ON the intervening night of August 3- 4,1998,gunmen swooped in on Sailan village atop Pir Panjal mountain along the Mughal road nearly four kilometer from Buffliaz,killing 19 members of three families including four women and 12 children. The Army and police had then blamed inter-gang rivalry among militants for the massacre,saying that the son of one of the deceased was an active militant.
Fifteen years later,the suspects are Army and police officials,with the CBI following Jammu and Kashmir High Court directions and registering an FIR in the matter. This is for the third time that the case has been reopened.
First time,the police closed the case as untraced in 1999. Following dissatisfaction expressed by some of the surviving family members,it was again reopened in 2000 only to be closed again as untraceable in 2003.
However,it wasnt easy for the families to get the CBI to take over investigations. One of them,Mohammad Latief,had to even leave his job in Saudi Arabia and return to Sailan to get justice for his deceased parents and siblings.
The survivors identified some of the officials behind the massacre as the then Major Gourav of 9 Para Commandos posted at Buffliaz,then SP (operations) Sewak Singh and some SPOs Mohammad Yunus and Mohammad Rafi,besides Mohammad Akbar and Maqsood Ahmed. While Major Gourav is reportedly Lt Colonel now,SP Sewak Singh is in jail for killing a junior officer in a fake encounter. The SPOs are still working with the police,with having received promotions and medals for gallantry.
Locals alleged the massacre was carried out by the 9 Para Commandos and some SPOs to avenge the killing of SPO Zakir Hussain by militant commander Imtiyaz Sheikh and his associates. The deceased included Imtiyazs father Lassa Sheikh,mother Zainab Bi,his deaf and dumb brother and three sisters. The other deceased include Hassan Mohammad,his daughter-in-law and grandchildren. From the third family,deceased included Ahmed Din,his wife Sara Begum and children. Both Hassan Mohammad and Ahmed Din were brothers,while Lassa Sheikh was their first cousin.
Major Gourav of 9 Para Commandos allegedly publicly vowed to avenge the SPOs killing. In less than 12 hours a group of men in Army uniform reportedly swooped the village at midnight killing 19 civilians including Imtiyazs family and his uncles living in the neighbourhood. While the gunmen fired from automatic weapons for nearly an hour,troops deployed at a post overlooking Sailan,about 200 metres away,allegedly remained silent spectators. They did not come to the village next morning either.
I was present at Buffliaz and heard Major Gourav publicly vowing to avenge Zakirs killing, recalled Maqsood Sheikh,the lone surviving member of Lassa Sheikhs family. Maqsood took advantage of darkness and standing maize crop and managed to slip away that night.
The armed men allegedly asked Lassa Sheikh and Ahmed Din to move towards Hassan Mohammads house along with their families. Ahmed Dins son Mohammad Shabir hid in the bathroom.
Identifying two gunmen as SPOs Mohammad Akbar and Maqsood Ahmed,both residents of Banikhet village,Shabir said: I had lost my identity card two days ago and I thought that these armymen will unnecessarily beat me. After nearly 15 minutes,I heard gun shots coming from my uncles house. I kept sitting there until morning and when I went there,I found everybody lying in a pool of blood.
Abdul Ahad,who was hiding in the adjoining maize fields said the assailants had first fired only two shots. Thereafter,he allegedly saw SPOs Yunus and Rafiq talking to someone through the walkie talkie and then again going inside the house. This time there was a volley of fire with shouts of people crying for mercy,he added.
Next morning,before the news of the killings spread,the Army and police closed all roads. However,people gathered in large numbers at Surankote and took out a procession asking the administration to the bring the bodies for last rites.
Sensing further trouble,the then Poonch deputy commissioner M S Khan offered to lead a group of people to Sailan to bring the bodies to Surankote. As they reached Buffliaz,Major Gourav allegedly stopped their convoy saying the encounter was still in progress. Khan and others,however,did not agree and went upto the mortorable road.
To scare them away,the troops at nearby camps continued firing aimlessly in the air. Finally,when the bodies were brought to Surankote in the evening,SP Sewak Singh asked them to bury them at night to avoid trouble. However,the relatives resisted and the deceased were finally laid to rest next day in a grave partitioned by bricks at Surankote.
Though the surviving family members in their statements to the police kept naming the Army and police officials involved in the massacre,the latter registered the FIR as a case of killings by unidentified militants.
In the meantime,the State Human Rights Commission began probe into the matter. The then SHRC chairperson Justice G A Kuchhai,after visiting the massacre site and recording statements,submitted his findings to the state government on October 21,1998 holding members of 9 Para Commandos and some policemen responsible. In the report,Justice Kuchhai also observed that the Unified Command is under obligation to take stock of the occurrence and why the personnel at Sailan picket did not react when the incident took place at a distance of barely 200 meters from them.
However,the report allegedly remained at the Civil Secretariat,with the state government taking no action and the police closing the massacre case as untraced.
AS the police closed their case as untraced first in 1999 and secondly in 2003,the surviving family members of those massacred decided to wait for an opportune moment to seek justice. This came in 2010 when one of them managed to get a copy of the SHRC report indicting security forces and police. They filed a petition in the HC seeking re-investigation by the CBI. The HC in November 2012 ordered investigation by CBI,but the agency sought transfer of the case to newly-created NIA on grounds that it was dealing with only cases of corruption. However,as the petitioners last month filed a contempt petition against CBI,the latter took up investigations asking the police hand over all records in the matter.
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