Findings of an Investigation into Firings by Security Forces in Kashmir Valley in August 2008

A eight-member team from four human rights organisations conducted an investigation into the “economic blockade” in Kashmir and its aftermath and toured the districts of Srinagar, Budgam, Baramulla, and Bandipora. The team spoke to victims of the violence and their families, people who were part of protests, doctors at the SMHS hospital, journalists, the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce, and office bearers of many social and political organisations. However, the fact finding was disrupted as the state announced an indefinite curfew from the morning of 24 August. The release also addresses the second round of curfew currently in force. The total loss of life during the two periods of curfew stands at over 35.

The main findings of the team are summarized below:

1. Azaadi is the primary demand in Kashmir

The team arrived in Srinagar on 22 August and witnessed the massive protest meeting at the Idgah grounds. People gathered there publicly declared their primary demand for azaadi (freedom) at the meeting venue and through numerous street processions in various parts of Srinagar on 22 and 23 August. During our interviews with individual families and with groups, people voiced the same demand. A wide range of social and political organisations have also reiterated this demand.

2. Use of curfew to create a confrontation

Curfew was imposed from the evening of 11 August and again from the morning of 24 August. The first time it was imposed hours after the security forces opened fire at many places on an unarmed procession heading to the Muzaffarabad border killing at least eight people. It was expected that people would come out on the following day to protest against the killings. Curfew thus became an instrument to prevent people from assembling and gave security forces the power to use force against unarmed protestors. Over the next three days more than 20 people were killed in firing by the JK Police and the CRPF.

The second time curfew was imposed with the express purpose of preventing the dharna at Lal Chowk. The previous gathering at Idgah, where this dharna was announced, had not been accompanied by violence. The same is true of the two mass protests before the Idgah gathering. Therefore the imposition of curfew was directly responsible for creating a confrontation, one which could have easily been avoided. Clamping down on the media and brutal attacks on journalists took place while our team was still in Srinagar. Arrests of leaders, raids of homes and intimidation of local residents by the army and CRPF are happening even now. On 24 August itself, our team issued an appeal to the central government to lift the curfew to prevent loss of life.

3. Deliberate blockade of supplies & its indifferent handling

Our team assessed the impact of the disruption of traffic on the National highway connecting Kashmir during July-August 2008. Protests in Jammu, which started from early July, took a more violent turn from the beginning of August. This led to severe restriction on the movement of goods and people on the Srinagar-Jammu highway and even into Punjab. Records at the highway check points, as reported in the Economic Times (21.8.08), confirm the substantial lowering of goods traffic in July and its worsening in August. Shortages were created as a result: of oils and cooking gas in the rural areas, of cereals and medicines in the urban areas. Given the fears of Kashmiri transporters and drivers, the impact was far worse in traffic moving out of Kashmir. This has led to substantial losses for fruit growers as well as handicrafts and carpet manufacturers and transporters. Fruit could be found rotting at many places and handicraft manufacturers reported cancellation of export orders for the ramazan season and fears for the Christmas season. The team was told that till 23 August, 80 % of the trucks were not leaving the valley for fear of attacks and only some 15-20 trucks were able to carry the apples out of the valley after assurance of safe passage from the government. The loss – over 75% of the fruits are rotting in the Sopore mandi. In Seer Jagir, a village in Sopre tehsil, the team met some small farmers with average land holding of 4-5 acres, which produces on an average 3000 boxes of apples per anum. The 30 farmers in this village reported that they have lost on an average Rs 2 lakh this season. Therefore the total loss of this small village account to nearly Rs 60 lakh. The government’s lackadaisical attitude in ensuring supplies and its attempt to deny the ‘blockade’ led to feeling of ill-will in Kashmir.

