Sailan mass killings: A new report and the survivors

Sailan mass killings: A new report and the survivors

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It has been sixteen years of wait for the family members of the 19 persons killed in Sailan massacre in Poonch district of Jammu region by the Indian forces in the intervening night of 3-4 August, 1998.

On Sunday, the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) – a human rights group, in association with the survivors of the massacre released a 54 page report, The Anatomy of a Massacre The Mass Killings at Sailan,written and researched by Shrimoyee Nadini Ghosh.

Ghosh is a lawyer and researcher, working with the JKCCS on few issues including the Sailan massacre. She documented the report by tracing the oral and documented history of the massacre in which 19 people, including 11 children (between 4 years to 15 years age), and 5 women (including one woman in an advanced stage of pregnancy) were shot to death at point blank range in their homes.

The report provides an historical account of the massacre and the continuing legal battle of the survivors. Ghosh collected the data during field visits, and from human rights documentation, first person accounts and interviews with survivors, residents of Sailan, a retired district medical official, lawyers and local human rights activists. She also picked up points from the official documents relating to the case, including the State Human Rights Commission, court documents and RTI responses.

“A total of 13 females and 6 male members of three closely related families were killed by 4 Special Police Officers (SPOs) and personnel from 9 Paratroopers, an elite commando unit of an Indian Army. Later on the dead bodies were horribly cut into pieces with axes and other sharp instruments. One of the bodies was beheaded,” the report reads.

Image 11
Members of Latief and Shabir’s family killed in the Massacre. From Left to Right, clockwise from top row Yasmina (16), his parents Ahmad Din Sheikh and Sara Begum, Zarina (20), Shagufta (9) and Javaida (13). The picture had been taken only months before their deaths, as a gift to Latief, who was away in Saudi Arabia.

Speaking at the release, the three eyewitnesses, the family members of the killed persons, narrated their stories in the room, filled with silence and hope of justice. One of the surviving members, Shabir Ahmad, said that six of his family members were killed by army men who came looking for his maternal cousin brother Imtiyaz, a rebel who had killed army’s informer Zakir.

“When he killed Zakir on August 3 army men came and announced in day light that they will take revenge for Zakir’s killing. Army then went to Zakir’s father and assured him that they will kill at least 12 members of our family as revenge,” said Shabir, who was then 18 years old.

Shabir said, “Next morning when I came home I say my father’s body. I saw the bodies of my four sisters, among whom the elder one was pregnant. Her unborn baby’s arm was hanging from her abdomen.”

However, the report further states that in official accounts such as the First Information Report (FIR) and Right to Information (RTI) responses the crime of that night is attributed to collateral damage in an ‘encounter’ with (or an attack by) ‘foreign militants’ despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Several investigating agencies like the State Human Rights Commission, the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir, Central Bureau of Investigations, have followed the case but it has resulted in no concrete results so far.

Abdul Ahad, another survivor, said that Imtiyaz’s family came to his house as there was a rumor in the village that the army will visit to kill them at night. “At night there was knocking at the door, and we opened it to find the men from 9 Paratroopers – some of them without uniform.”

Shrimoyee Nandani and the survivors in the Sailan massacre (L-R) Latif Ahmad, Abdul Ahad, Shabir Ahmad. Photograph by Shahid Tantray.

He said that the army entered and went directly to Imtiyaz’s father to enquire about him. “They caught his father and began to assault him ruthlessly when we replied negative about his whereabouts. They shot him, killing on spot. Within no time army started shooting indiscriminately at other family members too. They killed everyone before I fled from the spot somehow,” said Ahad, who was then 45 years old. “I spent three days outside the village like a nomad before going back to home.”

The surviving family members, including some eye witnesses, have stood by the process of investigations to find out truth and seek justice despite intimidation, falsification of FIR, non investigation, criminal cover ups, and destruction of evidence by high ranking police officials, the armed forces, and the accused SPOs, observes the researcher.

The report also points out that the perpetrators, namely Head Constable Mohammad Younis, Selection Grade Constable Mohammad Rafiq Gujjar (presently posted with the 16 Rashtriya Rifles at Draba Camp), Selection Grade Constable Mohammad Akbar and Assistant Sub-Inspector Maqsood Ahmad Khan, continue to roam freely in the area, threatening and intimidating the locals, having been promoted from being SPOs.

“The then Superintendent of Police (Poonch), J.P Singh, who is also implicated in the cover up is a highly decorated officer, awarded several police medals both before and after the mass killings, and is presently posted as the Deputy Inspector General (DIG), North Kashmir,” finds the report.

Latief Ahmad
Latif Ahmad looks at the graves of his family and those killed in the Mora Bicchhaii Massacre.

Latif Ahmad, who was 24 years old then, an eyewitness and a survivor from one of the families who were killed that day, said that he had nine family members, including four sisters.

According to a statement by JKCSS, the report analyses the massacre in the context of the intensive militarization of the Poonch district, and the active state policy of incorporation of local ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities in the Jammu Region, into communalized and ethnically divisive state backed ‘counter insurgency’ intelligence and military operatives, such as ‘informers’, SPOs and VDC (Village Defense Committee) members.

Latif questioned the then chief minister Farooq Abdullah, who had visited them after a few days. “Abdullah asked me, ‘who did this? Tell me the truth.’ I replied that the beasts sent by you martyred our family. He said that you have to stay alive and see. I want to ask him today is this what I had to stay alive for, to see this for last sixteen years.”

Additional reporting by Shahid Tantray.