North Kashmir’s Handwara town remained tense Wednesday as a 21-year-old boy, Jahangir Ahmad Wani, was killed after being hit on the head with a teargas shell. Wani’s death comes a day after three other civilians were killed in clashes with security forces.
The crisis was sparked after allegations emerged that an Armyman had molested a girl in the Valley, and protests erupted demanding action against the accused. The Army Wednesday released a video purportedly showing the girl telling police that she had not been molested by an Armyman, and that a local youth had slapped her. But locals alleged the girl may have made the statement at the police station “under duress”.
Among those who died on Tuesday was 19-year-old Nayeem Qadir Bhat, a well-known cricketer who played for Star XI. As his body arrived in an ambulance from the police station, hundreds, including his team-mates, gathered near his residence in Handwara.
Women showered flower petals on the body while his three sisters sang lullabies. Some villagers also raised anti-India slogans. “We were planning to send him for B.Sc. in forestry training to Dehradun, but the police killed him. Who will I share my secrets with now?” said one his sisters.
A curfew was imposed in the town and CRPF and police were deployed at every street.
“When protests over the molestation erupted, my brother was at home. I called him and asked him to get my camera as I work for a local news agency,” said Zahoor Bhat, Nayeem’s elder brother. “Within five minutes of my brother leaving from home, I was told he had been shot by police. He was not even part of any protests.”
Locals alleged the Army and the police opened fire at two places — the Main Chowk and near the town hospital — after villagers surrounded the Army’s bunker in the market, demanding the arrest of the Armyman accused of molestation. “Nayeem was killed by a police assistant-sub inspector in the presence of his SP,” Azad Ahmad, an eyewitness and Nayeem’s friend, alleged. “We begged the police officer not to shoot him, but he opened fire and Nayeem was hit in the abdomen. We took him to hospital in a tonga. But he died while being shifted to Srinagar.”
Assistant sub-inspector of Jammu and Kashmir police, Mohammad Rafiq, has been placed under suspension and a magisterial inquiry has been ordered.
Nayeem’s friends recalled an ace cricketer who last year participated in the Under-19 state-level tournament. “A few days ago, he was awarded by police officials for his cricketing talent,” said Waseem Banday, his neighbour and the captain of Star XI. “Our team was scheduled to play the final of the police tournament. But after this incident, we will never take part in police tournaments.”
“They have snatched the finest boy of our clan. He could have become a great cricketer,” said Nayeem’s uncle Abdul Gaffar.
Nayeem’s body could be brought home only after the district administration reached an agreement with town elders, including former minister and NC leader Mohammad Ramzan Choudhary and Independent legislator Engineer Rashid.
“Dozens of witness are ready to appear before any commission. We have asked the administration to register an FIR against the police and arrest the officer,” Choudhary Ramzan said.
He said the district administration has given an assurance that Army bunkers in main markets in Handwara and Kupwara will be removed.
Rashid said, “It is very unfortunate that four people were killed without any provocation.”
Others who were killed in Tuesday’s violence were identified as Iqbal Farooq and Raja Begum, who succumbed to a bullet injury Wednesday. Wani was killed in Kupwara as protests erupted soon after Farooq’s body was buried in a neighbouring village. It Langate, too, protests erupted when Begum’s body was brought home from SKIMS hospital. Protesters also attacked two police posts in Magam and Langate.
The Army Northern Commander and 15 Corps Commander visited Handwara and interacted with police officers and soldiers regarding the crisis. The Army Commander also asked for a prompt inquiry into the incident.