4. Firing incidents (11-14th August) were unprovoked and aimed to kill

The team investigated 15 cases of deaths that occurred on account of firing by CRPF and JK police between 11 and 14 August. The team met family members of those who died in these firings. The actual death toll is estimated to be above 30. The findings show a clear pattern: (a) The firings were aimed to kill. This was evident from eye witness accounts which showed that the firings were indiscriminate and aimed directly at the crowd. At Paribal, near Bandipura town on 12th August the RR and JK police fired on the crowd from above the hill where the 15 RR camp is located. (b) A large number of deaths resulted from injuries in the abdomen, chest, head or upper or lower back. The same was confirmed by hospital records. (c) In some cases, as at Lasjen on 12 August, protesters were deceived into by an assurance of allowing peaceful procession and then subjected to firing. Three people were killed there, including one 50 year old woman and six others received bullet injuries.

5. Attacks by Security Forces on those Injured

The total number of people injured in the period between 11 and 14 August is not clearly established. However, at SMHS hospital alone, over 500 patients were admitted in the same period. The team was repeatedly told that the security forces never tried to reach the injured to hospital. Worse, vehicles carrying injured to hospital were routinely attacked. Hospital sources claim that a number of ambulances were attacked. The same is confirmed by news reports today and the health department has threatened to stop ambulance services given the injuries received by ambulance drivers. The team was told that in Lasjen, the CRPF attacked even those carrying dead bodies back from the hospital on 12th August. Elsewhere, in Bandipora the same was reported. The van carrying Mehrajuddin Kakh, injured in the Bandipura killing on 12 August, was attacked by CRPF and STF at Parimpora. Not only were the occupants attacked, Mehrajuddin’s thigh injury was brutalized by twisting a lathi in it. He died the same night. Equally, Imran Ahmed Wani who was injured in the Bagi Mehtab firing by the CRPF on 12 August was deliberately refused ambulance service for nearly two hours. In fact, when he did get into one, it was attacked by the security forces at Rambagh Pul. He was declared dead on arrival at the hospital.

6. Police firing in SMHS hospital, Srinagar

What is unbelievable is the attack on SMHS Hospital on 11 and 12 August successively. The SMHS hospital received the largest number of casualties. When doctors were trying to conduct emergency operations at break-neck speed in order to save lives, the Casualty was attacked from the nearby police station with tear gas shells followed by firing live bullets. The firing was again repeated on 12 August. It is the dedication of doctors, paramedic staff, ambulance drivers and timely arranging of bandages, gauze and cotton by the medical representatives, at the risk of their own lives, that managed to save a large number of lives. The doctors also confirmed that the help received by the ordinary people in saving the lives of those injured was remarkable. People helped the medical staff in transporting the wounded to the OT, aided in tending treatment in the Casualty and arranged vans and ambulances to carry them to the different hospitals in the city and elsewhere.

7. Attacks by Security Forces on Funeral Processions

Funeral processions were repeatedly attacked in many places as large numbers of people marched with the bier to the graveyards. The team was told that the funeral procession of Ishfaq Ahmed Kana, shot dead at Qamarwari Chowk, Srinagar on 11 August, to the Idgah Martyrs Memorial was attacked by the CRPF with lathis and rubber bullets. In Baghi Mahtab, Javed Ahmed Mir’s funeral procession was attacked by the CRPF and one person was killed in the firing. Other protest demonstrations protesting against the killings were also attacked. For instance, the protest demonstration following the shooting of Owais Majeed Zarga in Rainawari, Srinagar on 12th August was attacked by the Kashmir police stationed outside the office of the local MLA, Mhd Shahid. Two boys were injured in the firing.

8. Raids and Attacks on Residents:

During the evening of 13 and 14 August, security forces engaged in an indiscriminate and large-scale attack on houses in localities close to the firings, thrashing people and smashing window panes. At Safakadal, Srinagar, residents showed how their houses were attacked by the CRPF. At Lasjen, JK police and CRPF personnel entered houses to thrash people. Relatives were forcibly prevented from accessing homes of deceased and women relatives at the house of Imtiaz Rahim, who died in the firing, showed us the marks of brutality at the hands of the security forces.

