5 killings in 21 days: Kashmir’s Sopore lives in fear as mysterious killings rise

Posted: June 15, 2015 in Uncategorized

by Sameer Yasir  Jun 15, 2015 12:03 IST

Sopore: On Sunday morning, Mehraj-ud-Din Dar was about to throw open his poultry shop in Badami Bagh area of the restive Sopore town in Jammu and Kashmir when unidentified gunmen indiscriminately shot at him from point blank range. Dar died on the spot, few hundred meters from a major Army installation in the town.

Dar’s was the fifth killing in 21 days in Sopore town, known for its pro-freedom and anti-India sentiment, earning the town, situated some fifty kilometres north of capital Srinagar, the name of ‘freedom centre’ in Kashmir Valley.

Outside Dar’s modest, double-storied home in Sopore, no one wants to speak about the murder. Father to two girls, Dar, 42, had been associated with a separatist militant group in early nineties but had since shunned violence. For a living, Dar sold chicken in a shop outside his home for the last fourteen years.

The fellow traders outside Dar’s home, where he was killed, say their shops were closed, owing to a strike call by separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani when the tragedy struck. Dar’s cousin, Abdul Hamid, told FirstPost that he had no association with any mainstream or separatist political party.

“He was innocent. I don’t understand why he was killed. Now who will take care of his two daughters, wife and ailing mother? No one knows why people are getting killed in Sopore,” Hamid told FirstPost inside Dar’s house as the air rented with loud cries of wailing women.

Among a group of mourners is Zehra, Dar’s youngest daughter, who repeatedly keeps asking her mother about the fate of her father. She is too young to understand but the question is answered by wailing women who beat their chests in grief.

File photo of Sopore. AFP

“Someone please tell me who killed my son. Had I known that he was going to die, I would have taken the bullets in place of him” Dar’s mother, Hajra Begum, shouts at the gathering.

Sopore has remained the hub of militancy in the Valley and a bastion of pro-Pakistan Jama’at-e-Islami. Before the insurgency erupted in Kashmir, separatist leader, Syed Ali Geelani, represented Sopore three times in legislative assembly. Almost all the major militant organisations in Kashmir have some connection with Sopore.

For many years after the insurgency erupted in Kashmir, the town remained out of bounds for security forces, until 1993 when the Army launched one of the biggest combing operation in Kashmir valley. Until then, the writ of Akbar Bhai, an Afghan national who had fought Soviet troops in Afghanistan, was followed in the town. The Afghan militant was killed on 7 August, 1993. At the time, the Army sealed the town, set up bunkers, and established a permanent foothold in Sopore.

During those hard years of insurgency, although the forces managed to bring down violence and the number of active militants in the town, the brutal tactics adopted by them coupled with the government’s failure to heal the wounds kept the freedom sentiment alive even now.

Firstpost reached Sopore nearly two hours after Dar’s killing. As our car entered the town, the only sign of life on the streets were pallbearers who were returning with an empty coffin after laying Dar to rest in a nearby ‘Martyrs Graveyard.’ Armored vehicles bore gun-toting soldiers with intense looks. Few meters ahead, a police party checked everyone coming in and going out of the town.

“At least two armed militants came and shot him. These killings are interlinked and we would soon neutralise these people. He (Dar) was an innocent civilian,” DIG north Kashmir, Gareeb Dass, told FirstPost inside a heavily fortified area which houses the district police headquarters.

On being asked which militant organisation was responsible for the killings, the DIG refused to divulge the details, maintaining that the killings were carried out by ‘militants’.

But no one in Sopore is ready to buy the police theory that militants were involved in the killings. Almost all the families, whose loved ones have been killed in recent days, have either blamed the state government for failing to protect them or “Indian agencies” in order to spread fear in the town which has remained one of the last standing citadels of resistance in Kashmir Valley.

Fear is palpable in the town. Before venturing out on the streets, residents peep through small lanes to check the movement on the streets. Shops are shuttered, roads are empty and roaring security forces’ vehicles make rounds of the town through day and night.

As the clock strikes seven in the evening, no one dares to venture out of his or her home in Sopore. Police and Army roam around in vehicles and randomly stop pedestrians and commuters alike for questioning. Besides, there is fear of gun.

“Every evening, from last twenty day, I used to pray to God that no one should die in the night because it would spark more trouble. Now, we are being killed in broad daylight and even then everyone fails to understand who is killing the people of Sopore, and why,” Ashraf Saraf, a businessmen in the town, told FirstPost.

The killing spree began on May 25 when unknown gunmen who wanted all cellphone services to shut down their operations in the town shot a BSNL franchise in the area.

The audacious attack was followed with a series of threats by ‘Lashkari Islam,’ a little known militant organisation, against the cellular companies operating in the town. Subsequently, two people associated with the telecom companies were killed.

The issue was not only been made mysterious by the inability of the police to identify those who were issuing threats to mobile companies but it also spread fear and panic, resulting in shutting of all the mobile towers in north Kashmir.

DIG Dass asserts that the militants are behind the killing spree in the town, “There are some groups who don’t want peace to prevail in the area. If they want to disturb peace, they should target us, not the civilians,” he said.

Ghulam Nabi Bhat, whose son Khurshid Ahmed Bhat was shot dead on Friday, sat inside a large makeshift tent erected outside his home on Sunday. Bhat’s son was the president of a local traders union in Bomai area who had closed his shop much before the scheduled time when the death came.

“As soon as he crossed the street, four bullets were fired at him. One of them hit his head. A police party arrived and took him to Sopore hospital where he died. I don’t believe militants would kill my son. Why would they kill him? He was killed by Indian agencies to terrorise us. We didn’t give up then. We won’t give up now” Bhat says, tears rolling down his parched face.

Update: On Monday morning, another person was killed. The count is now up to six.



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