In Kashmir, another ‘human shield’ incident scars a minor and four men

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In Kashmir, another ‘human shield’ incident scars a minor and four men

Villagers in Samboora say the five persons were held by security forces to ward off stone pelters. The police deny that such an incident took place.

June 27, 2018

On June 18, a two-minute video showing four civilians sitting in front of security forces’ vehicles went viral in Kashmir. At least one vehicle bears the markings of the Jammu and Kashmir police. The four persons, including a minor, are dressed in plainclothes, surrounded by security personnel, armed with assault rifles and sticks, and in verbal confrontation with a crowd of stone pelters, one of whom appears to have captured the video. “Look at the coward Indian nation,” one man is heard saying in the video. “They have kept our colleagues in front of them so we do not throw stones at them.”

Towards the end of the video, the four civilians are seen moving to the side of the road. One of the security personnel faces the crowd with a cricket bat, presumably to deflect any stones that might fly towards them. The purported stone pelters taunt the security personnel.

The video was reportedly shot at Samboora village in South Kashmir’s Pulwama district, and uploaded on Facebook.

Samboora falls under the jurisdiction of the Awantipora police district. Local police officials denied that any such incident took place in the last week. Superintendent of Police Zahid Malik said the authenticity of the video could not be verified. “It is all a lie,” he said, but added that it may be an old video being shared again. Sanjay Sharma, a commandant of the Central Reserve Police Force, said none of their personnel are shown in the video. A spokesman for the Army said they were “ascertaining the facts” about it. This report will be updated as and when they respond to Scroll.in’s queries about the contents of the video.

However, Samboora’s residents as well as civilians who identified themselves as the people in the video, insisted the incident took place last week, on the evening of June 18, in Choonimal Mohalla. They alleged that security forces, faced with protests during a cordon and search operation, used four adult men and a minor as human shields to ward off stone pelters. One of the men, however, is not seen in the video.

A similar video had surfaced after the Lok Sabha bye-elections in Kashmir last year, causing widespread outrage. It became known as the “human shield” video, showing a civilian tied to the bonnet of an army vehicle with a placard on his chest warning protestors they would meet with the same fate if they hurled stones.

A search operation
Samboora’s residents said Choonimal Mohalla was placed under a security cordon around 5 pm on June 18. It was the day after the central government announced that the “Ramzan ceasefire”, or the month of “non-initiation of combat operations” in the Valley, would not be extended. The vehicles seen in the video, the villagers said, were parked by the house of a mechanic a few yards inside the outer ring of the cordon. They alleged that armymen entered the mechanic’s home and ordered all the males there – the mechanic’s minor son, two of their relatives and two clients – to stand outside, and later forced them to sit in front of the armoured vehicles. Of the five persons allegedly rounded up, only the mechanic’s son, a Class 11 student, lives in Choonimal Mohalla.

According to the residents, soon after the Army cordoned off the village and started searching their homes, stone pelting broke out. “The soldiers did not harass us while searching our homes,” a resident said. “But they committed excesses on these boys.”

The stone pelting continued until the soldiers withdrew. “Police were also present,” said another resident. “Tear gas shelling going on.”

‘Used us as shields’
One of the four adult men who were allegedly made to crouch by the vehicle said the soldiers, led by an officer, initially asked them to gather in the courtyard of the house, which doubles up as an automobile repair workshop. “They were discussing what to do about the stone pelting,” he said of the soldiers. “They were saying that if we were in front of stone pelters, they would not throw stones at the soldiers.” They were soon made to sit in front of the vehicles, he said, adding, “They used us as shields.”

Still, stones were thrown at the soldiers, to go with a volley of abuses. “The soldiers would beat us every time the stone pelters did anything to provoke them,” the minor said, adding the armymen were later joined by personnel of the Special Operations Group, the state police’s counterinsurgency unit, and of the Central Reserve Police Force.

The adult claimed the armymen accused them of being stone pelters. “They kept abusing us and telling us we were stone pelters,” he said. “They asked me to shout ‘Pakistan Murdabad’, but I mistakenly said ‘Pakistan Zindabad’. One of them hit me on the head with a bat. For some time after that I didn’t know what happened.”

Both the adult and the minor said the cordon continued until around 9 pm, when the armymen fired a few rounds in the air to disperse the crowd that had gathered at the spot, and broke the security cordon. The soldiers took along the five persons to the Army unit’s camp, located around 5 km away, where they were photographed and their identities recorded in a register before they were allowed to go.

Samboora is a dusty village near Pulwama town, about 18 km from Srinagar. The incident has left some in the village intimidated but many say it has strengthened their resolve to throw stones. On June 18 itself, the residents said, the soldiers had to retreat under heavy stone pelting. “The more they harass innocents, the more these boys get pushed towards stone pelting and militancy,” said an aged villager.

Six days after the incident, the minor was staying with a relative in a village not far from Samboora. Surrounded by his mother and aunts, the teenager crossed his legs and showed a video clip on his phone. It featured last year’s “human shield” video next to pictures of the victim Farooq Dar.

The minor complained that most news reports had labelled him and the four men he was held with as stone pelters. “That is not true,” he said. “We were in our home and we were called out.” Since the incident, he said, he has been unable to concentrate on schoolwork. “It keeps playing in my head,” he explained. “This happened to me today and tomorrow it will happen to someone else.”

He buried his head in his hands and went quiet as his mother and aunts spoke. “They said they won’t harm them,” his mother said, referring to the soldiers. “But they took my son out there, amid the stone pelting and the tear gas shelling. I was just hitting my face, cursing them.”

His aunts were also angry with the security forces. “Stone pelters are never arrested, only the innocent are made to suffer,” one of them said. “All men should take up arms and then only us women will be left. Whoever among us women can, should also take up arms. There will be no tension anymore.”