Thought Box



by HUMRA QURAISHI January 4 2024, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 6 mins, 6 secs

Humra Quraishi writes this in the backdrop of last month’s brutal killing and grievous injuries caused to civilians in the Poonch District (J&K).

It was several years ago that one first heard of a series of encounter killings in the Kashmir Valley. As I went through the news reports of those killings in the national dailies and the local newspapers, I was shaken. Among those killed were the mentally challenged, young school boys, and the most ordinary people pursuing mundane professions.

In my 2019 book ‘Kashmir: The Unending Tragedy - Reports from the Front Lines’ (Amaryllis) I focused on the news reports, which explain the extent of the havoc caused over so many years, the killing of civilians and the apolitical youth of the Kashmir Valley, while in custody or in fake encounters. While these mindless killings were taking place, shrilly political speeches have been given along with empty assurances from the establishment…

Though there are quite a few such cases, in this book I focused on the ones, which took place more than a decade ago. You may ask why? Because the more recent ones are highlighted, whereas the killings, which took place years ago, lie buried in stacks of government files, i.e. if they still exist.

One of the most blatant killings took place around February 2006, when four young boys, including a nine-year-old, were killed by security forces in the Doodipora village of the Handwara sector. These youngsters were playing cricket when they were fired at and killed by the jawans of Rashtriya Rifles (RR 33 Bn). The Times Of India reported (February 24th, 2006) that ‘the killing of four youths during a search operation by Rashtriya Rifles has come as a big blow to Army Chief General JJ Singh’s much touted policy of avoiding collateral damage in counter insurgency operations.’  Those killings revealed the sheer hollowness of the assurances that the then Army Chief had given, soon after his appointment, along the line that there will be less human rights violations.

Within months, in July 2005, three young boys were killed on the spot when an ambush party of the Rashtriya Rifles opened fire at the Baragund Village, in the Kupwara district of North Kashmir. The Indian Express dated 26th July 2005, carried this news story: ‘School kids lead protests as Kupwara village mourns… A day after this shocked village buried three of its children shot dead by the army, in the shade of the walnut trees, the anger finally broke through. Thousands of children in uniform marched the streets across Kupwara, chanting separatist slogans and demanding immediate action against the army.’  

The army later issued an apology, stating that the killing of these boys was because of mistaken identity, and there was this report (The Hindu dated July 27th, 2005) in which Lt General Dhillon, General Officer Commanding of the Srinagar based 15 Corps said, ‘People’s anger against the army is justified. We have earlier said and I repeat it is unfortunate and regrettable.’ Dhillon was also quoted as saying that the Army was now planning ‘refined operations’!

Together with these killings of civilians, fake encounters became frequent. One of the biggest embarrassments faced by the Army in the Valley were reports of fake encounters, killings and surrenders…most of us had never heard the term ‘fake surrenders’ until these news reports emerged in 2004. It was Mir Ehsan’s report in the Indian Express dated 2nd December 2004, which informed that ‘of the forty-seven who surrendered in J&K, twenty-seven were not militants. It also quoted the DGP Gopal Sharma as saying they were not militants: “They were not genuine militants. They were not eligible for surrender.”

Other newspapers also commented on this. To quote from the Hindustan Times report: “The largest ever surrender ceremony of the year has turned into the Army’s biggest source of embarrassment. In a statement, the Army admitted that it was duped by a civilian source in the surrender of forty-seven “terrorists” at the 16 Corps headquarters in Nagrota on November 9th, and the source is now absconding.’

In 2017, what was reported on the television screens sent shivers up our spines - a young Kashmiri, Farooq Ahmad Dar, was seen tied to a military jeep, driven in that condition the entire day, for twenty-eight kilometres, across the rural stretches of Kashmir. But twenty-six-year-old Farooq Ahmad Dar isn’t a terrorist, neither a stone-pelter, nor word-pelter! On the contrary, he is what can be termed a ‘good citizen’.

That morning he was seen queuing up outside the polling booth at Arizal’s Chill Bras area to cast his vote for the Lok Sabha by-polls for the Srinagar constituency. After casting his vote, he took off on his motorcycle, to his sister’s home as there had been a death in the family. It’s then, whilst he was driving his motorcycle, he was not just stopped by the Army but pulled off from his bike and tied to their jeep. He kept telling the personnel, led by Major Leetul Gogoi, that he wasn’t a ‘terrorist’. A shawl artisan, he had just voted at booth number 90 of the Chill village and even showed the indelible ink mark on his finger. But nothing could stop the brutality unleashed on him.

With his phiran in tatters and bruises on his body, he was finally let off from the Rashtriya Rifles camp after the village elders pleaded for his release. And to compound the tragedy, Major Leetul Gogoi was given a commendation certificate!

Critics questioned the timing. What was the hurry to award Major Leetul Gogoi with a commendation certificate, when an FIR has been lodged against him, an investigation underway, to find out whether what he did on that April 9th morning was justifiable or even ethical? After all, what Major Gogoi did was horrifying - tying a hapless civilian to a military jeep, using him as a human shield, dragging him for kilometres before dumping him!

An emotionally and physically bruised Dar could barely cry out. ‘Am I an animal to be tied to a jeep and dragged on…that day has changed my life! Major Gogoi is lying by saying I was pelting stones. If I was pelting stones I wouldn’t have gone to cast my vote! Why hasn’t the police or the Army recorded my statement? The least they could have done was to hear what I have to say.’

Human tragedies continue. Perhaps, the crux lies in what  I was told years ago by the former Chief Justice of J&K, Justice Mufti Bahauddin Farooqi. In an interview given to me in Srinagar in the early 1990s, he said: ‘The government is treating each person as a suspect. I would say there are no more than 100 militants, yet to locate them a city’s entire population is hounded. The searches are done in the most brutal way…even women in labour are not allowed to move... 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The writers are solely responsible for any claims arising out of the contents of this article.