Three civilians including a cricketer, a young man and a 70-year old woman were killed in Army firing on Tuesday in Handwara in the Indian state of Kashmir, worsening the already tense situation prevailing in the valley. Chief minister Mehbooba Mufti has sought a time-bound enquiry into the incident so that those responsible for the deaths were handed exemplary punishment. This, she said, would act as a deterrent against such incidents. She is on her maiden trip to Delhi to meet the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, after taking over as the first woman chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir.
Ms. Mehbooba Mufti, CM of J&K called on the Prime Minister today. pic.twitter.com/bxCA4HwMPM
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Trouble started with protests by locals over alleged molestation of the girl student by an Army man. The Army opened fire to disperse a stone-pelting mob, causing the death of the two. Mehbooba Mufti was quick to respond that the security personnel involved in the killing of the youth will be given exemplary punishment as such incidents cannot be tolerated since these have a “negative impact” on the state government’s efforts to consolidate peace efforts. Meanwhile, the Army ordered an inquiry while Jammu and Kashmir police registered a criminal case and began investigations into the incident which triggered more protests in Handwara and had an echo in Srinagar and Pulwama districts of Kashmir as well. Separatists have called for a strike and a curfew has been imposed.
Giving details of the incident, the police spokesman said within minutes of alleged incident of molestation by an Army man, public in large numbers gathered there and attacked the Army bunker in Handwara chowk. They assaulted the personnel deployed there, ransacked the bunker and attempted to set fire to the bunker, he said.
“In retaliation, the security forces deployed (there) used force to disperse the violent rampaging mob. In the process, two individuals — Mohammad Iqbal and Nayeem Qadir Bhat sustained fire-arm injuries,” the spokesman said. “They were evacuated to hospital where they, unfortunately, succumbed to their injuries,” he said, adding police deeply “regrets the loss of life”. The police spokesman said a criminal case has been registered into the Handwara incident and investigations started to ascertain the facts. Nayeem, a student of Government Degree College Handwara, was a budding top order batsman, who had attended an Under-19 national level camp three years ago, his friends said.
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Several photographs of Nayeem at various cricketing events, including a net session with Jammu and Kashmir’s star all-rounder Parvez Rasool, were being circulated on social networking sites soon after his death. In one picture, Bhat is seen shaking hands with a senior police officer before the start of a recent cricket tournament in the district.
The incident in Handwara had an echo in Srinagar, the summer capital of the state, as also in Pulwama in south Kashmir, where protests erupted and stone-pelting incidents were reported at some places, the official said. Additional police personnel have been deployed in sensitive areas of the city to maintain law and order. The chief minister, who was in Delhi, called up Udhampur-based Northern Army Commander Lt Gen DS Hooda over the issue and was told that the Army has ordered an inquiry and that tangible action will be taken once the probe is completed, an official statement said.
Bring my Gavaskar back: mother
Mourners poured into aspiring cricketer Nayeem Qadir Bhat’s home. “His father is with his body in the police station. Can you please tell him to bring my Gavaskar back,” Nayeem’s mother urged a group of mourners.
Nayeem was killed on Tuesday afternoon when protests erupted in Handwara after the news of an alleged molestation bid on a girl student by an Army man, inside a public convenience, located near an Army camp. Late Tuesday, a video circulated on social networking websites, showing the girl in her school uniform, telling a group of police officers that she was not molested, but some boys from the town instigated trouble and even assaulted her.
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— Sibte Arif (@sibtearif) April 13, 2016
The news of the alleged molestation spread like wildfire as hundreds of protesters hit the streets and attacked an Army bunker in Handwara chowk, assaulted the personnel deployed there, ransacked the bunker and torched it. Nayeem, one of the those who died in the shooting, “was recording a video on his mobile phone, right opposite Kashmir cloth house, a famous landmark in the main chowk when he was shot. He died on the spot, Abdul Rashid Saraf, a local shopkeeper told the media.
The protesters were angry over the molestation of a school girl. According to another shopkeeper, two girls from a local government school had walked towards the public convenience constructed by the Army near their camp.
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“While one girl stayed back, another entered the washroom. The girl waiting outside was soon heckled by a local boy who told her about the presence of an Army soldier inside the washroom. Within a few minutes, the girl inside the washroom also left, but a fight started between the boy and the Army man,” the shopkeeper was quoted as saying.
“Soon, a group of boys gathered and started protesting and attacked the bunker,” a statement by the Jammu Kashmir police said.
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It was Iqbal Farooq Pir, 21, who was killed first and minutes later, Nayeem, who was hit by a bullet, also fell on the ground, witnesses said.
Inside Nayeem’s house, pictures of cricketers like Sachin Tendulakar, Rahul Dravid, Virat Kholi, Wasim Akram and Brain Lara, adorn his room. The back of his door has a life-size poster of Kashmiri cricketer Pervez Rasool, when Nayeem had met him for the first time in south Kashmir’s Bijbehera cricket stadium, “Cricket was his passion. He would travel to Baramulla Degree College to practice, which is 30 kilometre from here, almost three days a week and played for a local club,” Farooq Ahmad, Bhat’s cousin told Firstpost.
Nayeem was also selected for All India-level coaching camp for cricket three years ago and was a student of first year in Government Degree College, Handwara. He became famous after he showed his extraordinary performance in the state-level Under-19 cricket competition. He was the first cricketer selected for Under-19 cricket coaching camp from the northern district of Kupwara.
Medical Superintendent of District Hospital Handwara, Dr Rouf said Iqbal had received bullets in face, while bullets hit Nayeem’s abdomen. “Iqbal died on spot,” he said. Dr Rouf said that the hospital treated over 9 injured persons.
Another women, Raja Begum, who was hit by a bullet while working in her field, was declared ‘brain dead’ by doctors in Srinagar SKIMS hospital, late Tuesday evening, while Rayees Ahmad, who was hit in his chest and is undergoing treatment. His condition is said to be critical.
— Sofi_Hanan (@Kashmiri_being) April 13, 2016
Director General of Police, K Rajendra, told Firstpost that the police took up the investigation. “Anyone found guilty will be punished, I can assure you that,” he said.
After the deaths the protests spread to some other areas and reinforcements were sent to check any escalation of violence. Handwara has been placed under curfew and the army has vacated worst-hit parts of the town including the post that was attacked.
Separatists have given a call for a strike across the Kashmir Valley. Parts of Srinagar, around a two-hour drive from Handwara, are also under curfew-like restrictions.