On Thursday, Mohammad Yusuf was near the Kotranka police station in Rajouri when he learnt that the Army had finally completed the “Summary of Evidence” against two of its troops involved in the Shopian fake gunfight. The 49-year-old is the father of 26-year-old Ibrar Ahmad, one of the three cousins, who were killed in what was claimed as a ‘gunfight with militants’ by the army.
The news of development in the investigations, being conducted by the Army itself, “felt good”, Yusuf told the Kashmir Walla over phone from his home in Rajouri. “I have been crying for the past several months,” he said of his struggle for justice for the trio. “I want them [Army troops who killed his son] to cry now.”
The Army’s Srinagar based spokesperson said that the report “is being examined by the concerned authorities in consultation with legal advisors for proceeding further” and that further details “will be shared in a manner so as not to prejudice the proceedings under Army Law.”
On 18 July 2020, the Army’s 62 Rashtriya Rifles had claimed to have conducted a gunfight in which three “terrorists” were killed. Personnel of the local police’s counterinsurgency wing and the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force also took part in the fake gunfight.
Who killed the trio?
Three months after the government force’s crime was exposed, in September 2020, the police said that it had arrested two suspects. And, as per reports, the army has seperately also identified two troopers. None of the suspects’ identities have not been made public so far.
“I want to see who killed my sons,” Yusuf said, in anguish. “I’d have shot them, eaten their pieces. I just want to ask them, what wrong did my sons do to you? Aren’t you anybody’s son? Only if I could see them with my eyes, I would feel better.”
What could be worse for a father than exhuming the corpse of his young son and then burying him again, Yousuf asked in the telephonic interview. The bodies were exhumed on 3 October, in the presence of dozens of government forces’ personnel and the local magistrate. Yousuf had identified his son by the clothes he was wearing. “His face was deformed and had bullet marks,” he had told the Kashmir Walla last October. “I pulled him out of the grave and placed his body in my lap … and looked at his face.”
“I got the bodies and I’m thankful. The Army has caught them and I’m thankful for that as well,” he said, “but it is not justice…Those who killed my sons, I want to see them hanged in front of my eyes.”
He had added: “If my sons would have been killed for a crime, I wouldn’t have been disappointed. But they are innocent and that is why I’m fighting.”
“Death Penalty” for the accused
The Army and the police had, under the new counterinsurgency policy, hidden the identities of the three victims and buried them in a graveyard in north Kashmir’s Baramulla, designated for unclaimed bodies.
The Rajouri based families of the three victims had filed a missing complaint in Rajouri on 9 August. The following day pictures of the trio’s dead bodies circulated on social media and the family identified them as their missing relatives — identified as Ibrar Ahmed; Mohammad Imtiyaz, 21; Mohammad Abrar, 16.
The Army had later, in September, admitted that “the Dos and Don’ts of Chief of Army Staff (COAS) as approved by the Hon’ble Supreme Court have been contravened” in the course of the operation — and admitted that the trio it killed were indeed missing persons from Rajouri.
Besides the Army, the police are also investigating the fake gunfight. The details have both been kept tightly under the wraps.
The exhumation of the trio was the first time in the last decade when bodies were exhumed in a militancy-related case. The last being in 2010, when another staged gunfight, in Machil area of north Kashmir, in which three civilians were killed. The killings had led to massive protests in Kashmir, in which subsequently more than a hundred civilians were killed by the government forces.
The victims’ families were actively supported by Rajouri based activist Guftar Choudhary. “Unlike Kashmir, that [fake gunfights] doesn’t happen in Rajouri,” he said, adding that every year hundreds of residents of Rajouri go to the Valley to find work. “If we would have stayed silent, then these children would be killed for their promotions and stars. If we would have stayed silent even on this then [the government forces’] morale would be boosted.”
On Thursday, Choudhary welcomed the completion of the investigation but hoped that “it should set an example so that in the near future our innocents are not killed”. “It shouldn’t be like they court martialed and send them home,” he said. “We want death penalty and we will demand that.”