Kashmir civilian deaths: Locals say ‘indiscriminate’ firing by forces led to high casualties
Tensions spread in Kashmir region after one of the deadliest days for civilians. Police blame protesters for the high number of deaths.
The killing of seven locals in Sirnoo village of Pulwama is the highest civilian death toll in clashes with security forces near an encounter site in recent times.
In May, five civilians died in protests after security forces killed five militants in Shopian district of south Kashmir. Seven civilians were killed in Kulgam in October, but they died when ‘stray explosives’ went off immediately after a gunfight between security forces and militants in a house in the vicinity.
What caused such a high number of civilian deaths and injuries to around two dozen people in Sirnoo village? A number of factors contributed, according to local residents and the police.
Locals cited “excessive use” of force by security forces as the basic reason.
Residents marched towards the encounter site, some 2 km from the main town of Pulwama, leading to clashes with police and army personnel engaged in an encounter with a group of militants, who were trapped in an ‘underground hideout’ in an open area.
“People came out in droves when they came to know that Zahoor Ahmad Thokar was trapped in the encounter. The locals have a lot of affection for Thokar, who left the army to join militants,” said a resident of Sirnoo, requesting anonymity.
Thokar, a resident of Sirnoo, was an army soldier when he deserted his unit last year to join the Hizbul Mujahideen.
“Besides the site of the encounter was an open area with no place to save one from bullets or pellets. Had the forces exercised caution, we would not have seen so many deaths,” the resident said. Sirnoo is surrounded by a number of villages and hamlets like Barpur, Karimabad, Monghama, Pulwama town and Bellow and many people reached very close to the encounter site.
“The clashes between youth and military erupted when the gunfight was going on. The encounter ended quickly when forces planted a mine to blast the hideout. When the security forces were leaving, many young men came charging towards one of their vehicles. It was at this moment that the forces opened indiscriminate fire which led to so many deaths and injuries,” said Younis Ahmad, cousin of an injured man being treated at a Srinagar hospital.
Another resident of Pulwama said that the exchange of fire between militants and security forces ended by 10:30 am. “The encounter ended pretty fast but the security forces could not come out of the area fast,” he said. A police statement also said that the encounter site was an open field “with hideout made by the terrorists who fired indiscriminately leading to an encounter”.
“While the operation was going on, a crowd who came dangerously close to the encounter site got injured…The loss of civilians is deeply grieved,” the statement said. The police urged people to “remain away from encounter site as it is a prohibited zone which involves significant danger to life because of nature of the encounter”. The killings and injuries created chaos in Pulwama and triggered further protests in the region.