SHABIR IBN YUSUF
Srinagar: There is no end to civilian killings near encounters sites; with the death of two more persons on Sunday, a total of 26 civilians have been shot dead in such circumstances in the seven and a half months of 2017.
The first incident in which civilians fell to bullets of police and army near encounter site took place at Lilhar village in Pulwama district on February 15 last year. On that day, two students including a girl were killed and 10 civilians injured when forces opened fire and resorted to teargas shelling to disperse the protesters who had hit the streets after the death of a militant in a gunfight there.
The civilian deaths at encounter sites have continued despite an advisory by the police, asking people to stay indoors at the time of an encounter between militants and security forces.
Earlier in February this year, army chief General Bipin Rawat had warned of stern action against civilians who would try to disrupt anti-militancy operations.
“The protesters hamper our efforts by shouting slogans and throwing stones. This poses a great risk to locals who put their lives on the line,” said a police officer who has been part of counter-insurgency operations in the state. “Later it results in killings.”
The officer said the people in Kashmir risk their lives by going to the encounter sites to help militants break the security cordon.
A cursory assessment of the situations emerging at encounter sites in the past 17 months, officials said, reflects that the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) provided by the Bureau of Police Research and Development have no adherence on ground, thus taking a heavy toll on civilians in Kashmir, particularly in southern areas of the Valley. The BPR&D has laid down 20 instructions to be followed by security agencies operating in Kashmir on levels of use of force for dispersing crowds.
The medical records of civilians killed at encounter sites suggest that they were fired in chest and head.
The SOP states that whenever firing is resorted to, direction and warnings to protesters should be announced through loudspeakers while police vehicles should be equipped with loudspeakers. And, it further states that where such arrangement cannot be made, hand megaphones should be kept ready for the announcement.
Police must use “minimum civil force” to disperse the protestors by resorting to lathicharge, water cannons, tear smoke shells and ‘non-lethal’ weapons, the SOP guidelines state.
They also state that the police should not open fire except by orders of the Magistrate and in case of his non-availability, the in-charge officer should exercise extreme caution and discretion regarding the extent and the line of fire, “and effort has to be to direct it below knees of the target.”