Srinagar: On 13 May 2020, on a highway 13 km southwest of here, 25-year-old Peer Mehrajuddin was shot dead at a checkpoint by troopers of the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).
There are conflicting versions of how Mehrajuddin, who worked at a bank help centre, died.
A CRPF statement said the Mehrajuddin “broke a checkpoint of J&K [Jammu and Kashmir] police and sped (sic) and came across another checkpoint of CRPF, and jumped this checkpoint as well”.
Ghulam Hassan Shah, an Assistant Sub-Inspector with the J&K police and Mehrajuddin’s uncle who was in the car, described the shooting to Article 14 as “a cold-blooded murder”.
Shah said a J&K police constable told him to pull over near the town of Budgam since an army convoy was on its way. Traffic is routinely halted for such convoys, the movement of which has previously sparked fatal shootings and violence by security forces (here, here and here).
“I showed him my police identity card and asked him to let us go as I was getting late for work,” said Shah.
The constable did, but gestured to a CRPF trooper ahead, who fired a shot at Mehrajuddin, according to Shah.
“A convoy of army at that point of time was passing through the adjacent road and fearing sabotage the CRPF jawan, manning the naka [checkpoint] fired warning shots,” said the CRPF statement. “The civil car was driving in the wrong direction and that was even more alarming. When the car didn’t stop despite repeated warning shots, the jawan fired at the car and in turn the driver was hit on his left shoulder.”
What is not in dispute is that Shah’s nephew was shot.
Shah said he stepped out of the car, “abused the CRPF and the constable” and asked for a vehicle to take his nephew to a hospital. “They were unmoved, and I started shouting and screaming,” he said. A man stopped his car and took Mehrajuddin to a hospital, where he was declared brought dead.
“My entire family has served the police force,” said Shah. “We work for our country, and this is what we get in return.”
As protests raged in Budgam that day, CRPF Inspector General of Police P K Pandey announced an inquiry.
What may happen to this probe is uncertain because inquiries in J&K are rarely completed. Some never begin in a state where no accountability has been fixed for much larger massacres.
One was Gaw Kadal, where 51 civilians on a peaceful protest march in Srinagar were shot dead by the CRPF on 21 January 1990 and the case closed because investigators said the troopers who fired were “untraced”; the police also said all records related to the case were “washed away during the floods of 2014”.
Another was in the villages of Kunan and Poshpora, where on 23 February 1992, soldiers raped at least 23 women, according to the state human rights commission. In 2014, the high court urged the government to compensate the victims. There was no prosecution and no compensation.
Here are four recent cases of inquiries in stasis:
Date: 2 August, 2016
Incident: Bank ATM security guard Riyaz Ahmad Shah, 21, was killed on his way home, his body found at the gate of a government medical college in Srinagar. Police initially said he was stabbed, but the autopsy revealed multiple injuries, including a pellet cartridge—used by police—fired into his abdomen and chest at close range. An FIR was registered against “unknown” security personnel.
Inquiry Announced: 7 January 2017 by then Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti. Two days later, a special investigation team led by a superintendent of police was created.
Result: More than three years later, the inquiry has not started
The Back Story: Riyaz was a salesman in Srinagar’s old city by day and a security guard by evening, according to his elder brother, Shakeel Ahmad Shah. “Riyaz was a hardworking man,” he said.
On the night he died, Riyaz was on his way home from the ATM he guarded, a 10-minute walk away, said his family who had called him.
When 10 minutes passed, they called again. There was no answer. They kept calling. “After an hour someone called us from Riyaz’s number and asked to come to the medical college,” said Shakeel. “As we reached, his body was lying in a pool of blood, and he was declared dead by doctors.”
Shakeel said for the first two years, they waited for the investigation to begin and went to the local police station to track the case.
“We know now they (police) will not investigate the case,” said Shakeel. “They never investigated it.”
A top police official privy to the investigation told Article 14 on condition of anonymity: “The case is being handled by SDPO (sub-divisional police officer) Shaheed Gunj. The investigation in the case is on.”
When we called (Four) investigating officers, they did not appear to know of the case. One of them, before disconnecting the call, said, “Please talk to our senior.”
Date: 17 August 2016
Incident: College lecturer Shabir Ahmad Mangoo, 30, beaten to death by soldiers of 50 Rashtriya Rifles, according to FIR filed by his father Wali Ahmad Mangoo. Cases of murder and criminal conspiracy registered.
Inquiry Announced: 7 January 2017 by then Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, who ordered investigation by a special investigative team (SIT).
Result: In 2018, the SIT said 23 soldiers were involved in Mangoo’s killing and sought the Centre’s sanction for their prosecution, as the law requires. The sanction has not yet been given.
The Back Story: On the day Shabir was taken away by the army, said his wife Yasmeena Akhter, there had been protests in their village of Shershali Khrew in Pulwama district, 23 km south of Srinagar. He was studying for the National Eligibility Test to be selected as an assistant professor or research fellow in colleges and universities nationwide, she said.
At 10:30 pm, she said, “soldiers barged into our house, smashed the window panes of my brother-in-law’s taxi, dragged my sister-in-law by her hair and went inside the rooms”.
