Sopore: The 1989 uprising in Kashmir left tens of thousands of people dead, and Sopore was the one of the worst-hit towns. There have been scores of reported cases where government forces killed civilians and then declared them ‘terrorists’. Many cases, however, went unreported. Sho, a village 10 kilometres from Sopore has some stories like that.
Four innocent civilians were killed here by the army on different occasions during the 90’s in crackdowns and fake encounters. These killings were justified as encounters against militants and no judicial enquiry could ever proceed.
On March 15, 1991, Abdul Aziz Wani, aged 50, left his home for Friday prayers. After the prayers were over, people began to go back to their homes, which is when they saw army men surrounding the mosque, leading to chaos and fear. Army had cordoned off the village at noon after information that militants were hiding there. People here say they were not told by the army to assemble at one place for a search operation. Instead, they allege, the army indiscriminately opened fire on the crowd in which many people were critically injured, and Abdul Aziz lost his life.
“A bullet hit him on his head and he died on the spot. Later, the army said they thought militants were among the crowd and they opened fire on militants,” said Mohammad Shafi, his son. Abdul Aziz has left behind a son and three daughters, one among whom is handicapped. “I was eighteen years old then and this incident left us in shock. The army had never come to our village before and when they did, they left a pool of blood behind,” Shafi said.
Eyewitnesses say they did not see any militants in the crowd and no one fired at the army from amidst the crowd. No investigation has ever taken place into this killing.
In the same year, on 28 Oct, the army laid a siege of the village during the night. In an encounter, four militants were killed. It was around 5 am when Khazir Mohammad Reshi, 50, went outside his house to try and find out what had happened. He was shot dead near the outdoor stairs of his house, without any warning. “He was sleeping alone in the house as we were staying with some relatives at that time. He didn’t know the army was outside the house. It was dark. They had fired indiscriminately at him, and at the house. He had crawled towards the other side of the house to seek help. We saw him in the morning, dead, lying in a pool of blood,” said his son, also named Shafi.
Khazir Mohammad has four sons and a daughter. After his death, his family tried to seek justice. “But the army told me they would kill my brother. So, we never even reported it,” said Shafi.
Villagers blame the central government for these killings, given the special powers for the army in Kashmir. “AFSPA is a great weapon with the army which gives them the right to kill anyone without having to face any law,” said Firdous Ahmad, a local resident.
In another incident, two innocents were killed by the army in June 1995 in the same village. They were also labelled as terrorists.
Riyaz Ahmad Dangru and Ghulam Hassan Pandith were working in the fields that day when they saw the army approaching and shouting at them. Out of fear, they ran towards the village and hid in a house. The army cordoned the house, and took both of them to a nearby orchard “for interrogation”.
“From 10 am to 1 pm, they were beating them ruthlessly with gun butts and asking them if they were terrorists. When both said they were not terrorists, the army did not release them. They were tied to a tree and shot dead,” said Altaf, brother of Riyaz Ahmad Dangru.
Riyaz Ahmad was 15 years old, and one of his brothers had joined a militant group that year. “An army major threatened us of bad consequences if we reported this incident to the police. They told us ‘we will kill all of you in another encounter’,” said Altaf. After a month, another of his brothers was killed in action after he joined militant ranks.
Ghulam Hassan Pandith was 21 years old and is survived by a son and his wife. “The army killed them in the orchard and planted weapons on them to make it look like they were terrorists and were killed in an encounter,” said his wife, Jawahira. His son was just a toddler then. “Our hopes were shattered as my husband was the only person earning for us. My son is now driving a cab and earning for us. He is only eighteen years old. He didn’t go to school as he didn’t want to see us begging. We took a loan from a bank and brought him a car so that he can earn,” added Jawahira.
These families still speak of justice. They say no human rights group have ever approached them and taken their statements. Though the police had registered cases after these incidents, there has never been any progress.