara town of the frontier Kupwara district for “sheltering militants.”
The soldiers of 47 RR cordoned off Banjar Mohalla of Vadhpora village in Handwara and asked people to come out so that house-to-house searches could be conducted, the locals told Kashmir Reader.
“The soldiers led by an officer thrashed some youth and misbehaved with the women folk. They also threatened to shoot us for allegedly harbouring militants,” they said.
A local resident, Dr Iqbal, said that his aged father Mohammad Akbar Bhat, a retired headmaster, was forced to take off his clothes in the freezing cold by an army Major.
“The army also stripped me naked on the pretext of frisking,” said Dr Iqbal, who works as a resource person at the office of Zonal Education Officer (ZEO), Handwara.
The army was enquiring about militant presence in the area, Dr Iqbal said. He also alleged that the soldiers used choicest abuses and accused the villagers of proving food and shelter to militants.
“At one point of time, the Major pointed his gun at me. He warned to shoot me if I don’t admit sheltering militants. I pleaded before him to remove the gun from my chest since I’m suffering from palpitation, but he didn’t listen,” said Dr Iqbal, adding that his family was reeling under shock due to the alleged harassment.
Mohammad Rasool Shah, a village elder, told Kashmir Reader that the “soldiers ran amok. They beat up several youth without any reason or rhyme. This is sheer harassment and humiliation.”
The alleged highhandedness by the soldiers sparked anti-India and anti-army protests in the area. The people also blocked Srinagar-Kupwara highway for several hours and did not allow senior National Conference leader Chaudhary Mohammad Ramzan’s cavalcade to pass, reports said.
Later, a police team led by Deputy Superintendent of police (DSP) Handwara, Ifroz Ahmed, reached the spot and pacified the protesters by promising to look into the matter.
Army spokesman Col N N Joshi did not respond to repeated calls from Kashmir Reader.
Deputy Commissioner, Kupwara, Itrat Hussain, said he was not aware of any such incident. “I have no information about this incident. I’ll verify the facts from police,” he added.
A local news gathering agency CNS quoted the DSP Handwara as saying that “police would certainly raise the issue with the army and will ensure that no civilian feels insecure in the area.”
Meanwhile, a former government gunman-turned-National Conference Sarpanch was roughed up by locals after he allegedly tried to manhandle a gas dealer in Bandipora district.
Abdul Rashid Kabuli, Sarpanch Khatpora, Hajin, allegedly abused the gas dealer Shakeel Ahmed after he denied him a gas cylinder for unknown reason.
“The Sarpanch not only abused my nephew but also manhandled him after which people pounced on him and gave him a body lash,” his uncle Mushtaq Ahmed was quoted as saying by the CNS.
However, a relative of the Sarpanch said the gas dealer denied him a cylinder as Kabuli had campaigned for National Conference in the area. “Not only Shakeel’s relatives but certain people attacked the Sarpanch as a result of which he suffered serious injuries,” he said, adding that Kabuli was “shifted to hospital for treatment.”
A police official said they are investigating the matter and the guilty would be booked under law.