“After hearing the noises, my husband came out, and the army took him and my brother-in-law along,” said Akhter. “They didn’t give my husband time to wear his tee shirt, they took him in his undershirt.”
The army took some 50 boys from the village, according to locals. “They beat us ruthlessly, and my brother died,” said Shabir’s younger brother Zahoor, whose wrist bone was damaged in the beating.
In 2018, the J&K police inquiry that held 23 soldiers responsible for Shabir’s killing and sought sanction for their prosecution, a requirement under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1958. No such sanction has ever been given.
Over 16 years to 2016, the ministry of defence received 50 requests for prosecution under the AFSPA, of which 47 were denied and three were pending, the government told the Rajya Sabha in January 2018, the Indian Express reported.
Charges in these cases related to killing of civilians, custodial deaths, disappearances, rapes and molestation.
“We don’t even know that a probe has been conducted in this case,” said Akhter, Shabir’s wife. “Police never informed us, and now when they know who the culprits are, why don’t they book them? These probes, investigations are mere lip service.”
“My son was 14-months old when his father died, and today he is five,” she said. “the army has murdered a civilian, and it is a badge of honour for them.”
When Article 14 requested comment from army spokesperson Col Rajesh Kalia, he asked that questions be emailed or sent over WhatsApp; 16 days later, there was no response.
“The file has gone to the central government,” said Senior Superintendent of Police, Awantipora, Tahir Saleem. “We are waiting for their approval.”
Date: 18 August 2016
Incident: Cartridge-full of 365 pellets fired into left arm of Srinagar ambulance driver Ghulam Mohammad Sofi, 32-year-old by CRPF trooper.
Inquiry Announced: 19 August 2016 by the CRPF.
Result: Unclear. Inspector General, CRPF P K Pandey did not answer calls despite repeated attempts over many days. On 20 May, he texted to say he was out of town and would be back in five days; on 2 June, he said 20 days. We will update this story if and when he responds.
The Back Story: Sofi was ferrying patients to SMHS Hospital, Srinagar’s largest tertiary care hospital, when the CRPF trooper fired pellets into his arm during. Sofi continued driving and got his patients to hospital.
The trooper was suspended, and the CRPF ordered a departmental inquiry.
It is not clear exactly what happened. An ambulance driver at a government primary health centre at Wussan in central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district, Sofi told Article 14 that he was ferrying patients to the Bone and Joint Hospital in Srinagar when the trooper stopped him in Safa Kadal, a downtown area of J&K’s capital, during a curfew.
Curfews were frequent during the summer of 2016, when unrest swept Kashmir, triggered by the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander, Burhan Muzzafar Wani. Ambulance drivers were often beaten for ferrying injured protestors.
“Without asking where I was going, he picked up his gun and fired at me,” said Sofi. “At first, I thought he was firing a bullet and I covered my face, but then later I got to know that he had emptied a full cartridge of pellets into my arm.”
Sofi gunned the engine, kept driving using his injured arm and reached SMHS hospital, where he got himself admitted.
It’s been three years since the CRPF suspended the trooper and promised an inquiry.
“I was called once to the police station at Safa Kadal and was asked to get the discharge certificate of the hospital,” said Sofi. “I don’t remember the date, but it was soon after I was injured.”
“Since then I’ve never been called again,” said Sofi. “ I don't know what happened to the inquiry. No one knows actually.”
The CRPF did not seem to know. “This is an old case, I don’t know about its status,” said CRPF Public Relations Officer (PRO) PankaJ Singh. “I was not the PRO then. The people who know about this case have either retired or transferred.”
CRPF Inspector General P K Pandey, as we said, did not answer calls despite repeated attempts.
Date: 7 October 2016
Incident: Seventh-standard student Junaid Ahmad Akhnoon, 13, was shot dead at the door to his house in Srinagar.
Inquiry Announced: 8 October 2016 by then Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti.
Result: In April, the Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission asked the government for a report on the status of the inquiry. The government gave no information. Inquiry “going on”.
The Back Story: Junaid, according to his family, was seeing off a visiting aunt at the door of his home in Eidgah, Srinagar, when he was shot by the CRPF. The police version is that he was killed during a raging street battle between protestors and security forces.
“At first, my mother thought Junaid had fainted,” his sister Iqra told Rising Kashmir, a local newspaper. Bloodied, he was leaning against his mother. She first checked if his eyes [a reference to frequent eye injuries and blindings when police use pellet guns] were alright. “I thanked God his eyes were safe.”
A cousin rushed Junaid to the Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences, a leading public hospital, where doctors declared his condition as being critical.
“The doctors told us that Junaid had been hit by a pellet in his brain causing hematoma and he needs to be operated on immediately,” Iqra was quoted as saying. “But the doctors delayed the surgery and Junaid died.”
The inquiry ordered more than three years ago by then chief minister Mufti is not over, according to the police.
“A special investigation team has been constituted under the command of SP (superintendent of police) South,” said a senior police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The investigation in the case is going on.”
(Shafaq Shah is a freelance journalist based in Srinagar.)