On the evening of 15 November, four people were killed in what the police called a “gunfight” between the government forces and the militants in Hyderpora area of Srinagar. They were identified as Mohammad Altaf Bhat, the owner of the building; Mudassir Gul, a dentist and builder who worked in the same complex; Aamir Ahmad Magray, an employee of Mudasir from Ramban; and Haider, as per police, a foreign militant. Police said that Aamir and Mudasir were militant associates.
The families of Aamir, Mudasir and Altaf have all blatantly negated police’s claims and alleged that three innocents were shot dead. Altaf’s family has claimed that he was used as a “human shield” at least three times, similarly Mudasir and Aamir’s families have clearly denied the police statements associating them with militancy.
Since the ‘gunfight’ the three grieving families have been staging protests demanding justice, proper investigation in these killings, and return of bodies, which have been buried dozens of miles away in north Kashmir. Regardless of these strong allegations by the three families, the Jammu and Kashmir administration has not yet called for an investigation. They have maintained that it was a genuine gunfight in which one militant, two associates were killed and the building owner died in crossfire.
This is not the first gunfight in Kashmir, which has been strongly questioned by the families, whose kin are killed. Like in the 1990s, during the peak of militancy, in the recent past also several families have alleged that the people killed in gunfights were civilians. But the government has not agreed to investigate in most such cases, except one in Shopian in 2020, where three labourers from Rajouri were killed in a fake gunfight.
Staged gunfights and civilian killings are not a surprise in Kashmir; and the impunity to the government forces under the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) makes it a living hell. In most of these cases, the families have strongly denied the police claims but their pleas for justice are rarely heard. In one such case from 1996, the High Court recently observed that the investigating officers should be probed for their negligence in the original probe of a custodial killing in Miskeen Bagh, Srinagar.
In recent years, the journalists have also been stopped from covering gunfights closely or faced repercussions for reporting anything exclusively, which challenges the official narrative. It seems the state entirely wants to operate behind the closed doors.
New Delhi as well as the administration in Jammu and Kashmir have maintained a silence over such allegations during gunfights or even civilian killings by the government forces. This silence, and lack of will to establish a transparent administration, has only added anger among common masses in Kashmir. But it is simmering under a sheet of silence. Like always an important question here is: why is the administration afraid of independently investigating these allegations?
And that is the least to do — the state also needs to ensure that the reports are made publicly available to ensure transparency. Not like the one report that was swiftly brushed under the carpet by this new administration in 2020. The killing of Irfan Ahmad Dar, the 26-year-old man from Sopore, in custody is not forgotten.
It must be noted that any administration or law enforcing agency can only be transparent when even a small allegation, against an individual or agency, is duly and independently investigated. The response to allegations can’t be silence. If the blind-eye continues, this administration continues to go down the same old path: loud barks, lull in action.