9 Soldiers Indicted For Budgam Shooting

27 November 2014
The Hindustan Times
Toufiq Rashid

Srinagar: A court martial awaits a junior commissioned officer and eight soldiers of 53 Rashtriya Rifles following their indictment on Thursday for shooting dead two teenagers at Budgam in central Kashmir early this month. The army found at the end of an inquiry the soldiers had violated the rules of engagement when they fired at a speeding Maruti 800 car in the Chattergam Chadoora area, killing Faisal Yusuf and Mehrajudin Dar and critically wounding two others while they were returning from a Muharram procession on November 3. 'The report of the court of inquiry has been sent to Delhi. It's an internal inquiry how many people have been indicted or what are the contents cannot be revealed. But we believe court martial proceedings against the soldiers have been recommended,' an army officer said. The army initially said soldiers manning a checkpoint fired at the vehicle carrying five teens mistaken for terrorists because they had run through two previous security barriers and was trying to speed past this one too. The barriers were set up to check reported movement of militants in Chhatergam Chadoora, 30km from Srinagar. Statements of the wounded boys, who were admitted to the army hospital in Srinagar, contradicted the army version. They said there were no checkpoints in the area and their car hit an electricity pole when the jawans intercepted them before spraying the vehicle with automatic fire. The incident triggered widespread protests across the Valley, prompting Lt Gen. DS Hooda, the GOC of Northern Command, to promise a swift inquiry and legal action against the soldiers if rules of engagement were found to be violated. Mohammad Yusuf, the father of Faisal, said he was happy with the army completing its inquiry in less than a month. 'I'm satisfied but at the same time, I want to say the compensation that they are talking about is just for news channels. Nobody has visited us so far, not a single soul.' The army has announced a compensation of Rs. 10 lakh each to the families of the two dead boys and Rs. 5 lakh to the wounded. It has also admitted that excessive firing could have been avoided. 'The car carrying five youths was embedded with 32 bullets. The dead and the wounded were hit by 12 bullets,' a senior army officer said. The indictment came barely a fortnight after a military court sentenced five soldiers, including two officers, to life imprisonment for the staged killing of three Kashmiri civilians and passing it off as an anti-militancy operation in the Machil sector in 2010. The verdict was hailed as rare in Kashmir where the army is an object of hate and the target of frequent protests because of the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, which gives it sweeping powers to search, arrest and shoot people. The Deputy Commander of Qazigund-based Rashtriya Rifles (RR) Sector-2 completed the enquiry five days ago and a report has now been submitted, recommending court martial against the soldiers. 'The file has been sent for final approval to GOC-in-Chief northern Command. Hopefully we will get the approval by next week,' the official said. On 3 November, the Army men opened fire at a Maruti car, killing two youth - Faisal Yusuf, 14 and Mehraj-u-din Dar, 21 - and critically injuring two others, while the fifth occupant escaped the firing as he fled to the fields. The 53 Rashtriya Rifles soldiers had claimed that they resorted to firing when the teenagers did not stop despite being signalled. The indicted soldiers are expected to face life imprisonment and lose all service benefits, according to GK source. 'All these soldiers have been detached from the parent unit. They are not involved in active duty now,' the source said. The incident witnessed massive protests in the valley and several angry residents came out on the streets condemning Army for killing two innocent people. Following the protest, the Indian Army took the responsibility for the firing and termed it as 'mistake and a violation of rules of engagement.'