Rajouri DNA
Top: The purported photograph of the men killed by the army on 18 July 2020. Below: a collage photograph of the missing trio from Rajouri. Collage by The Kashmir Walla.

Nearly a month after Jammu and Kashmir police initiated an investigation into the killing of three young men, including a minor, in an alleged staged gunfight by the Army in Shopian and collected DNA samples from three families in Rajouri to check the veracity of their claim that these three youngsters were not militants but their children who had gone to South Kashmir to work as labourers, the J-K police have maintained complete silence about its findings. 

Soon after the pictures of the bodies of these three young men killed in an alleged gunfight by the Army on 18 July surfaced, these families in Rajouri have been insisting that the killed youngsters are their kin. Subsequently, on 13 August, the J-K police announced a probe into the killings. Two days earlier, on 11 August, the army too had initiated an inquiry. In a brief statement, the army had said: “We have noted social media inputs linked to the operation at Shopian on 18 July 2020. The three Terrorists killed during the operation have not been identified and the bodies were buried based on established protocols. The Army is investigating the matter.”

On 11 August, the police officials in Rajouri had assured the members of the three families that the findings of the DNA matching will be made available “within ten to fifteen days”. However, the three families in Rajouri, who are convinced that the DNA samples would conclusively establish that the slain youth were indeed their missing sons and not militants, are angry with the delay.

Mohammad Saleem, a 25-year-old cousin of Ibrar Ahmad, one of the boys allegedly killed by the army, has been waiting for the result since. He said: “If the result doesn’t come within a day or two, we will come out on the streets. They are our sons, so the DNA will match; if it doesn’t match, then we’ll ask the government to return our sons. If they don’t give it, then we’ll tell them how to get it”.

Why delay in DNA test matching?

The Kashmir Walla has exclusively learnt that the samples for DNA tests were sent to two forensic laboratories – Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) Srinagar and Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL) Chandigarh. 

As per sources, the FSL in Srinagar was sent samples of the bodies by the Shopian police to build DNA profiles, which it has already submitted to Shopian’s Hirpora police station. However, Station House Officer, Hirpora, Javaid Ahmed, said that he had “no information about the case”. 

But FSL Srinagar is supposed to be well-equipped to conduct DNA matching, as claimed by the then director of FSL, Anand Jain, in February 2019. He had further exclaimed that FSL Srinagar “won’t be dependent on the Chandigarh FSL anymore” as the DNA testing facility at the Srinagar FSL was a “milestone achievement”.

The Deputy Director at FSL Srinagar, Mushtaq Ahmed, told The Kashmir Walla: “We have already submitted the results to Shopian’s Hirpora police station. We have filed the report and exhibits as well. The examination that we had to do was completed. I cannot share when we returned the sample, take the rest of the details from the [Investigating Officer].”

Mr. Mushtaq Ahmad said that in case FSL Srinagar does not have the appropriate facilities to conduct a particular examination, the laboratory gives it in writing to the police. In this case, he said, “We did not give anything in writing.” He also added: “We have filed our findings and closed the case.”

“Guftar Choudhary, a Rajouri-based civil rights activist, the family members of two of the three missing persons, and one senior official of the Rajouri police that The Kashmir Walla spoke with said that they were informed by the Shopian police that the DNA matching could not be done at FSL Srinagar due to ‘lack of facility’ and ‘technical difficulties’.”

Why were the DNA samples sent to the Central government-run FSL (CFSL) in Chandigarh is still unclear. However, a senior official of CFSL Chandigarh told The Kashmir Walla over the phone that the Shopian police had sent a “wrong case” on 28 August. “In the forwarding note of the letter, it was written that the profile of the deceased was generated by FSL Srinagar, but it is not a profile, it is just samples,” she said.

“It just has tooth and hair samples of the deceased,” the senior official added, “not the profiles.” Hence, the official said: “We don’t have any profile of the deceased. Now we have to generate the profile and it takes time.” 

Explaining the process, the incharge of DNA division at FSL Srinagar, Dr. Nadeem Mubarik said that any flesh or fluid from the body from which a living cell can be extracted, is used as an exhibit, which is called a DNA sample. 

“From a sample, intact DNA is extracted in a laboratory and then we pick sequences, which differ from an individual to another, and target those sequences with primers designed against them,” Dr. Mubarik said. “Later, the sequence is copied into millions till it reaches a detection level — and the final sequence is taken out and used as a profile, which is unique to every individual”.

On being asked about an update on the DNA results, the Senior Superintendent of Police in Shopian, Amritpal Singh, over a phone conversation on 7 September, said: “We have sent to CFSL Chandigarh, but nothing has come back from there yet.” He denied having any knowledge of the “wrong case” being sent, saying, “Muje tou kuch nahi bola CFSL ne. Muje nahi bolna hai kuch. [CFSL didn’t tell me anything. I don’t want to say anything.] No comments. Sorry.”

Guftar Choudhary, a Rajouri-based civil rights activist, the family members of two of the three missing persons, and one senior official of the Rajouri police that The Kashmir Walla spoke with said that they were informed by the Shopian police that the DNA matching could not be done at FSL Srinagar due to “lack of facility” and “technical difficulties”. 

