Neighbours narrate sequence of events; eight civilians sustain injuries in clashes
Srinagar: A cordon and search operation in Srinagar’s Noorbagh area in the pre-dawn hours on Thursday turned into a tragedy and a massive provocation when a civilian, 26-year-old Muhammad Saleem Malik, son of Muhammad Yaqoob Malik, resident of Magray Mohalla, Noorbagh was shot dead.
Eyewitnesses said that government forces including army and police laid their cordon in the area at about 3am. A resident of the area, Shabir (name changed), told Kashmir Reader that the government forces barged into his residence at 3am. “I was sleeping. The loud banging on the door woke me up,” he said.
The forces took Bilal out and asked him to identify the house of the Maliks. “I pointed out the house. They further asked me to reveal how many members lived in the house and other details of the Maliks,” Bilal said.
He said that a contingent of the forces took him closer to the house and asked him to call the Maliks out. “By the time, the forces had already taken positions on roofs of the surrounding houses,” he said.
In the meantime, Bilal said, the main door of the Maliks’ house opened and someone came out. “I could hear the opening of the door and someone coming out. The footsteps were clearly audible,” he said.
Barely a few seconds later, Bilal heard a barrage of bullets. “I thought the encounter had started. I was praying for my safety,” he said.
The forces were also “scared and fired indiscriminately,” he said. The bullet marks are visible on the house of the Maliks. More than 30 bullet shells were found in the neighbouring lawn.
Bilal said that after the army stopped firing, he along with the troops went inside the compound and found Muhammad Saleem lying in a pool of blood. “He was gasping outside the shed in his lawn,” Bilal said.
By the time the forces realised that they had hit a civilian, Saleem was dead.
Another resident, Irshad (name changed), on whose roof the forces had taken position, said that when Saleem came out of his house he straightway went towards the shed where the Maliks keep some sheep.
“The troops who had taken position on our terrace fired at Saleem,” he said. “The troops who had cordoned the house of Saleem felt that ‘suspected militants’ had opened fire and they fired towards the house of Malik indiscriminately.”
Irshad said he was unsure which side the bullet that hit Saleem came from.
Bilal confirmed what Irshad said. “When there was gunfire from the rooftop (of Irshad’s house), the forces who had cordoned the house fired indiscriminately,” he said.
Another resident of the neighbourhood said that soon after the firing, he rushed out of his house. By that time a number of neighbours had assembled and the army was preparing to leave. “I caught hold of an army man and abused him. I told him that he had killed a civilian. He was shivering,” the resident said.
He said that when he did not let go of the army man, he held his son hostage at gunpoint. “He told me to either let him go or he would shoot my son,” the resident said.
Saleem’s brother, Mehraj-ud-Din, told Kashmir Reader that he was sleeping on the first floor of the house along with other family members. Saleem, as usual, was sleeping on the ground floor.
Mehraj said that Saleem told them there was some movement outside the house and he would go out to have a look. “He thought there was a thief outside,” Mehraj said.
“As soon as Saleem went out, we heard gunshots,” he said. However, the family did not come down out of fear, he said.
Mehraj said that after about ten minutes, they heard the cries of neighbours. “We came down and found Saleem in a pool of blood, lying dead.”
After the news of Saleem’s killing spread in the area, hundreds of people started marching towards Noorbagh. Almost all the routes leading to the area were sealed by government forces deployed in strength, on Eidgah road, Hawal crossing, Islamia College crossing, among other points.
The body of Saleem was carried by thousands of people in a procession towards the Eidgah in Srinagar. The mourners raised pro-freedom and anti-India slogans during the procession, eyewitnesses said.
When the procession reached Noorbagh Chowk, it came under intense teargas shelling by government forces. A local who was part of the procession told Kashmir Reader that the forces also fired live bullets in the air to scare away the people.
However, the protesters pelted government forces with stones and intense clashes continued for some time.
The government forces later let the procession move towards Eidgah, where funeral prayers were offered for Saleem. He was later buried in the martyrs’ graveyard in Eidgah.
Several civilians sustained pellet injuries during the clashes with government forces. Medical Superintendent of SMHS hospital, Dr Saleem, told Kashmir Reader that the hospital received 8 injured youths from Srinagar with pellet injuries.
A police spokesperson, however, denied any culpability on the part of government forces in the civilian’s killing. The spokesperson said that “acting on a credible input”, a cluster of houses at Noorbagh was cordoned and “hiding militants” fired indiscriminately, resulting in the death of Saleem Malik, son of Mohammad Yaqoob Malik.
The police statement did not mention in whose house the militants were hiding.
The police spokesperson further stated that police have initiated an investigation into the incident.
Meanwhile, protests erupted at Kashmir University and Islamic University of Science and Technology (IUST) at Awantipora against the killing of a civilian in Srinagar by government forces.
Raising pro-freedom and anti-India slogans, large numbers of students marched through the campuses of both varsities and demanded punishment to the killers.
A student at IUST said students of various departments boycotted classes and assembled in the main lawn of the university in the morning, before marching through the campus shouting pro-freedom and anti-India slogans.