“60 shot dead near encounter site”
The year 2018 saw a surge in the encounters resulting in death of 250 militants, highest ever since 2007. What added to the already volatile atmosphere was the killing of 144 civilians during the year, 60 of whom were shot dead by government forces while they tried to save the militants engaged in encounters.
Two major incidents of civilian killings shook entire Kashmir—Larnoo Kulgam where seven civilians died due to a left-over explosive material and the December incident at Sirnoo village of southern Pulwama where seven civilians were killed in the government forces’ firing.
One thing is clear that despite ample warnings and appeals by the top security officials to youth asking them not to inch closer to encounters spots, youth continue to rush towards the gunfight sites to disrupt the operations in a bid to save the trapped militants.
The police claimed that the civilian killings at Kulgam were avoidable. Seven civilians were killed in the blast that occurred in Larnoo village after a gunfight in which three Jaish-e-Muhammad militants were killed on October 21. Following the civilian killings that drew widespread condemnations, residents of Larnoo accused the government forces of leaving the gunfight site without clearing it of unexploded material.
Locals alleged that the explosion was a deliberate attempt by the government forces to instil fear among the people who otherwise rush to the encounter sites to help the trapped militants.
Soon after the incident, director general of police Dilbag Singh said that forces want to avoid Kulgam-like “incidents.” Singh urged the people to stay away from gunfight sites. “It was an unfortunate incident and we regret it. When an operation is over, there are apprehensions of unexploded explosives at the site and people, especially youth, should avoid going to such places or touch the debris. We have been asking people to avoid such sites,” he said.
Singh said: “We do not want such incidents. We have directed all forces to make sure there is no collateral damage in the operations (against militants) but people should not create such a situation which can lead to loss of innocent lives.” A senior police officer told the Greater Kashmir while commenting on the serious allegations as to why forces left Larnoo gunfight site without sanitising it, said: “There was no violation of SOP in Kulgam. This has not happened for the first time. But yes, this time, we had a high casualty figure as we lost seven civilians. This all happened because of groups of youth entered into the house soon after the bodies of three Jaish militants were retrieved. We have been requesting people time and again not to enter or rush to the encounter sites.”
The killing of seven civilians at Sirnoo, Pulwama, once again punctured the claims of forces that SOP was being followed. Locals of Sirnoo alleged that seven civilians including a teenager and a MBA graduate who had married an Indonesian woman, were killed after the encounter was over. However, police said that since encounter took place in an orchard, youth marched towards the gunfight spot from all directions “inviting death.” A senior police officer, however, admitted that “it’s time to fine-tune the SOP to avoid Sirnoo type incidents.”
‘SOP ON PAPERS ONLY’
Chairman International Forum for Justice and Human Rights, Muhammad Ahsan Untoo, has filed a petition before the State Human Rights Commission seeking a thorough investigation into the Kulgam civilian killings and injuries caused to dozens of others. Earlier in July this year, a copy of SOP followed by the police and other agencies during anti-militancy operations was submitted by the police before the commission.
“There are 11 points which are part of SOP that need to be followed by forces while dealing with crowds. Firstly, no matter how big a protest at a gunfight site is, forces can’t leave the spot without sanitisation,” Untoo said. “While dealing with the protestors, forces have to use persuasion, mediation, negotiation and warning. If that fails, they are supposed to use water cannons, and then the third step is use of tear smoke shells.” Untoo said that if tear-gas shells also fail, forces can resort to cane-charge.
“Fifth option is use of rubber bullets or plastic bullets. If that too fails, forces can use Pump Action Gun which should be fitted with deflectors. The last stage is use of live ammunition. This is what the SOP for forces mentions,” he said.
“In Kashmir, the SOP is followed in reverse.”