Free for all : all Govt offices, vehicles set ablaze in Mendhar; 3 killed15 September 2010
The Daily Excelsior
JAMMU: Three persons were killed and 28 others were injured, two of them seriously, when police opened firing on the protesters in Mendhar town in Poonch district as they tried to set on fire a Christian school while taking out an anti-American procession to protest alleged desecration of holy Quran in Florida, United States. The mob went on rampage after police firing setting ablaze all Government and SDPO’s offices and the official quarters that existed in Mendhar town besides official and private vehicles and damaging others in a virtual free for all situation till late this evening as Army refused to turn up despite three written requisitions sent by the civil administration-two by Deputy Commissioner, Poonch Kuldip Lal Khajuria and another by Divisional Commissioner, Jammu Pawan Kotwal and a reported call by Home Secretary B R Sharma citing that they were awaiting permission from their Delhi headquarters. In the absence of Army, four companies of para-military Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), three from Jammu and one from Rajouri, were rushed to Mendhar this afternoon. Curfew was imposed in Mendhar town late tonight and troops staged a flag march at mid-night tonight after getting a nod from top brass to restore confidence among the people. A FIR No. 182-2010 was registered against Sub Divisional Police Officer (SDPO) Mendhar and his five PSOs, who were blamed by the mob for resorting to firing on the protesters. SDPO Vivek Gupta was attached to IGP Jammu office tonight and was immediately replaced by Farooq Qaiser, DySP Operations, Rajouri. 'Mendhar town is now without any important Government office. Majority of offices were either burnt or extensively damaged. A number of official and private vehicles were also torched by the mob during day long violence that continued till late this evening in a free for all situation’’, official sources said. Agitated people kept bodies of all three killed civilians in Mendhar town and refused to bury them demanding action against SDPO Mendhar Vivek Gupta and his five body-guards and registration of a case against them for what they called 'unprovoked firing on peaceful protesters’’. Stalemate ended late tonight after police registered FIR under Sections 302 and 34 RPC at Mendhar police station against the SDPO and his five SPOs Gyas Khan, Abdul Hameed, Ilyas, Asi and Vishal Sharma. All of them have been shifted to Jammu where they have been attached pending investigations in the case. The Government has ordered a high level inquiry into the incident which will be conducted by Divisional Commissioner, Jammu Pawan Kotwal. Official sources declined to comment on Army’s refusal to move into Mendhar town despite requests by the civil administration. However, in the mid-night tonight, Army staged a flag march in Mendhar town to restore people’s confidence. Deputy Commissioner, Poonch, Kuldip Lal Khajuria has imposed curfew in entire Mendhar town and peripheries. Announcement of curfew was made from mike fitted vehicles tonight after a mob of 2000, which held Mendhar to ransom during the day, dispersed along with three dead bodies after a murder case was registered against the police officials. Simultaneously, a FIR has also been registered against the mob which indulged in large scale arson and violence. The arsonists will be identified and named in the FIR during investigations of the case. Police today arrested 12 persons, 11 in Poonch and one in Kishtwar, for arson and other acts of violence during the protests in last three days. Cases have been registered against them. SSP Poonch Manohar Singh and SDM Mendhar Mukhtiar Ahmed Choudhary told the Excelsior that all civil offices of the Government and official quarters besides the SDPO’s office were set on fire by the mob during day long clashes. The SDM said most damaging for the administration was the burning of ‘Muhafiz Khanna’ containing entire revenue record of the tehsil which has been reduced to ashes. 'No civil office is left in Mendhar. Every office was in flames and burnt during day long violence. The residential quarters were also burning. Even the Munsiff Court was not spared by the mob. The officials had to save themselves taking shelter in houses. Many of them left Mendhar in a hurry’’, the SDM said, adding all official vehicles, which were parked in the offices, have also been burnt or damaged. A total of 10 official and private vehicles including a special ‘Rakshak’ jeep of police was also set afire by the mob. Security has also been beefed up in Rajouri district where a two days bandh call has been given from tomorrow to protest the sacrilegious act. All educational institutions have been shut for two days by the administration, which convened an all party meeting in which all sides agreed to maintain peace during the bandh and protests. Stalemate continued even after a delegation comprising NC MLAs and MLCs-Rashpal Singh, M R Qureshi, Javed