A sub-divisional Magistrate (SDM), who was on election duty, was allegedly dragged on the road and beaten up by some Army personnel in Dalwach area, in Anantnag district, on the Srinagar-Qazigund stretch of the National Highway on Tuesday.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Ghulam Rasool Wani, SDM of Dooru in Anantnag district who is also the Assistant Returning Officer (ARO) in South Kashmir for the Lok Sabha elections, said: “I was on election duty. I was going towards Vessu because the District Magistrate was waiting there… They (Army) had halted traffic on the highway. But when they saw the ‘SDM’ sign on our vehicle, they allowed us to go. We passed three checkpoints, but at the fourth place, a soldier asked us to stop. We immediately stopped. Suddenly, a few Army personnel came and targeted our vehicle. First, they beat up my driver and then they beat us all.”
Wani said he was accompanied by four other staff members. “They grabbed me by my collar and dragged me on the road for 20 metres,” he said. “They pointed their guns at me, snatched my cellphone and broke it,” he said.
“They damaged my driver’s phone also. They made the other staff members get out of the vehicle at gunpoint. They also vandalised the election material which was in the vehicle,” said Wani. “I have submitted a complaint to the Deputy Commissioner and SSP, Kulgam. I have demanded that an FIR be registered in the matter,” he said.
In his complaint, addressed to Station House Officer (SHO) Qazigund, the SDM has said that the “Army personnel on the National Highway had stopped/ halted all civilian traffic… (despite it) not being the restricted day for Army convoys”.
“All of us were taken hostage at gunpoint for about half-an-hour. Our vehicle and other belongings were searched, snatched and damaged, and all the data on elections was deleted, damaged and removed… The Army personnel removed the safety locks of their weapons and aimed their guns at us, threatening to kill us. It was only after the Deputy Commissioner, Anantnag district, intervened that we were set free,” he has said.
When contacted, Srinagar-based Defence spokesperson Col Rajesh Kalia said the “details of the incident are being ascertained.”
Kulgam SP Gurinderpal Singh confirmed that a case had been registered.
“We received information from reliable sources that there was an altercation between the SDM and security forces today. We have taken cognizance and an FIR has been registered,” said a senior police officer from South Kashmir.
Following the decision, on April 3, to close the highway to the public for two days of the week, security personnel have imposed strict restrictions, leading to protests and, sometimes, scuffles.
On Monday, a video clip of a youth arguing with Army personnel on the highway was circulated on social media. The youth was allegedly beaten up. Another purported video clip of security personnel stopping an ambulance on the highway also did the rounds of social media.
“The highway has already been closed for us on Sundays and Wednesdays. But now they are restricting our movement on the remaining days of the week too,” said Nisar Ahmad, a resident of Sopore in North Kashmir. “They beat us, damage our vehicles and abuse us. This will lead to more anger and hatred,” he said.
Khurshid Ahmad Ganai, Advisor to Governor Satya Pal Malik, said such incidents shouldn’t happen. “Nobody should feel threatened or harassed. Even if there are restrictions, there must be a way to go about it. We will check with the divisional and district administration,” he said.
“Army thrashing civilians in the state is nothing new. But manhandling civil officers marks a new low. The Valley & its people are being choked to a silent death. For how long will you oppress them in their own land? Is this what we deserve for choosing India over Pakistan,” former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti tweeted.