Residents of a neighbourhood in north Kashmir’s Hajin alleged that around a hundred Armymen set fire to their haystacks, barged into their homes, broke windowpanes and damaged their cars between 11.30 am and noon on Wednesday. The Army, which said its soldiers were on an area domination patrol in Bonmohallah neighbourhood of Hajin, denied the allegations. Residents of Bonmohalla and a neighbouring area said that when youths in the village threw stones at the soldiers to protest their actions, the Armymen fired at them.
Three villagers were injured, one with bullet injuries in the leg, local residents said. Three firemen who arrived in Bonmohallah to douse the haystack fires were also injured in the stone-throwing.
Defence spokesman Colonel Rajesh Kalia said: “An area domination patrol of 3 Sector RR was passing through Hajin when it came under heavy stone-pelting by a mob. The patrol party commander cautioned the crowd. However, the mob continued to target the patrol, injuring three soldiers. After giving a final warning, a few rounds were fired in the air to disperse the mob and the patrol party moved to its destination.’’ Kalia said he had “no idea” who set fire to the haystacks or broke windows in people’s homes and damaged their cars.
A senior police officer told The Indian Express that some youths threw stones on an Army patrol in Bonmohallah. “Since the Army does not carry riot gear, they fired in the air that left one protester injured.’’
The police officer suggested that mischief makers in the village might have set fire to the haystacks to blame the Army. He said that when the fire and emergency department sent its fire tenders towards Bonmohallah, the vehicles were pelted with stones and the firemen were injured. He said the people in the village prevented the firemen from doing their job. Hajin shut down in protest on Thursday.
The villagers alleged that the Armymen, many on foot and some in bulletproof vehicles, came with a “fixed plan” to attack their homes. ‘’Yesterday, around 11.30 am or noon, dozens of Armymen came down the road and over the bund and started forming a cordon. A few in the paddy fields were watching. One soldier came out of his vehicle and started shouting at the boys, telling them to go home. One boy threw a stone at the soldiers. The soldiers then ran towards the paddy fields and set 37 haystacks on fire, one by one. Later, they started breaking windowpanes of houses close to the paddy fields,’’ said Mohammad Younis, a retired deputy superintendent of police.
‘’They broke all the windowpanes of my house. I was inside the house along with my daughter and wife. Even though I have retired from the police as a Deputy SP, I did not dare come out and stop the soldiers. The soldiers were also hurling abuses at the villagers.’’
Younis said that only after the soldiers set the haystacks on fire, youths began gathering in large numbers and started throwing stones at them. ‘’When the haystacks were set on fire, I called the fire and emergency department but they didn’t come. Had the fire tenders reached on time, many haystacks could have been saved,’’ he said.