Srinagar, July 19:(By MEHBOOB JEELANI)-A villager, shot by Border Security Force soldiers, was taken to the government medical college hospital in Jammu city, Jammu and Kashmir, on Thursday.Channi Anand/Associated Press A villager, shot by Border Security Force soldiers, was taken to the government medical college hospital in Jammu city, Jammu and Kashmir, on Thursday.
The government in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir imposed a curfew on Kashmir Valley and some districts of Jammu region on Friday after India’s paramilitary Border Security Force troops and local police killed four protesters and injured over 40 in the Ramban district of the state.
Internet services were blocked and mobile phones were jammed for several hours to prevent further protests on Friday in the troubled region. Authorities have also temporarily suspended the annual Hindu pilgrimage to the Amarnath shrine in southern Kashmir.
The unrest began Wednesday night at Dharam village in Ramban district, 150 kilometers (90 miles) south of Srinagar, the summer capital of the state. Around 9:30 p.m., four armed soldiers from the Border Security Force arrived at a small madrasa, or Islamic school, in Dharam, said Afzal Lateef, the 22-year-old caretaker of the school.
“Two B.S.F. men stayed outside and two came inside,” Mr. Lateef said in a phone interview. “They seemed angry. They shouted at me, ‘You have turned this madrasa into a home for militants.’ ” Mr. Lateef denied the charges leveled against him by the paramilitary officers.
“They looked at the bookshelves in my room and saw the several religious books I had,” Mr. Lateef recalled. “They picked up a copy of the Koran from a shelf, tore it into pieces and threw the torn pages onto the floor. Then they stomped over the torn pages of the Koran with their shoes.”
Mr. Lateef said that when he protested the desecration of the Koran, the soldiers dragged him out by his collar, slapping and kicking him. “A Sumo Taxi was passing by and the driver stopped. The soldiers turned toward the taxi driver and chased him away,” Mr. Lateef said.
“I called the local police. The police sent workers from the railway construction project, which is hardly 100 meters from the madrasa. A group of 10 engineers, crane drivers, and laborers arrived within a few minutes,” Mr. Lateef said. The railway workers shouted at the soldiers not to fire.
Seeing the workers drawing closer, the soldiers left and returned to their camp, he added.
People running past a burning tire during a protest against the killing of four villagers in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, on Thursday.Mukhtar Khan/Associated Press People running past a burning tire during a protest against the killing of four villagers in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, on Thursday.
As the word spread, around 500 villagers gathered at the madrasa. “The women began to cry when they saw the torn pages of the Koran on the floor, and men were enraged and shouted slogans,” said Mr. Lateef.
Rafiq Bhat, who lives in the nearby village of Gool and works as a stringer for The Kashmir Times newspaper, said the angry, grieving villagers stayed at the madrasa until 3:30 on Thursday morning. The village elders then asked them to return to their homes and eat the ritual meal before starting the daylong fast undertaken during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
By Thursday morning, hundreds of people from the nearby villages had assembled at the Dharam madrasa to protest. Shyam Vinod Meena, the deputy commissioner who heads the administration of Ramban district, sent an envoy to the protesters and proposed talks over the desecration of the Koran.
Altaf Hussain Tragwal, 44, the head man of Dharam, said he led a delegation of 10 people to meet Mr. Meena. “I told him that the guilty B.S.F. men must be arrested immediately and a criminal inquiry be ordered against them,” Mr. Tragwal said in a phone interview. “We were still talking when we heard gunfire.”
Mr. Meena called off the meeting, called for a team of doctors and paramedics to arrive at the protest site, and then rushed there to assess the situation. Around 2,000 protesters were walking from the madrasa to the paramilitary camp. “By then B.S.F. had already opened the fire on the protesters and injured three civilians,” Mr. Tragwal said. “The protesters didn’t turn back. They continued walking toward the B.S.F. camp and shouting slogans.”
A little later, Mr. Meena’s official cavalcade drew closer to the protesters, and the paramilitary troops and police stopped firing, according to Mr. Tragwal. The protesters huddled around Mr. Meena and demanded immediate action against the troops.
Mr. Meena promised to take action after Eid al-Fitr, at the end of Ramadan, Mr. Tragwal said. “That agitated the villagers further, and they shouted slogans: B.S.F. hai hai (down with the B.S.F.), mujrimoon ko saza do (punish the guilty).”
The villagers hurled stones at the paramilitary camp, according to an eyewitness. As the stones flew, Mr. Meena left the scene and returned to his office. “I saw armed policemen take positions behind trees and rocks,” said Mr. Tragwal. “The B.S.F. threw open the gate of the camp, and soldiers with guns in their hands crouched and took positions. Then they started firing at the protesters.”
Moments before the gunfire, Muhammad Aslam, a 44-year-old paramedic who was part of the medical team that arrived at the protest, recognized Manzoor Ahmad Shan, a political science teacher, in the crowd. “A police officer raised his pistol and shot Shan in his head,” said Mr. Aslam. “Shan died on the spot.”
Mr. Tragwal said Mr. Shan had been facing the protesters and telling people to return to the madrasa. “A police officer appeared behind him, and he just shot him in the head,” said Mr. Tragwal.
The paramilitary and the police opened fire, he said, and the protesters ran for safety. Four protesters were killed, and more than 40 were injured.
“Keeping in view the threat to the arms and ammunitions, steps were taken with maximum restraint by the security forces,” Rajeev Krishna, the inspector general of the Border Security Force in Jammu, said at a news conference Thursday. Mr. Krishna added that it was difficult to determine whether it was the paramilitary or the police officers who caused the casualties.
Sushil Kumar Shinde, India’s home minister, has ordered an investigation into the shootings.
A policeman standing guard at a barricade during a curfew in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, on Friday.Farooq Khan/European Pressphoto Agency A policeman standing guard at a barricade during a curfew in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, on Friday.
Most of the injured were moved to a hospital at Jammu, the winter capital of the state, around 150 kilometers south of Ramban. “They are all bullet injuries,” said Dr. Dara Singh, the superintendent of Jammu Medical College. “Two boys are going through an emergency operation right now. They both are hit in the abdomen, and they have bled profusely.”
Omar Abdullah, the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, offered his condolences to the victims’ families. “It is unfortunate that in spite of costly lessons learned in 2008 and 2010, some among us are determined to repeat past mistakes and use force against unarmed protesters,” Mr. Abdullah said in a statement. “Such incidents risk throwing the entire peaceful atmosphere in jeopardy.”
The four slain protesters were buried Friday in Dharam and adjoining villages. “What can I tell you?” said Shamshada Begum, the sister of Mr. Shan, the teacher. “It feels like doomsday.”
Mehboob Jeelani is a Staff Writer at The Caravan magazine in New Delhi.
Courtesy: NY Times India Iink