Poonch and Rajouri districts of J&K underwent huge tension after three men died allegedly during interrogation by the Army following the killing of five soldiers in a terrorist ambush, prompting the Jammu and Kashmir government to step in swiftly and announce compensation and jobs to the kin of these civilians.
Authorities suspended mobile Internet services in the two districts as a precautionary measure to check rumour-mongering and prevent any law and order problem, and senior administrative and police officers have been camping in the area to monitor the situation.
In a post on X, the Information and PR department of Jammu and Kashmir said, ‘The death of three civilians was reported yesterday in Baffliaz of Poonch District. The medico legal formalities were conducted and legal action in this matter has been initiated by the appropriate authority.’
‘Government has announced compensation for each of the deceased. Further Government has also announced compassionate appointments to the next of kin of each deceased,’ it stated.
The three civilians, aged between 27 and 42, were found dead on Friday. Their relatives and political leaders alleged that they died due to ‘custodial torture’ as they were among the eight people picked up by the Army for questioning during an ongoing search operation to track down the terrorists involved in the ambush of Thursday.
The J&K Police is preparing an inquest report under Section 174 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which gives powers to police to inquire and submit a report to executive magistrate when a person has died under circumstances raising a reasonable suspicion that some other person has committed an offence.
This may lead to the registration of a case in the matter, officials said. The Army’s public information wing tweeted on Saturday saying it would extend all cooperation in the conduct of the investigation into the civilian deaths.
‘Search operations by the security forces are continuing in the area of operations after the incident of 21 Dec 23. Reports have been received regarding three civilian deaths in the area. The matter is under investigation.
“Indian Army stands committed to extending full support and cooperation in the conduct of investigations”, the Additional Directorate General of Public Information (ADGPI) of the Indian Army posted on X.
Jammu Divisional Commissioner Ramesh Kumar and Inspector General of Police Anand Jain have been camping in Poonch and are monitoring the situation, officials said.
Videos of the alleged custodial torture surfaced on Friday, after which the authorities suspended mobile Internet services in the two districts, the officials said.
The bodies of the three civilians — Safeer Hussain (43), Mohd Showket (27) and Shabir Ahmad (32) of Topa Peer village of Buffliaz — were handed over to their families after postmortem on Saturday morning. They were later laid to rest at their ancestral graveyard in Buffliaz.
All the three were innocent civilians and died of torture in the custody of the Army, Mohd Sadiq, a relative of one of the deceased, told PTI over phone from the village.
He said they have performed the last rites of the deceased following the assurance of action by Poonch Deputy Commissioner Choudhary Mohd Yasin and Senior Superintendent of Police Vinay Kumar, who were in the village throughout the day.
“They have assured us action…we want justice for the deceased. We want registration of FIR against the Army unit and adequate compensation along with a government job to the next of kin,” he said.
Sadiq, a panch, said he had informed senior police and civil officers about the random arrests and torture but nobody paid any heed.
Officials said four other civilians – Mohd Zulfkar, his brother Mohd Betab, Fazal Hussain and Mohd Farooq — were admitted to the Government Medical College Hospital in Rajouri with alleged torture injuries.
Additional police and paramilitary personnel have been deployed in sensitive pockets of the districts to maintain peace.
Five soldiers were killed and two injured when heavily armed terrorists ambushed two Army vehicles at a blind curve at Dhatyar Morh between Dhera Ki Gali and Bufliaz on Thursday.
The ambush took place when the security personnel were moving to an ongoing search operation in the general area of Dhera Ki Gali in the Thanamandi-Surankote region.
Soon after the ambush, security forces launched a massive search operation in the densely forested areas, but there was no fresh contact with the fleeing terrorists so far, officials said.
Sound of firing was heard deep inside a forest in Dhera Ki Gali area Saturday afternoon but security agencies later clarified that forces resorted to speculative firing to check a natural cave.
Meanwhile, several political parties in Jammu and Kashmir on Saturday staged protests and demanded an impartial probe into the death of three civilians.
A Bharatiya Janata Party leader said the J&K administration’s prompt action in providing compensation and jobs to the kin of the deceased civilians demonstrates its commitment to address the concerns of affected families.
Senior Communist Party of India-Marxist leader M Y Tarigami expressed grief over the death of three civilians and demanded an impartial probe into the circumstances leading to their death.
He said the death of soldiers in a terror attack is most unfortunate but the loss of three civilian lives is equally disturbing.
People’s Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti condemned the incident and demanded that the administration release a compensation of Rs 50 lakh each to the kin of the deceased and Rs 5 lakh each to the injured.
Scores of activists of the National Conference and the Apni Party tried to take out protest rallies but were stopped by police from leaving their respective party offices.
Why is terrorism on the front foot in Poonch-Rajouri belt?
Security and defence experts have called for immediate strengthening of the security management and intelligence network along the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu region, which witnessed the killing of 59 people, including 24 security personnel and 28 terrorists, in terror incidents this year.
A day after five soldiers were killed and two injured when heavily armed terrorists ambushed two Army vehicles in the border district of Poonch, they expressed concern over the increasing footprints of terrorists in the region. Lieutenant General Paramjit Singh (retd), who headed the Nagrota-based XVI corps of the army, acknowledged that the terrain where the incident took place is a difficult one.
Expressing concern over the terror incidents, defence expert Colonel S S Pathania (retd) said, “It is the second incident in the last two months. This region was peaceful until two years ago. In the last two years, 24 soldiers were martyred here. Why is it happening? Why have terrorists been so emboldened?”
A local expert based in J&K confirmed the fact that due to the abrogation of Section 370 and 370A terrorism cadres and systems have been uprooted. Terrorism flow have been on the move and trying to look for a new epicentre; eventually Poonch and Rajouri belt seems to have been a secured spot for them.