“They returned him dead”: Family of Sopore shopkeeper seeks justice for his killing 

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On Saturday morning, Manzoor Ahmad Shalla had taken his three-year-old son Hamad Manzoor along with him to attend to a customer at the shop. As he was taken to the Sopore Police Station, about two kilometers from his grocery store in the town’s Iqbal Market for violating the weekend curfew, he left his son with his brother, Firdous Ahmad Shalla, who runs a garment business nearby. 

But Manzoor never returned to take his son back. 

Just as the police vehicle Manzoor was travelling in was nearing the police station in Sopore’s Arampora area, the militants attacked. Tensions spread within moments in the town, known for its apples and volatile past of the 1990s.

The police said that two local militants of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) had “fired indiscriminately upon a police party which was performing Covid enforcement duties at main market Sopore.” Receiving bullets to his abdomen, Manzoor was among two civilians, along with two police personnel, who were killed during the attack. 

Manzoor’s family, however, claims the police were responsible for his death — he would have still been alive had he not been detained. “He was taken away by the police for opening his shop in the lockdown,” said Firdous, “but they returned him dead.”

His brother, Firdous, alleged that the police picked his brother in the morning from his shop, “the vehicle in which they took him was bullet proof, and the police persons who lost their lives were hanging outside the vehicle while my brother was inside.”

In the town’s Shalimar Colony, where Manzoor lived, mourners arrived with little regard for the pandemic, overwhelmed with the loss of a loved one in the attack. Besides Hamad, 29-year-old Manzoor is survived by his wife and their yet to be born child.

The cries of the family echoed through the colony. His wife, Asiya, was numb, tears rolled down her face as she sat quietly. While she was busy with household chores earlier in the day, her injured husband struggled for his life before succumbing at the hospital, about four kilometers from home.

Asiya went into shock, said relatives, the moment she was informed about her husband’s death by her brother-in-law. “I don’t know who killed him but I know he was taken by the police, and now all I want is justice,” she said, as Hamad attempted to make sense of the situation at home. 

Hamad is still unaware as to why his father hasn’t returned. Seeing his mother, and others in the family, in distress, no one in the family dared to tell him exactly what happened. “He left me all alone,” a distraught Asiya rued.

The Jammu and Kashmir administration had imposed a lockdown over the weekend. Successive lockdowns since August 2019 have crippled Kashmir’s economy and pushed large sections of the public in economic distress.

Bashir Ahmad Khan, 54, a fruit vendor was also killed in the attack. A resident of Mohalla Taliyan, Khan and his partner sold fruits from a pushcart usually stationed in Aarampora. Khan was the lone bread earner to his old mother and son. “He asked me to stay at the cart before he left to have tea,” said his partner. “At a distance he was caught in a cross firing.”

At his residence, mourners gathered in solidarity with the family. “He had left home early as usual, who knew that he would not return alive,” said his son, Junaid Khan. “We were informed by the police about his death.”

Last year, an ambush in the Sopore Town had shocked the Kashmir Valley when in the aftermath pictures of a civilian lying dead on the road with his grandson sitting over his bullet riddled corpse circulated online. 

On Sunday, the Minister for Home Kishan Reddy told reporters that the situation in Kashmir had “changed massively” since the abrogation of J-K’s limited-autonomy in August 2019. “Except for one or two incidents, no terrorist activity was reported for two years in the Valley,” he had said. This month alone there have been three attacks by militants, including the killing of a BJP councillor in Tral.

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