NEW DELHI: Family members of three labourers from Rajouri in Jammu who went missing in the Shopian district of held Kashmir last month have alleged, on the basis of photographs, that the three unidentified ‘militants’ the Indian army claimed it killed in a gunfight there on July 18, were in fact their innocent relatives, The Wire reported on Monday..

It said the allegations, if true, were expected to evoke painful memories of the Pathribal incident of March 2000 in which five civilians from Anantnag were killed by the security forces and passed off as ‘terrorists’, and, more recently the Machil encounter of 2010 in which three civilians were killed.

The family of the Rajouri youths said they had lodged a missing report with the police in Rajouri on Thursday. “Imtiyaz Ahmad was working as a labourer in Shopian for around one month. He asked my son Abrar and my sister-in-law’s son, also called Abrar, to come there in search of work. They left for Shopian on July 16. Since then, we don’t know anything about their whereabouts. I rang him up on July 18 but his phone was switched off,” said Mohammad Yosouf, father of Abrar Ahmad (25).

Rajouri activist calls for probe into matter

He claimed that he could identify his sister-in-law’s son Abrar from photographs shown to him by somebody purportedly of those killed in Amshipora, Shopian on July 18. “I could recognise [him] from those photographs,” he claimed. He said he is seeking permission from the Rajouri district administration to go to Shopian on Tuesday.

All three young men had gone to Shopian to earn their livelihood and had no link with militancy. “We are poor people. We don’t have even a distant connection to militancy,” he said.

Lal Hussain, another local from Rajouri, said that Imtiyaz Ahmad had informed him over the phone on July 17 evening that the two boys had also reached Shopian.

“We first thought that they may have been quarantined due to Covid-19. We didn’t know where they are. Now we have lodged a missing report with police,” he claimed.

Guftar Ahmad Chaudhry, a political and social activist from Rajouri, said the families have apprehensions that these boys may have been killed in the Shopian encounter.

“This matter should be investigated at the earliest,” he said.

Zafar Choudhry, a political analyst and journalist from Jammu, tweeted that he had spoken to the family who had identified the three youths “beyond any doubt”.

On July 18, the Jammu and Kashmir police, in a handout, said that the encounter was executed on inputs from the 62 battalion of the Rashtriya Rifles.

“During search, terrorists fired upon army personnel and encounter started. Later on, police and CRPF also joined in. During the encounter three unidentified terrorists were killed. Dead bodies of all the killed three terrorists were retrieved from the site of encounter. The identification and affiliation of the killed terrorists is being ascertained,” the spokesman said.

Meanwhile, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) termed the incident of the three labourers going missing a serious issue and said there was need for “a time-bound judicial probe”.

“There are unverified reports that the missing labourers have been killed in a fake encounter in Shopian on July 18,” the party said. “This is shocking and must be probed by a sitting High Court judge in a time-bound manner. In the past also unfortunate incidents of civilians being killed in fake encounters for rewards and promotions have been reported in Kashmir. The 2010 unrest was the creation of the Machil fake encounter. Those who are proved to be involved in such heinous crimes be brought to justice.”

In a tweet from PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti’s Twitter handle, her daughter, Iltija Mufti said the reports of the “staged encounter” in Shopian showed the armed forces were operating “with impunity”.

Published in Dawn, August 11th, 2020