Rana and Mushtaq Bukhari reached Mendhar and talked to representatives of the people. Later, they took shelter in an Army camp and didn’t return till late tonight leading to more violence in the town. PDP MLA from Mendhar Rafiq Khan and party MLC Murtaza Khan later also joined the talks after remaining with the protesters during the day. It was on the insistence of NC delegation and PDP legislators that the FIR was lodged against police officials and bodies were lifted by the mob and taken to their houses. Police was making tight security arrangements for burial of three civilians tomorrow. IGP Jammu Ashok Gupta and Divisional Commissioner, Jammu Pawan Kotwal rushed for Mendhar this evening and were expected to reach there in the mid-night tonight. While three persons were killed on spot in police firing, 16 others were injured. Seven of them were airlifted here and admitted in the Government Medical College (GMC) hospital where condition of two of them was stated to be critical after operation and removal of bullets. Two injured were admitted in Sub District Hospital, Mendhar. Others were discharged after first-aid. Twelve police personnel including the SDPO Mendhar and his two body-guards and SHO Mendhar Farooq Khan were among the injured. As the mob had a field day till late tonight, the police officials and constables confined themselves to Mendhar police station, which was probably the only Government installation saved from mob fury. Three civilians killed in police firing have been identified as Mohammad Shamim, 28, son of Abdul Majeed R-o Banola, a TATA Sumo driver, Alam Dad, 25, son of Sadiq Hussain R-o Harni, a three wheeler operator and Mohammad Arshad, 22, son of Mohammad Azam, a resident of Ari, Mendhar. The Government property burnt by the mob during day long violence included SDPO’s office, Sub Divisional Magistrate (SDM) office and quarter, Dak Bungalow, Block Development Office, Munsiff Court, Tehsil office, Horticulture, PDD, PHE, R&B, PWD Irrigation and Forest offices and a Co-operative Bank. Office of CID Mendhar was ransacked and its record set on fire. An excise shop was extensively damaged. Entire record of ‘Muhafiz Khana’ in tehsil office was burnt by the mob. The revenue record of the tehsil was reduced to ashes, the SDM Mendhar said. A special vehicle of police ‘Rakshak’, a TATA 407 matador of SHO Mendhar, four private vehicles including three Maruti cars and a private Van, parked in the office complex of PHE, and four vehicles parked in PHE and tehsil office were torched by the rampaging protesters. Several other vehicles were stoned and damaged. During fire in the BDO’s office, a LPG cylinder busted, leading to complete collapse of the building and injuries to six more persons inside. Sources said nearly 2000 protesters had a field day in Mendhar town till late tonight burning and damaging Government property including offices and vehicles due to very less ‘nafri’ of police and para-military personnel in the area and Army’s refusal to come to their assistance. 'The protesters ruled the roost. They had a field day in Mendhar due to lack of adequate nafri. Four political leaders sent to Mendhar by the Government were unable to persuade the crowd till tonight and created more trouble as they didn’t return from the Army camp despite asking the people to wait for their return on the demands raised by the police leading to more violence and burning of Government property. It seems everything was burnt in Mendhar town. There was total lawlessness and anarchy leading to insecurity among a section of people’’, the locals said on phone. Official sources and eye-witnesses said that the religious leaders and other prominent persons of majority community last night communicated to police their decision to take out a procession in Mendhar town tomorrow. Yesterday also, a procession was taken out in the town which ended peacefully. Sources said the procession started at 10.15 am from Jamia Masjid and was joined by the minorities. Police had asked the religious leaders and other persons leading the march to take out procession up to Bus Stand and return to Jamia Masjid. However, as soon as the procession started, a number of people from peripheries of Mendhar including Gursai, Ari, Acchad, Mankote and Balakote etc joined it. The protesters started closing down schools and colleges. A large number of students also became part of the mob. Raising slogans against the United States and religious, the processionists continued to swell. While majority of them were peaceful, few others tried to divert from the route decided for the march and tried to march towards St Francis School in the town, which was being run by the Christians. The police personnel repeatedly asked the mob to adhere to the assigned route and don’t deviate. However, few trouble mongers were determined to move towards the Christian’s school with a view to damage it or set it on fire. Police tried to prevent them but the mob started stone pelting. As the mob surged toward the Christian’s school, police fired