Photographs: Faizan Mir
Riyaz Ahmad was standing outside his kirana shop in north Kashmir’s Sopore town on Saturday, 12 June, when a group of J&K policemen attempted to whisk away his salesman, Manzoor Ahmad, for violating the COVID-19 lockdown rules.
J&K is seeing a 60-hour-long weekend lockdown since Friday evening, 11 June, during which economic activities remain suspended across the Union Territory and only essential services are allowed.
Despite the lockdown, Riyaz had opened his shop to handle a customer. “He (Manzoor) kept asking them to issue a challan rather than arresting him. But they didn’t agree. They bundled him into a gypsy and drove off,” said Riyaz, a resident of Sopore.
He said the police gypsy had barely traveled some meters when the sound of gunshots rang in the air, triggering panic in Arampora locality of Sopore where the incident took place, as commuters and pedestrians started running for their lives.
“I don’t know what happened. He was inside the gypsy. I don’t know who fired. I don’t know who martyred my brother,” said Riyaz Ahmed, owner of the shop and cousin of slain Manzoor. The two have been working together at the kirana shop for more than ten years.
The attack in Arampora has come under cloud after eyewitnesses and families of the deceased civilians alleged that their loved ones were killed in “retaliation” by J&K police.
What Do Eyewitnesses Say?
A middle-aged man, who claimed to be an eyewitness, said he saw a group of policemen disembark from their vehicle and “open fire at the civilians”.
“So what if they kill me,” the eyewitness, who could not be immediately identified in a video accessed by The Quint, is seen telling a group of journalists near the location of the attack.
One of the bullets, he said, hit Bashir Ahmad, a poor widower who was selling fruits and vegetables on a hand-driven cart in Arampora, and he collapsed on the spot.
“I saw it with my own eyes. Let them (cops) kill me,” he said, as some onlookers, who are not seen in the video, advise him caution.
Attack Leaves Two Policemen, Two Civilians Dead; Police Blame LeT
The audacious attack in broad daylight in this north Kashmir town, blamed by Director General of J&K Police Dilbagh Singh Kumar on Lashkar-e-Toiba outfit, left two J&K policemen and as many civilians dead.
The deceased policemen, both constables, were identified as Showkat Ahmad and Waseem Ahmad. Two policemen were also injured, one of them critically, along with a civilian, said a J&K police spokesperson.
In a statement, DGP Singh said a police party was deployed in the area to impose the lockdown when suspected militants opened fire at them.
“The fire was retaliated,” he said. “The perpetrators of the attack have been identified. Follow up action has been launched …. (and) the perpetrators of the criminal act would be brought to justice soon,” the DGP said.
In the aftermath of the attack, the J&K Police has transferred SHO Sopore, Azim Khan. Rejecting the claims of eyewitnesses, senior superintendent of police, Sopore, Sudanshu Verma, told The Quint that the civilians were killed in firing by militants.
“All the victims lay near the site of the attack. The policemen were about to board the vehicle when the attack took place,” the SSP said, adding that Manzoor, the cart owner, was killed at the spot before boarding the vehicle. Asked about the DGP’s statement that the police had fired in “retaliation,” SSP Verma said the retaliatory firing is “carried out aerially” to scare away the perpetrators.
Manzoor’s Family Rebuts Police Claims, Asks For Fair Probe
Rebutting the police claims, Riyaz said, “I want justice. The government should clarify how he was killed and under what circumstances.”
Firdous Ahmad Shalla, Manzoor’s brother, claimed that the gypsy in which his brother was being whisked away to the police station, was bullet-proof.
“Two cops were hanging on the back of the vehicle when it was on its way to the police station. They were hit first (in militant attack) and died instantly. To avenge the killing of their colleagues, the cops brought him (Manzoor) out of the vehicle and killed him there,” Firdous alleged.
Asked about the police claim that Manzoor was killed in cross-firing, he said: “Whether he was killed by policemen or he died in cross-firing, we want a fair probe. Whosoever is involved in this, we want the government to identify them and strict action should be taken against them,” he said.
“The government should release CCTV footage from the area,” said Manzoor’s wife, Asiya. “I want justice. The culprits should be punished. Whether the police is speaking the truth or lying, these doubts will be cleared by the CCTV footage,” Asiya said.
Manzoor’s wife is inconsolable, “I want to see the dead body of the person who killed my husband. I am pregnant with his second child. Who will now take care of us?” Asiya said.
A senior police officer said a probe is being ordered into the incident, “The probe is ordered after every such attack. We will see whether SOPs have been violated,” he said.
Asked about the transfer of Sopore SHO, the officer said: “After the March attack (in Sopore in which two BJP counselors were killed), we were under pressure due to which the SHO has been transferred,” the officer, who didn’t want to be named, said.
Bashir Was the Sole Breadwinner For His Family
Recalling the attack, the co-owner of Bashir’s hand cart, whose identity was not immediately known, said the slain had gone to have a cup of tea.
“He had walked barely some meters when a (police) gypsy came and there was firing. Then I don’t know what happened,” he said.
Junaid Bashir, son of Bashir, said he was shot lethally. “I got a call from police station about the incident. When we reached hospital, he was dead,” Junaid said, breaking down in tears.
“His wife passed away few years back. We have an elderly mother. He used to feed his family with whatever he earned (by selling fruits and veggies) on the handcart,” Nazir Ahmad, Bashir’s brother, said.
Led by Bashir’s wailing mother, hundreds of agitated women gathered in Sopore on Saturday and staged an anti-government and anti-police demonstration, seeking justice for the slain.
“I need you, my son. Don’t enter your grave yet, my martyr son,” Manzoor's aged mother said feebly, as other women lent support of their arms to prevent her from collapsing.
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