Saying that it “deeply regrets” the killing of three civilians, including two women, in south Kashmir’s Kulgam district, the Army on Tuesday ordered an inquiry into the incident.
On Monday evening, troops of the Army’s 9 Rashtriya Rifles opened fire on protesters in Churat village in Qazigund, Kulgam, leaving three dead and six injured.
The killings triggered fresh protests and authorities were forced to shut the Jammu-Srinagar national highway, which is about 1.5 km from Churat.
While the Army claims that some protesters tried to snatch rifles from soldiers, locals allege the firing was unprovoked and some people sustained injuries even though they were inside their compounds. The police, too, maintain the Army fired in self defence after its mobile domination patrol party was attacked by protesters.
Showkat Ahmad Ittoo, 26, and Syeda Begum, 55, died on the spot, while Nilofer Jan, 28, died in SKIMS, Srinagar.
“An inquiry has been ordered into the incident,’’ Defence spokesperson Lt Col N N Joshi said in a statement, adding that the Army “deeply regrets the unfortunate loss of life in the incident”.
“The troops were forced to open fire on Monday when a large mob turned violent, resorting to heavy stone pelting, and attempted to snatch weapons from soldiers,” Joshi said.
“We appeal to people to maintain peace and refrain from attacking security forces or their vehicles or establishments, thus creating situations where security forces are left with no option but to retaliate in self defence,” Joshi said, adding that the Army will provide all possible assistance to the bereaved families.
When senior Army and police officers visited the area to pacify villagers, they were told the protests will continue till the guilty soldiers are punished.
Thirteen-year-old Aquib Fayaz, who was shot in the abdomen and is undergoing treatment at the district hospital, said, “There were no protests but a few people on the road booed the soldiers patrolling in the village. They got angry and started firing.”
“I was playing in my uncle’s lawn when bullets hit me. Many people who were injured where inside their homes,” he added.
Abdul Hamid Gania, who lives in a neighbouring village, claimed the soldiers had fired from a bulletproof vehicle. “Injured villagers told us the incident could have been avoided had the Army exercised restraint,” Gania said.