Srinagar: On Wednesday, the families of three youths, who government forces claimed were militants and who were killed in an encounter in the Lawaypora area on the outskirts of Srinagar, claimed they were civilians.
The three youths, all residents of south Kashmir, have been identified as 24-year-old Ajaz Maqbool Ganai from Putrigam village in Pulwama, 22-year-old Zubair Ahmad Lone from Turkawangam village in Shopian and Athar Muhstaq Wani from Bellow, Pulwama. The families claimed that the three youths were home till Tuesday and were not militants.
The allegations by the three families come days after police filed a chargesheet in another “fake encounter” case in which three youth from Jammu’s Rajouri were killed in an encounter at Amshipora village in Shopian in July this year; they were passed-off as militants following the encounter. The J&K police accused Captain Bhoopendra Singh of Indian Army’s Rashtriya Rifles 62 battalion and two others of conspiring and killing the three youth, who had come to the valley for work.
Clashes near encounter site in HMT Srinagar.
Their family members held a protest against the alleged encounter on Wednesday outside the Police Control Room (PCR) in Srinagar. They demanded that their bodies be returned to them. According to the family members, who raised anti-India slogans during the demonstration, said that both Athar and Ajaz were students while Zubair worked as a mason. Athar was a student in class 11 while Ajaz, a fresh graduate, had left his home on Tuesday to visit Srinagar.
“He left at about 11 am to fill a form at the University of Kashmir. He called me at about 3 pm and said that he would be staying for the night. He said he had eaten lunch and would be back the next day. We were told today that he has been killed,” Ajaz’s sister Asiya told NewsClick.
The families refuted claims by the police and paramilitary forces and said that the three youths were killed in “cold blood”.
“My brother was not a militant, he was suffering from slip disc and has never been involved in any militancy-related activity,” Asiya added. Ajaz’s father is a policeman.
According to a security official who spoke to NewsClick on the condition of anonymity, none of the three youths were listed as militants.
Fayaz, Zubair’s friend, said that the latter was “innocent” and was not involved with militancy. “We were together on Tuesday morning and today I hear he has been killed. This is shocking,” Fayaz said.
The families of the three slain youth were accompanied by relatives and neighbours who questioned the encounter and called it “staged”.
Athar’s family also claimed that the teenager was home on Monday and was looking for a hostel in Srinagar. “I saw him yesterday near my shop and he even bought cigarettes,” Athar’s cousin brother Bilal Ahmad said.
According to officials, the operation, which began on Tuesday ended at about 11:30 am on Wednesday. In a presser held after the operation, the General officer Commanding (GoC) Kilo Force H.S. Sahi said the operation was carried out after “intelligence inputs were pouring in continuously about the movement of militants on the Srinagar-Baramulla highway.”
“Yesterday, we developed leads and came to know that militants are hiding in a house right opposite Noora hospital at Lawaypora in HMT area,” GoC Sahi said.
He added that the operation was carried out after the “presence of militants was established” and that the army’s 2 RR, the police and the CRPF repeatedly asked them to surrender. “The militants fired indiscriminately at security forces and lobbed grenades as well,” he said.
GoC Sahi was accompanied by commander 10 sector RR Naresh Mishra and SP West Shehzad Saliar and other officials from the army and the police.
Soon after the encounter ended, however, protests broke out in the area in which dozens of youth pelted stones at government forces.