At a time when discourse in Kashmir should have been on institutionalising the dialogue process with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh scheduled to visit the state next week, ‘killing’ of a 26-year-old student by the army in Kupwara district has shifted the focus to human rights abuses again.
For the second day today, Ganapora, Kralgund, in Kupwara district, 77 km north of Srinagar, witnessed anti-army protests. At 9:10 am, the family decided to bury the body of Sajad Ahmad Lone, a first year student at Handwara Degree College. He was killed inside 32 Rashtriya Rifles (RR) camp at Wattergam, 5 km away from Ganapora on Saturday morning. The army says he was killed in a retaliatory action but family alleges he was killed in a cold-blooded murder. (see box for army and family version).
When the body reached at Ganapora playground in the morning, hundreds of villagers from adjoining villages of the district converged to perform last rites of the youth. The funeral turned into a massive protest with slogans like ‘Narai Takbeer, Allah Akhbar (The great slogan, God is Great) and ‘Army, go back’. Protesters also raised pro-freedom slogans.
Langate MLA S.A. Rashid and Sajad’s father Ghulam Mohi0ud-Din addressed the congregation. “Army has lodged an FIR against my son. I can assure you he was not remotely involved in militancy…My only demand is that the army should withdraw the FIR and arrest those who killed my son,” said Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din, a farmer.
Mohi-ud-Din told the roaring crowd that his son was killed because “he was Islamic in nature, used to wear skull cap, had beard and wore a Khan dress.”
He questioned the army’s version that Sajad was killed when he attacked a sentry with an axe. “If for a moment we believe with what army says ‘that he was carrying axe’, the army could have shot him at legs, injured him…but they killed him,” said Mohi-ud-Din.
The victim was elder in the family of two sisters and one brother. The family has also rejected the compensation amount of Rs 1 lakh announced by the government.
Speaking at the demonstration, MLA Rashid said, “Time has come for the army to go back behind the Jawahar Tunnel.”
The killing has already attracted attention of separatists. Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front Leader (JKLF) Yasin Malik was arrested today when he was on his way to Kupwara to participate in the funeral.
Hardline separatist Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who opposed any bilateral dialogue with New Delhi, too has condemned the army for the “killing”. The incident will make it difficult for moderate separatists to create a constituency for the dialogue in the state.
After the Shopian incident -- where a girl and a woman were allegedly raped and murdered by unknown criminals – Saturday’s killing has posed a challenge for Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who has promised zero-tolerance to human rights abuses. The Chief Minister is yet to react to the death of the youth.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is scheduled to visit Kashmir on October 28 to inaugurate a 15-km railway line between Qazigund and Anantnag. He is likely to extend invitation to all shades of opinion in Kashmir for a dialogute to solve the Kashmir problem.