“Why is the police delaying this report?” asked Mr. Choudhary on 7 September. “It has been more than twenty-two days. The families are also sitting in wait. The Rajouri administration is telling me that they arranged everything, and now it is not up to us [and] we don’t know what is happening ahead.”

“No DNA profiles sent”

The senior official at CFSL Chandigarh added that it had received the sample on 28 August and lacked “DNA profiles”. Regarding this, the senior official said that the CFSL Chandigarh was considering writing a letter “about the discrepancies” to the District Magistrate of Shopian, Mohammad Yasin, the SSP Mr. Singh, and the Hirpora SHO, Mr. Javaid.

However, the FSL Srinagar said that there was no need to send the samples to CFSL Chandigarh. “Whatever sample we receive, we generate the DNA profile and return the DNA profile to investigation agencies,” said the deputy director Mr. Mushtaq, adding, “we can compare the DNA here, we have an established lab. We have the facility available, why would we send any sample outside?”

Mr. Mushtaq also said: “We did not send any samples to CFSL Chandigarh. Investigative agencies would have sent the samples,  not us. Sending samples outside is not in our mandate but the agencies’.”

“We did not send any samples to CFSL Chandigarh. Investigative agencies would have sent the samples,  not us. Sending samples outside is not in our mandate but the agencies’.”

In another phone conversation, also on 7 September, Shopian SSP Mr. Singh told The Kashmir Walla that no communication regarding any shortcomings in the samples — as claimed by the CFSL in Chandigarh — had been received by his office. Mr. Singh then threatened this reporter with an FIR claiming that officials of the CFSL Chandigarh had complained of “receiving calls from the press repeatedly”. 

Mr. Singh refused to make further comment on the subject. For the record, The Kashmir Walla had contacted a senior official of the CFSL Chandigarh only twice during which the official spoke in detail and no “repeated” calls were made.  

Shopian police revisits Rajouri

Furthermore, The Kashmir Walla has learnt from the missing persons’ families that a team of Shopian police had again visited the families in Rajouri just last week. The families were made to sign fresh forms, consenting to forensic investigations by the CFSL Chandigarh, a copy of which has been obtained by The Kashmir Walla

Naseeb Khatana, a cousin of 16-year-old Ibrar, who the family alleges is among those killed by the Army on 18 July, said that the Shopian police had “returned with a form to fill”. “Earlier, the form was filled in Urdu for FSL Srinagar, but now they were sending it to Chandigarh and needed the form in English,” he said. 

However, Mr. Chowdhary, the local activist, said that the Rajouri police had earlier conveyed that “the form filled for FSL Srinagar has errors as it did not have the photographs of the family members. Now, the same form was being refilled by the families to paste the photographs.”

A senior police official in Rajouri, privy to the investigation, told The Kashmir Walla that “the case is completely with Shopian police”. “Shopian police had sent the samples to Srinagar but they did not have adequate facilities so they sent it to Chandigarh,” he said. But the proforma is different for Chandigarh and Srinagar laboratories. The proforma is different everywhere and that’s why the same proforma was signed again.” 

The Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Vijay Kumar, was contacted four times by The Kashmir Walla and thrice he said that he is busy in a meeting and cannot talk. A request for a comment on the discrepancies in DNA samples by The Kashmir Walla was also made through SMS, sent to him at 10:13 pm on 7 September and a reply is yet to come. The Kashmir Walla will update the story as soon as it receives IGP Mr. Kumar’s comment.

Divisional Commissioner Kashmir, Pandurang K. Pole told The Kashmir Walla that he is unaware about the matter. “It would be better to take a comment from the concerned department,” he said.

“They are our people”

In their first interview on 10 August, the families had told The Kashmir Walla that their missing relatives worked as laborers and had left Rajouri for Shopian on 16 July, two days before the alleged gunfight. The father of 25-year-old Ibrar Ahmed, Mohammad Yousuf, had said on 11 August that his son “left Rajouri, for Shopian and last called on the evening of 17 July to tell us he reached the place.” Since then, he had not contacted the family, he had said. 

Mr. Saleem, the cousin of 16-year-old Ibrar, was shocked too after seeing the purported photograph of the bodies of men killed by the army. Describing the photograph, he had said: “The guy in the center is my uncle’s son, Ibrar. … What you read on social media is totally right. They are our people. All three of them.”

On 18 July, the police had said in an official statement: “During the encounter three unidentified terrorists were killed. Dead bodies of all the killed three terrorists were retrieved from the site of encounter. The identification and affiliation of the killed terrorists is being ascertained.” The statement further added that “the dead bodies of the killed terrorists have been sent to Baramulla for their last rites after conducting medico-legal formalities including collection of their DNA. In case any family claims the killed terrorists to be their kith or kin, they can come forward for their identification and participation in last rites at Baramulla.”

It is also significant to point that a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed in the Supreme Court was withdrawn after the court allowed them to take it to J-K High Court. The PIL had also sought to quash the investigation imitated by J-K Police in the case it has registered with regard to the “encounter” for being in contravention to the law laid down by the apex court in the case.

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