New Delhi, Dec 25: A day after three civilians in Jammu and Kashmir’s Poonch district were killed under as yet unexplained circumstances, the sarpanch of their village and the relatives of two of them have said they are among the villagers seen on video being brutally beaten and tortured by unidentified soldiers.
Family members and neighbours of Safeer Hussain (48), Mohammad Showkat (28) and Shabbir Ahmad (25) have told The Wire that videos in which the men are seen pleading with uniformed personnel and begging for their lives has traumatised them.
Though the army and J&K administration have not said who is responsible for the killing of the three which came in the wake of a fierce gun battle with militants in which five soldiers were killed, locals allege the men were killed in army custody. The Union territory’s administration – which comes under the overall supervision of the Union home ministry – has since announced’compensation for each of the deceased’ and ‘compassionate appointments to next of kin’ of those killed. On Sunday night, The Hindu reported that an FIR under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (murder) had been filed by the J&K police against unidentified persons.
Speaking to The Wire, Mehmood Ahmed, the village’s sarpanch identified Shabbir and Showkat from the viral video, in which soldiers can be seen brutally beating the captive men and throwing chilli powder on to the bare buttocks of some of them – a common method of torture by the police and security forces across India.
Mohammad Siddique, uncle of Mohammad Showkat, one of three civilians allegedly killed in Army custody, said that it was his nephew who was seen in the video, begging a lathi-wielding soldier with folded hands to let him go. ‘Showkat begged for mercy, he pleaded to them with our Prophet Mohammed’s name, but it didn’t melt them,’ Siddique said.
He said that the lifeless person in black clothing, also seen in the now widely circulated video, was Safeer, whose brother is a head constable in the Border Security Force.
‘The third, who is wearing a red t-shirt, is Irfan Ahmad. He is 16 years old and among those admitted to hospital,’ Siddique said. He also noted that the whole incident has sent shock waves through the Gujjar-Bakarwal community – a Scheduled Tribe which already battles poverty and a crippling lack of rights, among other problems.
Poonch’s Topa Peer village has been locked out of the world, virtually sealed, thick with military presence, and under an internet shutdown since the bodies of those who had allegedly been tortured by soldiers from 48 Rashtriya Rifles were handed over to their families.
Sarpanch Ahmed also claimed that villagers are unable to visit the three families in their hour of grief because the army has cordoned off their homes. He also confirmed the internet shutdown and heavy army presence in the area.
Wali Mohammed, father of deceased civilian Mohammed Shabbir, says he has been drifting in and out of consciousness since he saw his son’s dead body. ‘They turned my beautiful son into a body with stitches everywhere. I am 60, I saw my 27-year-old son barely held together because of stitches all over his body. Even his head and chest had stitches, his body had marks of electrocution,’ said Mohammed.
Mohammed said he himself had worked as a porter with 27 Rashtriya Rifles as well as 16 Rashtriya Rifles. ‘My Shabbir was also a porter with the Army, why would they call their own employee in for questioning? They made it seem so normal, they phoned him up to come to the camp’ lamented Mohammed.
‘We have not just worked with them but also stood by them on this uncertain border, this is our reward,’ added Mohammed.
While the Army has said that the matter is under investigation and that it stands’ and cooperation in the conduct of investigations’, locals believe the bond between them and the Army will take a long time to rebuild.
The J&K administration has not specified the cause of their deaths, but has said legal action had been initiated and compensation announced. On X, formerly Twitter, the Department of Information and Public Relations, J&K, said, ‘The death of three civilians was reported yesterday in Baffliaz of Poonch District. The medico legal formalities were conducted and legal action in this matter has been initiated by the appropriate authority. Government has announced compensation for each of the deceased. Further Government also announced compassionate appointments to the next of kin of each deceased.’
‘Even asking for a transparent inquiry and punishment for any violations of human rights seems pointless given how those who are found guilty are released scot-free without serving their punishment. This is not the way to remove ‘dil ki doori or Dilli se doori’,’ said National Conference leader Omar Abdullah in a reference to the recent release of an Army captain convicted of killing three men in a staged gunfight in southern Kashmir’s Shopian district in July 2020.
PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti has also condemned the killing of the three men Poonch. ‘Had this happened under any other government, the godi media would have raised questions,’ she said in a tweet. ‘They picked up 15 people from their homes who were tortured. Three of them have already been killed. So, how is this ‘Khushal Kashmir’ or ‘Naya Kashmir’ where neither Armymen nor common people are safe?’
Among national parties, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has also strongly condemned what they said was ‘the brutal killing of three civilians in the Poonch district of Jammu and Kashmir while they were in custody of the army.’ Stating that just compensation being announced for the families of the deceased is not enough, the party added that there must be a speedy investigation and punishment meted out to those responsible. ‘People of J&K, who have long suffered from such acts of impunity, expect accountability to be fixed in the matter and justice done,’ their statement read.–(The Wire)