9. FIRs: Refusals and Distortions:

In most cases, the families have not registered any FIRs against the security forces as they fear going to the police station or that it would invite further violence. Where families of those killed were able to go to police stations after many days, they found that FIRs were already lodged stating that the protestors attacked security forces who in turn were forced to open fire. When families tried to get their version recorded, the same was refused. Complaints are rejected. In the case of the Bagi Mahtab killings where the families of the deceased (Javed Ahmed Mir and Imran Ahmed Wani) were given a totally false version of the happenings in the FIR. When challenged, the police said that the families must come ten days later with 4 eye witnesses to corroborate their story. This refusal even to receive complaints is tantamount to making the security forces judges of their own actions.

10. Present Curfew and Developments

On 24 August, Kashmir was greeted by indefinite curfew when it woke up in the morning. Within a few hours four media persons, on their way to office had been badly beaten up at Rambagh by the CRPF. The identity cards and the passes issued during the last phase of curfew presented by the journalists were rejected. Mr. Bilal, bureau chief of Sahara Samay was admitted to the Bone and Joints hospital and later to the SMHS hospital. By evening, security forces opened fire in Dal Gate area killing one person and critically injuring another. Homes of political leaders were raided and some arrested. In the rural areas, the army threatened local imams, nambardars and chowkidars on 24 August that they would be held responsible in people dared to join the procession to Lal Chowk. Over two days, the curfew led to at least seven people being killed in firing by security forces and over 275 injured in various parts of the Kashmir valley.

Essential supplies to Srinagar city, such as medicines, water tankers and milk, were blocked and this ‘blockade’ was done at the instance of the CRPF. The entire control of law and order in Srinagar city has also been handed over to the CRPF and news reports have suggested that the local police was also beaten up by the CRPF.

CONCLUSION

The investigation team is of the opinion that the firing, brutality, loss of life was not only wholly avoidable but done deliberately. The disruption of road traffic to Kashmir needed to be recognized by the government and addressed. The resort to curfew after the firing on 11 August denied the people a right to protest and be heard. Additionally, the curfew provided the security forces the power to open fire with impunity. A number of extremely inhuman crimes were committed by the security forces by denying and obstructing medical aid to the injured, attacking the injured and most seriously by launching an attack on the SMHS hospital. No existing law in the country provides immunity to police and security forces for such crimes. The lack of any action against these forces even where the crimes are established by eye-witnesses and reported in newspapers makes people lose whatever faith in the government that may have remained after decades of army rule. Despite these happenings, the people of Kashmir have shown exemplary restraint and ensured that all processions and public gatherings after the lifting of curfew remain wholly peaceful. This situation should have been utilized to initiate political dialogue instead of the visit by the National Security Advisor.

The imposition of curfew to prevent another such pre-declared peaceful mass gathering can only be seen as an invitation to another bloody attack on protestors and serves as a message to the people of Kashmir that the Indian government would not tolerate peaceful and unarmed protest.

WE DEMAND

1. Immediate lifting of the curfew and restoration of ample space to people to peaceably collect and voice their demands.

2. Criminal charges be registered against those responsible for attacks on injured people, ambulances and hospitals as well as widespread damage to houses.

3. Peoples complaints concerning arbitrary and indiscriminate use of fire by security forces be registered and the culprits brought to book.

4. Law and order duties be immediately restored to the police in Srinagar and all forces be made to work “in aid of civil power” as required by law.

5. The situation of the peaceful expression of peoples demands be utilized to initiate a political dialogue, the political establishment is duty-bound to do so when people in such large numbers are voicing these.

Peoples Democratic Forum (PDF), Karnataka

Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee (APCLC), Andhra Pradesh

Jammu Kashmir Coordination for Civil Society (JKCCS), Jammu & Kashmir

People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR), Delhi