several tear smoke shells and resorted to canecharge which didn’t have any desired impact. Police then opened firing on the protesters in which 19 persons were injured, three of whom later succumbed to their wounds. After clashes between police and protesters, majority of people, who had turned up for peaceful march, returned to their houses while about 1000 youths went on rampage and started targeting the Government and police offices, vehicles and other Government property in Surankote as police personnel confined themselves to police station in a bid to avoid more casualties. The rampaging mob poured kerosene oil and petrol on the Government offices, Dak Bungalows and quarters of the officers setting them on fire. There was no option for the Fire Brigade to dose the flames as mob was holding everything to ransom. Almost all police and civil officials took shelter in Army camps as mob ruled the roost in Mendhar town. Only police officials were confined to a police station, which was subjected to heavy stone pelting by the mob but the cops saved themselves resorting to tear smoke shelling from inside. Sources said Deputy Commissioner, Poonch, Kuldip Lal Khajuria, who was camping at Mendhar along with DIG Rajouri-Poonch range S D Singh and SSP Poonch Manmohan Singh, made a written request to Army to move in to Mendhar town and staged a flag march but they didn’t respond. Mr Khajuria told the Excelsior that he personally approached the GOC and two Brigadiers seeking Army assistance to maintain law and order but there was no response. Sources said the Divisional Commissioner, Jammu also made a written request to the Army but to no avail. Even Home Secretary B R Sharma is said to have requested the Army assistance. The DC Poonch said the Army officials told him that they didn’t get a clearance from their Delhi Headquarters for moving in to a town for maintenance of law and order. However, late tonight, Army agreed to stage a flag march in Mendhar town to restore confidence among the people. The people kept on sitting at dharna till 9.30 pm and shifted the dead bodies to their houses only after the administration agreed to their demand for registration of FIR against the police officers. During the day, some photo journalists were also beaten-up by the mob. In neighbouring Rajouri district, a call for two days bandh was given by the all parties to condemn killing of three civilians in Mendhar and desecration of holy Quran. Deputy Commissioner, Rajouri, G S Khwaja and SSP Rajouri Romesh Jalla convened a meeting of prominent citizens of all parties during which the people were stressed to maintain peace and communal harmony. The district administration has ordered closure of all educational institutions in Rajouri and some adjoining areas for two days. All communities decided to support the bandh call. The meeting among others was attended by Liaquat Choudhary, Moulvi Dil Mohammad, Vibodh Gupta, Qayoom Dar, Yogesh Sharma, Kewal Koul, Rajinder Kumar, Shafqat Mir, Rajesh Gupta, Vijay Gupta and Advocate Qamar among others. The administration has also permitted a protest against desecration of Quran on Friday on a permitted route. During the day, students and youth gathered outside the degree college in Rajouri after Mendhar killings and held a demonstration peacefully. A procession was taken out up to Gujjar Mandi. In Poonch, curfew continued for third consecutive day today with no relaxation. At several places of Poonch, where curfew hadn’t been imposed, people took out processions denouncing the sacrilegious act. Procession were taken out in Dhar Galoon, Gursai, Mandi and Surankote but the protesters dispersed peacefully. Curfew was imposed in Poonch on Monday evening after large scale violence by the protesters in which Government offices and vehicles were burnt and damaged while protesting against desecration of the holy book. Situation remained peaceful in Poonch and no attempt was made from any place to violate curfew. In Ramban district, peaceful processions were taken out in Ramsu and Magarkote areas against the sacrilegious act. All other areas of Doda, Kishtwar and Ramban remained peaceful, DIG Doda-Ramban range Manish Kumar Sinha said. Seven injured, who were airlifted here and admitted in the GMC Jammu have been identified as Ateeq Hussain, 25, son of Mohammad Nasseb, Rezwan son of Iftikhar Ahmed, Mohammad Zahid son of Mohammad Rashid, Aijaz Ahmed son of Shafir Ahmed, Bagh Hussain son of Bagga Khan and Mohammad Safeer son of Mohammad Hamid, all residents of Mendhar and Kabir Hussain son of Faqir Hussain R-o Gursai. All of them had bullet wounds. Medical Superintendent, GMC Jammu, Dr Romesh Gupta said condition of Aijaz Ahmed and Ateeq Hussain was serious. They were operated upon for the bullet wounds. Two injured Mohammad Raffi and Abid Ali were admitted in District Hospital, Mendhar. Injured discharged after first-aid in Mendhar hospital included Mohammad Ishaq of Balakote, Safeer Ahmed of Banola, Mohammad Arif of Gharana, Subair Ahmed of Mendhar and Zahid Hussain of Gursai.