Amshipora encounter: Bodies of three Rajouri labourers exhumed
Families of the three victims, who belong to the disadvantaged and marginalised Gujjar community, have been demanding justice.
At around 5 am on Saturday, the residents of Gantamulla, a rather quaint and charming hamlet located some 10 kms from north Kashmir's Baramulla town, were sleeping when the families of three young men killed in an encounter seen as stage managed, with the local administration playing role of escort, showed up in a nearby cemetery.
Amidst an eerie empty silence, the process of disinterring the bodies began. Dozens of security men ring-fenced the cemetry in which local and foriegn militants lay buried under the oblong mounds of earth.
"It was around 5 in the morning when the process of exhumation started", said Ab Majeed , a local grave digger who helped in exhuming the bodies.
After more than an hour or so, the families received the corpses of their slain children. "After all the mandatory formalities, the bodies have been handed over to us", said Mohammad Yousuf, father of Abrar Ahmad
Ahmad along with two of his relatives, Abrar Khan and Imtiyaz Ahmad, had been killed in an encounter on July 18 in Amshipora village of Shopian district.
Soon after the encounter, the army had claimed it had killed three unidentified militants. After taking the DNA samples, the police took the bodies to Gantamulla, some 123 kms from the actual site of encounter, and buried them with the help of locals.
"I had lowered them in their graves", said Majeed.
On August 10, three families from the Koternaka village of Rajouri district registered a missing report with the local police after the pictures of the trio, passed off as unidentified militants, suddenly surfaced across various social media platforms. "We saw their pictures on social media and identified them. They were our children and not militants", said Yousuf.
From here the battle for the families demanding justice for the victims began. The poor families belong to the disadvantaged and marginalised Gujjar community. "From identifying bodies to getting them back today, it took us a good 77 days" said Guftar Ahmad, a Rajouri based social activist who accompanied the victims' families to Gantamulla.
Guftar says that justice will be done the day when all the culprits are sent to the gallows.
Soon after the families of the victims came forward, the police and the army initiated separate investigations into the encounter.
On September 19, the army's Srinagar-based defence spokesperson said in a statement that the enquiry ordered by the army into the incident had been concluded. "The inquiry has brought out certain prima facie evidence indicating that during the operation, powers vested under the AFSPA 1990 were exceeded and the Do’s and Don’ts of Chief of Army Staff (COAS) as approved by the Hon’ble Supreme Court have been contravened. Consequently, the competent disciplinary authority has directed to initiate disciplinary proceedings under the Army Act against those found prima-facie answerable," read the statement.
Meanwhile, the DNA samples of the victims had also matched with their families in Rajouri, bearing out their claim that those killed were their children and not the militants. "They were unskilled labourers and had gone to Shopian to find some work. They were murdered in a fake encounter and labelled as militants", said Yousuf.
On September 30, the police arrested two civilians for their role in the encounter. A local court in Shopian remanded both of them to eight days police custody. Sources said that the duo was accused of providing the wrong inputs to the army about the presence of militants in the Amshipora area, where the encounter took place on July 18. The identity of both the accused has been kept under wraps.
Kashmir's tryst with extra judicial executions is not new. Since the inception of militancy in the early nineties, many stage managed encounters took place in the Valley. In March 2000, five innocent men were allegedly killed by security forces in Pathribal, Annatnag and were later passed off as militants. Similarly in 2006, Abdul Rehman Padroo, a resident of Kokernag, Anantnag was killed in a fake encounter. An SIT constituted by the government accused a few police official including an SSP for the murder.
In April 2010, three civilians were killed in a staged encounter in north Kashmir's Machil sector. Security analysts believe that the untrammelled powers exercised by the forces under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act ( AFSPA) lead to such incidents.
In the native village of the victims, the local residents had gathered since the morning waiting for the bodies.
As this report was being filed (on Saturday evening), the families ferrying the three wooden caskets holding their children inside were still on their way home.
" It will take us one more hour to reach our village", said Guftar over phone.