A police statement earlier this week that a young man, who was killed in daytime shooting, was shot dead by a rival gang shocked the residents of Srinagar.
The police’s claim based on what it said a preliminary investigation and issued hours after the shooting in Srinagar’s old city revealed the sudden existence of armed gangs.
However, hours later, the police backtracked from its claim about gangs and described the killing as a “terror-related incident”, a reference that the man was shot dead by militants.
In between, a poster had appeared on social media sites in which The Resistance Front, a militant group believed to be a shadow unit of Lashkar-e-Toiba, claimed responsibility and said “the guy targetted is a member of notorious 16 Gujjar Gang.”
The police’s initial claim of gang war in Srinagar, meanwhile, had already gone viral and published widely in all major news outlets.
Five days after the claim was made, several police officials told The Kashmir Walla that there was no evidence that gangs exist in Srinagar and said the nomenclature was limited to social media usage.
Mehraan Ali, the man who was shot and whose killing sparked the debate of gang war, was the de facto head of 16 Chattabal Gujjars.
The group included friends and musclemen who projected themselves as a gang on social media by uploading videos in which they fashioned themselves as gang members, partied a lot and drove vehicles in caravans.
A senior police officer in Srinagar told The Kashmir Walla that there were “no gangs operating” in the city. “These are some 5 to 10 friends in Chattabal area who have formed a group, are in bodybuilding, go to Pahalgam for a tour, enjoy and people termed them as gang. This is not a gang,” the officer said.
“Gangs are those who are involved in theft, extortion and they are not involved in such cases,” he said.
Another police officer, however, said that there are several small groups in the downtown area of the city who fashion themselves as gangs. “The information we have as of now is that they have created groups on Instagram [online photo and video-sharing social network platform] and Whatsapp [a web messaging app] and they roam here and there, get into small fights over,” the officer said. The officer said the police are investigating whether these groups are involved in criminal activities or not and if they have a particular modus operandi.
Meeran, the youth shot dead on Monday, was a professional bodybuilder and gym trainer and, according to some media reports, he had been earlier questioned by police in a stabbing case in downtown.
In a video posted on Instagram in April this year, Meeran is shown being released from Central Jail Srinagar as a cavalcade of vehicles await him outside.
In most of the pictures posted on the instagram handle of Meeran’s 16 Gujjar Chattabal, at least 16 youth are regularly featured. “We cannot say whether they all are part of the group as one can post pictures of anyone and claim that he is part of the group, but it needs to be investigated independently whether they are or not,” a police official said.