Surankote and Shopian Slaughters Justice eludes, fight continues

Two very disturbing reports are now in the public domain. Not that the insiders did not know about the facts before, these reports have only reconfirmed Kashmir’s worst possible fears: the excesses in restive region of Jammu and Kashmir since 1989, and the culture of impunity enjoyed by the armed men under harsh laws that exist in Kashmir.

The first report is about the brutal Surankote massacre of 1998. Another is the incident of indiscriminate firing on civilians in Shopian last year.

On the night of August 3, 1998 at least 19 people of three closely-knit families were slaughtered in Surankote, Poonch.

Sixteen years on, the relatives of those brutally killed in a village Sailan in Surankote tehsil of Poonch district have not forgotten their wounds. Justice has eluded them all these years. But they’re determined to keep their spirits up to continue their fight for justice.

Among those killed in Surankote were 11 children and five women, according to a detailed report compiled by the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) in collaboration with the survivors on Surankote bloodbath.

A report entitled “The Anatomy of Massacre: The Mass Killings at Sailan, August 3-4, 1998” was released on the 16th anniversary of a mass killing.

“On the night of 3-4 August 1998, at least 19 people, including 11 children ranging in age from about four years to 15, and five women (which includes one woman in advanced stage of pregnancy) were shot to death at point blank range in their homes in Sailan, Surankote, Poonch,” says the JKCCS report.

This report, quoting eye-witnesses and survivors, alleges that a total of 13 females and six male members of three closely related families were killed by four Special Police Officers (SPOs) and personnel from 9 Para troopers, an elite commando unit of the army.

Surankote slaughter only reminds people of other massacres of Kashmir, like the ones that took place in Bijbihera, Pathribal, Gowkadal, etc.

Deliberate silence on such massacres on part of the state government, Indian civil society groups and their media can only be described as criminal.

Ironically, some sections of Indian news channels send their crews to report massacres in Gaza, Palestine but because of their petty ‘national interest’ blackout any fair reporting in relation to carnage in Kashmir. This double standard clearly exposes their idea of fair, objective and impartial journalism.

Meanwhile, the relatives of three families of Surankote recounted their horror during a press conference in Srinagar on Sunday. A detailed 54-page report was also released on the occasion by the survivors.

According to eyewitnesses Shabir Ahmad and Abdul Ahad, two SPOs identified as Muhammad Younis alias Tiger and Muhammad Rafiq alias Pathan were looking for Imtiyaz (a militant believed to be behind the killing of Zakir, an army informer) chased militant’s family which, in turn, sought refuge in two other houses. Shabir had escaped the horror and taken refuge in the nearby maize fields. Imtiyaz’s brother Maqsood had been beaten to the pulp and forced to reveal the whereabouts of his family by the two SPOs. And then, according to the witnesses, the slaughter took place.

The JKCCS report further alleges that the alleged perpetrators, namely Head Constable Muhammad Younis, Selection Grade Constable Muhammad Rafiq Gujjar (presently posted with the 16 Rashtriya Rifles, Draba camp), Selection Grade Constable Mohammad Akbar and Assistant Sub-Inspector Maqsood Ahmad Khan, continue to roam free in the area. No action has been taken against the alleged perpetrators, the survivors say. And that surprises no one in Kashmir because of the culture of impunity that the Indian forces enjoy under various laws.

Eyewitnesses while recounting the 1998 horror say that after the massacre the bodies were “horribly dismembered” and in one case almost “decapitated with axes and other sharp tools and instruments.”
The JKCCS report is a result of painstaking research, field trips, massacre site visits, human rights documentation, first person accounts, detailed interviews with survivors and local residents of Sailan, Surankote, and as well as official documents relating to this case, including the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) order of October 21, 1998, etc.

In a separate case of extra-judicial killings (fake encounter of 25 March, 2000) in South Kashmir’s Pathribal area, many are aware that no action was taken against the perpetrators despite the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) findings relating to the case recommending exemplary punishment to the guilty troopers. Only five days after the infamous Chattisinghpora massacre, Indian forces brutally killed five men in Pathribal, dubbing them as “foreign mercenaries”. Five bodies had been charred beyond recognition.
After massive protests against the killings in the area, the government succumbed under pressure and agreed to exhume the charred bodies. First, the bodies were buried in haste without any post-mortem examinations. Later, after the investigations, it turned out that those killed by the army were innocent civilians; not the foreign militants.

After 12 long years, the premier investigation body CBI told the Supreme Court of India that the encounter in Pathribal was indeed fake and that the Indian army had, in fact, killed local men in “cold blooded murder”. The CBI had recommended exemplary punishment to the guilty soldiers, but nothing happened. The Indian army, as expected, closed the case for lack of evidence to implicate any of the accused.

In another revelation, this time by the one-man Commission of Inquiry (CoI) set up by the state government in case of Shopian killings of last year, it is confirmed that the Indian paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) had actually resorted to “indiscriminate firing on the fleeing civilians as if they were in a state of war”. Justice (retired) M L Koul head the CoI. In his report submitted before the state government, it is said that four persons were killed at Gagren area of South Kashmir’s Shopian district on September 7, 2013 in firing by the CRPF troopers. Three were said to be civilians while the fourth person identified as Abdullah Haroon, a militant.

In such a horrible state of affairs where children, women and men are killed by the forces for sport, expecting justice is a herculean task. But giving up the fight for justice is never an option. Justice must flow like a mighty stream!