Rise in ‘custodial deaths’ spark protests across Kashmir
21 May 2001
The Indian Express
Srinagar: AN activist of the Democratic Freedom Party was killed in an ‘‘encounter’’ with the Special Operation Group of the police on Sunday. However, party president Shabir Ahmad Shah alleged that his party member Aijaz Ahmad Kitab had been ‘‘arrested and later killed in a fake encounter’’. Shah, who has showed his willingness to enter into a dialogue with the Centre and is trying to muster support for the move, alleges that the vested interests were trying to subvert the peace initiative. A.K. Suri, Director General of Police, however, rejected the allegation and said that Kitab was a ‘‘listed’’ militant and killed in an encounter. ‘‘He was killed in an exchange of fire. Some militants have joined Shabir Shah’s party. At one point of time, Shah himself was preaching secession,’’ Suri said. Kitab’s killing, however, is one of six controversial custodial killings in past week which have sparked off protest demonstrations all across the Valley. The death of two employees of the Mechanical Irrigation Department at Badampora, Sumbal after security forces allegedly forced them to open a tin box that turned out to be an IED also evoked protests, even from the state government. Irrigation Department employees have struck work till May 22. Works Minister Ali Mohammad Sagar condemned the killings and asked the General Officer Commanding, 15 Corps, to initiate a probe into the incident. Though the Army has expressed ‘‘deep grief over the incident’’ and admitted that a patrol of the 5 Rashtriya Rifles had asked the trio to open the ‘‘tiffin box’’ as the latter had ‘‘started acting suspiciously and told them that the box contained food’’. However, the Army said, it should not be blamed for the death of the two persons. A third employee was seriously injured in the incident. Another incident which triggered protests in Srinagar was the alleged custodial death of two youths, who the police insist were Hizbul Mujahideen militants and killed in an encounter with the SOG at Harwan on the city’s outskirts. A senior police officer said one of the boys, Niyaz Ahmad Shah, resident of Haba Kadal, had been arrested thrice earlier. Both were proclaimed militants and killed in the encounter, he insisted. The death of a baker, Gulzar Ahmad Ganai, at SKIMS in Soura on May 17 has also been condemned. Doctors of the hospital’s Nephrology Department confirmed that Ganai had been tortured and his skin had been taken off. Personnel of the 36 Rashtriya Rifles have been blamed for his death. However, Colonel (GS) of Victor Force said he was not aware of any such incident. DGP Suri, however, said the police would institute an inquiry if there was any evidence that people were being picked up by security forces and killed in custody. ‘‘I am against custodial killings,’’ he maintained. But alleged atrocities by troops have triggered protests in several parts of Kashmir. Magam town in Budgam district has been observing a strike for the past 10 days against the alleged atrocities at the hands of security forces and Special Operation Group of the police. People are demanding shifting of SOG and BSF 194 battalion from the town.