Once known as ‘Chotta London’ in the Kashmir Valley for the prosperity it saw due to the apple economy, the recent murderous spree has turned Sopore into a haunted place. The Army and police patrol the streets throughout the night. Mysterious men drumbeat doors and windows of shops and houses. With the beginning of the holy month of Ramzan, many residents have been forced to offer morning and evening prayers at home because their ideas and beliefs have suddenly become a threat to their lives.
As the town lives on the edge, a common refrain among the victim families is that the government has abandoned them. While Yusuf believes that he is paying the price for his Jama’at links, he is also hurt by the fact that no one from the government has come to his family or any other bereaved family in Sopore, to offer condolences. It took Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed six murders and 22 days to speak about the lawlessness in the town, ordering a “time bound probe” into the killings on June 16.
The delay, however, allowed talk to flourish that the killings are the result of an increasingly aggressive BJP-led government at the Centre and its equally meek coalition partner in J&K, the PDP, whose ageing patriarch, perhaps playing the last innings of his political career, is willing to concede anything to stay in his seat. Even before the “time-bound” inquiry ordered by the state government completes its term, the families of the victims have given up on any hope of justice. In a conflict-torn state where thousands of people have been killed by “unknown gunmen”, these families believe that their cases too will only end up as statistics.
When there are different standards for treating human life in a society, it results in tyranny. When there are different standards for delivering justice, it is slavery. My son was killed 15 years ago. Did they investigate who killed him? 52 people were killed in the Sopore Massacre? Was anyone punished?
–Sheikh Yusuf, Jama’at Leader
On June 13, four days after Yusuf’s son was gunned down, shots were heard near a wholesaler’s shop in Bomai locality, some six km from Sopore. The incident happened late in the evening and no one from the locality risked venturing out. One family was, however, struck by fear. Khursheed Ahmad Bhat, the president of a local traders association, and the only earning hand in a family of seven, had neither returned home nor was he answering repeated calls on his mobile.
His brother, Tariq Ahmad, a lean man in his late twenties, took a narrow alley and walked towards the shop on the main road. Tariq told me that his brother had faced flak on many occasions when the shopkeepers in Bomai didn’t down their shutters on the strike calls of separatists. He had also ensured that all the shopkeepers get their licenses from the government, a necessity born after Bomai was recently declared as a Tehsil, “After all, everyone has to run their families. He was a straightforward person who was not afraid of speaking truth. I don’t understand why he was killed and by whom.”
Meticulously Planned Killings
Caught in a web of intrigue, there is little doubt that the killings were planned meticulously and executed with perfection. That the killers managed to disappear without any trace raises questions, especially in the light of Army and police’s omnipresence at the sites of shooting, even before the families could reach the victims. “Before reaching the road, I heard the ringtone of his phone. When I looked around, he was lying in a prostrated state in the middle of the alley. Army and policemen were looking at us from the road,” Tariq said.
When Mehraj was shot on June 7, Halima saw him collapsing on the ground and ran towards him, “I was not able to understand what had happened. There was blood all around. I lifted his head in my lap and started screaming for help. Some distance away, a group of Army men were looking. I shouted at them, but they didn’t move. They were perhaps deployed there so that the killers could escape from the area,” Halima alleges.
Soon after the shooting, Mehraj’s father, Mohammad Ahsan Dar, who had gone to see a sick neighbour, took out a Maruti car along with his nephew to reach the hospital where his son had been taken, but the Army men stopped the car.
I begged them to let me see my son, but they didn’t listen, Instead they wanted to know who had shot him. They detained me and asked me strange questions for about 15 minutes before letting us go. When we reached hospital, Mehraj had died.
–Mohammad Ahsan Dar, Mehraj’s father.
“They were not allowing people to leave the area. They didn’t let a father meet his dying son. How did the killers manage to escape then,” Ahsan asks.
The testimony of Halima and Ahsan is crucial to demystify the events in Sopore, but the investigators have not taken them or any family members of other victims into confidence. Although a ‘time-bound’ probe has been ordered into the killings, the victim families have not been contacted for their version of the events, turning the entire process of justice into a cruel joke. None of the families I spoke to expect the truth to come out of the probe.
The politicians come begging for votes at the time of elections. We voted but no one from the government has come to console us. If Mufti Sayeed had the powers, he would have nabbed the killers on the first day, but he is a powerless spectator.
– Halima Bano, Victim’s Sister
“It is the responsibility of the state to protect the people. Sopore has suffered a lot and instead of dealing it as a law and order problem, there must be a political intervention and the families who have been victimised must be compensated,” Prof Baba said.
Two days after his son was killed, Sheikh Yusuf confronted a senior police officer, accusing the force of orchestrating the murder. “He told me that had they (police) done this (killed his son), they wouldn’t have announced the reward on killers! If they know so much about the happenings in Sopore, about the split in Hizb, about the two people who are behind this, what were they doing all this time? Why didn’t they arrest them? This plan of terrorising people of Kashmir has been devised in Delhi and it is implemented on ground by its men here. Now, who they will use to carry out these acts and how they will implement the policy on ground is for them to see,” Yusuf said.
Read Part I of this two-part story here.