Was his life worth Rs 500, asks J&K constable whose brother died in Army fire

Wasim and Talib’s younger brother, 22-year-old Khalid Gaffar Malik, was killed after being hit in the neck at close range by a bullet allegedly fired by the Army in Trehgam in Kupwara, North Kashmir, Wednesday.

Written by Naveed Iqbal | Kupwara | Updated: July 15, 2018 10:34:54 am
Was his life worth Rs 500, asks J&K constable whose brother died in Army fire Talib, brother of Khalid, at their home in Kupwara Saturday. (Express Photo by Shuaib Masoodi)

Pen, paper and his constable guide in front of him, Talib Hussain Malik examined the sections mentioned in the FIR about his younger brother’s killing. “This amounts to about two years in prison and a fine of Rs 500,” he burst out, his hands shaking, his face crimson. “Is that what they think my brother’s life was worth?”

Wasim Malik, Talib’s elder brother, asked, “There are three guardians of the Constitution in this family. If even we cannot expect justice, then who can?”

Wasim and Talib’s younger brother, 22-year-old Khalid Gaffar Malik, was killed after being hit in the neck at close range by a bullet allegedly fired by the Army in Trehgam in Kupwara, North Kashmir, Wednesday. Three of Khalid’s brothers wear the uniform, while another brother and a sister, the youngest of six siblings, are still in school. Khalid ran shops outside the family’s two-storey home in Trehgam. The siblings lost their mother last year, apparently after she was struck by lightning in heavy rain.

Wasim, oldest of the siblings, is a constable in the J&K Police, posted at Parihaspora near Srinagar. Asif is in the Territorial Army, currently posted at Tangdhar. And Talib, who has just been recruited as a constable, is posted at Trehgam. On Wednesday, Wasim and Talib were on duty; Asif, who was unwell, was at home.

“None of us is going back to work until we get justice,” Talib said. “A human life is cheaper than that of a lamb here. We want justice for our brother and we will stop at nothing.” He rattled off sections from the Constitution and demanded to know why citizens of this “atoot ang” (integral part) of India did not seem to have the same rights as those in other parts of the country.

“Where is our freedom of speech? Freedom of movement? Our right to life?” Talib asked. Khalid, he said, was killed on a day separatists had called a strike against the killings of civilians. “It was peaceful all day. Trehgam observes strikes and shutdowns like the rest of the Valley, but it is always peaceful. The (police) deployment, of which I was part, ended at 5.30 and I went to the barber’s for a haircut around 7 pm.” Even on days of shutdowns, shops are opened for some time in the evenings so that people can buy food or essential household items, Talib said. “In another 20 minutes or so, some Armymen came and asked everyone to shut their shops. The had canes and were rounding up the young people, and said they would count until three and then start shooting.”

On Saturday, when The Sunday Express visited their home, the three brothers were making no attempt to defend the uniforms they wear. No official from the security forces or the state government, nor any politician, had visited them after Khalid was killed, they said.

According to multiple witnesses, Khalid was walking back home, a jar of milk in his hand, when a soldier fired at him from the roof of a shop. He was then less than 50 metres from his house. “He fell and nobody was allowed to pick him up or take him to hospital. Army vehicles passed, and then some local boys took him to the hospital. But we had lost him by then,” Khalid’s cousin, Farooq Malik, said. The shops outside, and even the tin gate to their house, have bullet holes.

The state government has ordered a magisterial inquiry into Khalid’s killing, and an FIR has been filed. The probe committee has a month to file its report. The brothers’ father has been carrying a photocopy of the FIR in his pocket. He and his sons are willing to wait, but insist that the punishment for killing an innocent “has to be more than a fine of Rs 500”.

Wasim said Khalid, who had passed his Class 12 examination, had been cleared by police last year to apply for a government job. “He was no stone pelter, he ran his shops and tried to earn a living through hard work.” Even after his death, as he lay surrounded by young boys from the area and the family mourned him, the security forces “fired pellets and tear smoke outside”, Wasim said.

In its version of events given Thursday, the Army had said that “a mob of 30-40 youth resorted to heavy stone pelting at the Army’s highway domination patrol. The patrol verbally cautioned the stone pelters and thereafter fired two blank rounds in air to disperse the violent crowd”. However, “the mob did not relent and stone pelting intensified endangering the safety of patrol. Finally the patrol resorted to controlled fire at the aggressive mob in self defence and continued with their task.”

Witnesses, however, alleged there was no warning — verbal or by fire — but only directions to shut shops, which, they claimed, had been complied with.

“It has been years since protests shook North Kashmir. This is the town where Maqbool Butt (the JKLF founder who was hanged in 1984) was born, South Kashmir would only seem like a glimpse of what agitations in the North could become, if such killings continue. But we only want justice,” says one of the young men sitting around the brothers in their house.

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