SRINAGAR: Intensifying public outreach to dissuade people from going near encounter sites will now be part of Jammu and Kashmir Police’s standard operating procedure to prevent civilian casualties during encounters with holed-up militants. Inspector-General of Police, Kashmir Range, SP Pani told Kashmir Reader that the police will make more efforts to make people understand how dangerous going close to encounter sites is.
“An encounter site is a prohibited zone where movement of civilians is strictly prohibited. We will reach out to civilians and try to make them understand this,” Pani said. “Plus, we will keep updating the drilling skills of forces as part of our normal routine.”
On Wednesday, four civilians were killed during an encounter in Khudwani area of Kulgam while they were trying to rescue militants. Civilians thronging to encounter sites in a bid to rescue militants became a regular phenomenon since the 2016 uprising. More than 40 civilians have been killed near encounter sites since then, 13 of them this year.
The police and security agencies have been trying to formulate standard procedures to prevent civilian casualties during encounters. One strategy, which has clearly failed, was to impose restrictions within the area of encounter sites under Section 144 of CrPC, which prohibits assembly of more than four persons. Another strategy has been to shut down internet services to prevent the spread of news. A third and recent strategy has been to launch operations during the night. None of these has yielded desired results.
Civilians continue to throng encounter sites knowing fully well the risks involved. The bluntest example is that of a Class 9 student who was killed near the Khudwani gunfight site on Wednesday. He had told his parents to start preparations for his funeral before he left towards the encounter site.
“Every encounter is different in circumstances. What happens in one encounter cannot happen in next,” Pani said. “One thing, however, remains common: there is exchange of fire. When civilians go close, they become vulnerable. So we will reach out to people and tell them to avoid doing so.”