Director General of J&K Police has made a candid admission by saying that “since January 2017 Indian government forces personnel have killed 106 civilians near the encounter sites” in Kashmir. This, however, does not include the civilian protesters killed in routine pro-freedom protests and those civilians killed during the summer agitations of 2008, 2010 and 2016.
The number of civilians killed since January 2015 is above 350 by now. J&K DGP’s admission substantiates the damning report on human rights situation released on 14 June 2018 by the United Nations which says that the Indian armed forces have been “using excessive force” and are involved in “unlawful killings” of civilians in Kashmir.
Even as the BJP had cited worsening security situation for its pullout from the coalition government, four civilians including a minor girl have been killed by forces’ firing during past three days. Police records suggest at least 106 civilians died in forces’ firing near encounter sites since January 2017.
Security authorities are working on a joint strategy that would help forces avoid civilian deaths while dealing with protesters near encounter sites, DGP Shesh Pal Ved told Greater Kashmir. He, however, did not share the details but insisted that the protests near encounter sites and the ensuing civilian deaths were a cause for concern. In the latest such incident in Shopian district a youth, Tamsheel Ahmed was killed in forces firing and more than 50 persons were injured when protestors tried to march toward the house where militants were hiding. Two Jaish-e-Muhammad militants were also killed in the encounter.
The civilian killings continue in Kashmir despite clear-cut directions passed by the Governor N N Vohra recently to the top brass of army and police. The Governor is said to have instructed the security brass to ensure zero civilian causality even during “extreme provocations by the protesters.”
One of the few major reasons that security agencies cite for frequent civilian killings during protests at the encounter sites is “intense stone pelting and protesters’ bid to get closer to the house where militants are holed up to help militants flee”.
According to official figures, 78 civilians were killed near encounter sites in 2017. As per the official figures, 42 civilians were killed in various militancy-related incidents since January 1, 2018, of whom 28 were killed in forces action during protesters bid to move closer to the encounter sites across Kashmir.
Director general of police J&K, Shesh Paul Vaid said that the killing of civilians at the encounter sites or for that matter in the street protests was a cause for concern. “We don’t want civilians to die,” he said adding “We are working out a joint security model to bring down the civilian causalities at the encounter sites to zero.” He said it is not feasible to reveal the contours of the model to the media.
The forces had last year formulated a strategy to increase the number of forces personnel involved in outer layer and middle-layer cordon. “Our layer cordon that comprises police and CRPF men are primarily responsible for dealing with the law and order situation. The close-contact cordon (third layer) is something that remains engaged directly with the militants,” a source said. “There is a possibility to increase the number of men involved in middle and outer layer cordon who can block the roads leading to gun-fight site.”
Police authorities admit that intense clashes mark almost every encounter in southern Kashmir. They believe, the daytime encounters witness large number of protesters and intensity of clashes is much more than that of encounters that take place during night hours. For police, the major concern is protesters’ decision to march towards gunfight sites knowing the fact that they can get killed.
A police official said that they had issued a series of advisories in the past but the people continue to violate them and still try to get closer to the house where bullets from every direction rain. “It is always difficult to ascertain whose bullet hit the protester as at times, there is an intense firing on both sides,” said the officer who did not want to be quoted by name.
Inspector general of paramilitary CRPF (operations) Zulfikar Hassan said that civilian killings are not in the interest of any force. “The only thing is that people keep on coming closer to gunfight sites. Knowing that they can get killed, people protest and resort to clashes just to disturb the operations,” he said. Asked whether there was a need to modify the standard operating procedure (SoP), he said: “After every civilian killing, we keep on reviewing the situation. The question again is why people try to disrupt the anti-militancy operations at encounter sites.”