On Monday afternoon, 15-year-old Burhan Yousuf was making arrangements for a family get-together when his cousin asked him to fetch curtain rings from the market. He left, promising to return promptly. In the evening, it was his body that was brought home.
Yousuf and his friend, 17-year-old Meraj-ud-din Dar, were killed on Monday evening when Army soldiers allegedly opened fire on the Maruti car they were travelling in. Their two friends, both teenagers, were wounded in the shooting.
“We had planned a family get-together for the coming Sunday. I was changing the curtains and asked Yousuf to fetch new curtain rings,” said his cousin, Jan Mohammad. “He left for the market. Outside, he met his friends.”
The four — Yousuf, Dar, Shakir Ahmad Bhat and Zahid Naqash — decided to first head to Chattergam, a Shiite neighbourhood about three kilometres from their home.
“They went to Chattergam to see the Muharram procession there,” said Mohammad. “Local villagers told us that while returning, they were moving fast when the Army men asked them to stop. They applied the brakes but the vehicle skidded forward. They told us that the soldiers fired indiscriminately on the vehicle from all sides,” he added.
Bhat’s father, Abdul Rehman Bhat, who talked to his injured son at the Army’s 92 Base Hospital in Srinagar, claimed that the Army had acknowledged their mistake.
“The Army officer at the hospital told me that the soldiers fired at the car from behind. Soldiers in front of the car thought that the firing had come from inside the vehicle, so they fired directly on the vehicle,” said the father. “They allowed me inside the ward for a few minutes but didn’t let me talk to my son about the incident.”
Yousuf and Dar, who were sitting in the front, died on spot.
An hour later, Yousuf’s family was informed about the incident. They managed to take his body home after five hours.
As the two teens were laid to rest in Bonpora Nowgam, Yousuf’s elder sister, 17-year-old Fazila, said, “Who will I give Eidi to now?” His younger brothers, 11-year-old Farhan and nine-year-old Faizan, watched from a distance.
At Nowgam, a few hundred people attended the funeral. Though many more were waiting outside Nowgam, police and paramilitary forces cordoned off the area.
This is the second such incident at Chattergam. In October 2012, the same Army unit allegedly fired on a private Sumo car, killings two soldiers of the Territorial Army.
On Monday night, Defence Minister Arun Jaitley tweeted, “The Budgam incident in the Kashmir valley is highly regrettable. A fair inquiry will be held and action taken against those found guilty.”
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah called the incident “avoidable”. “Have spoken to Union Defence minister @arunjaitley regarding yesterday’s incident where army firing resulted in 2 avoidable deaths. Such killings have no place in an otherwise improving security environment where militancy incidents are at record low levels,” the CM tweeted. “These deaths have served to vitiate the poll atmosphere already strained by the post flood reconstruction challenge that people face,” he added.
Omar said that Jaitley had “assured a time-bound and transparent inquiry” into the incident.
On Tuesday, the Army said it had initiated a speedy investigation into the shooting and promised that “justice” would be served. “Overnight, the personnel alleged to be involved in the incident were moved to the location of the enquiry,” an Army spokesperson said. “The Deputy Commander of a neighbouring RR sector conducting the enquiry has been tasked to complete the investigations at the earliest,” he added.
However, the situation in the area remained tense. A large number of protesters took to the streets and clashed with police and paramilitary forces in Nowgam and surrounding villages.
Separatists condemned the killings and called for a shutdown on Wednesday as a mark of protest.
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