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Hyderpora Encounter: Unanswered questions beg immediate attention

 
Srinagar, Nov 18 (IANS) Monday's encounter at the Hyderpora area in Srinagar has raised more questions than the authorities have so far satisfactorily answered.

Four persons were killed in the encounter, including a foreign militant, his local associate, Altaf Ahmad, the owner of the building where the encounter took place, and Mudasir Gul, who ran a call centre on a rented floor of the same building.

IGP (Kashmir) Vijay Kumar told reporters that the owner of the building, Altaf Ahmad Bhat, was asked to knock at the doors of the rooms in his building where the foreign militant was reportedly hiding.

Kumar said the hiding militant fired from a pistol from the room he was hiding in, and the security forces fired with AK rifles in retaliation.

"The civilian died in the crossfire. If evidence from the body shows a pistol wound, then he died due to the militant's firing, and if it has an AK injury, then he died in our retaliatory firing," Kumar told reporters.

The senior police officer said that Mudasir Gul, the second civilian killed in the encounter, was an over-ground worker (OGW) of the militants.

While it is understandable that the body of the foreign militant had to be buried as per the Islamic rites by the authorities, a disturbing question still remains unanswered.

Why was the body of Altaf Ahmad, who the police accepted to be innocent, not handed over to the family for last rites?

Altaf Ahmad was reportedly buried by the authorities in north Kashmir's Handwara area.

Similarly, Mudasir Gul was also buried in the same area despite the fact that even as an OGW, his body should have been handed over to his family members.

Another disturbing unanswered question is about Aamir Ahmad, the associate of the foreign militant, who belonged to Ramban district in Jammu division. His father has refuted the police claim that he was an associate of the foreign militant.

Aamir's father told reporters that he has been provided with armed guards by the authorities, as he is under threat from the militants.

No official version is yet available to refute the claim of Aamir's father.

Families of the two civilians, Altaf Ahmad and Gul, have demanded their bodies and also challenged the authorities to prove the involvement of the two in any militant activity.

Srinagar Mayor Junaid Azim Mattu told IANS, "The encounter was shrouded in murkiness and contradictory statements from the very beginning. The circumstances which led to the killing of the civilians are highly questionable, as are the narratives being propounded.

"What was even more insensitive and ruthless was that the grieving families of the civilians were denied of their rights to conduct the final rites of the deceased. Whatever the final conclusion of the inquiry may be, we need to understand that these were non-combatants and citizens of India, who had basic fundamental rights in life and in death.

"The way the police press conference was held was contemptuous and insulting. This behaviour and arrogance are great disservices to the idea of India in Kashmir."

Mattu further said: "It is important that people's faith be restored in the institutions and the idea of India. The first step would be to return the mortal remains of the civilians to their families, and the next would be the institution of a judicial inquiry with impartiality and neutrality.

"There should be no institutional or individual pressure on the probe and rule of law must prevail. The idea of India is an idea of upholding the truth and ensuring every citizen's rights are safeguarded."

J&K Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha has ordered a time-bound magisterial probe into the matter. DGP Dilbag Singh has said that the police are always ready for correction if a wrong has been committed.

All mainstream politicians cutting across party lines have reacted sharply to the incident.

Three former Chief Ministers -- Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti -- have demanded the return of the bodies of the two civilians to their families.

Professor Saif-ud-Din Soz of the Congress, Sajjad Lone of the People's Conference, Yusuf Tarigami of the CPI-M and many others have demanded an impartial probe, in addition to immediate handing over of the bodies to their families.

Omar Abdullah sat on a dharna in Srinagar demanding that the bodies be handed over to the families. The Mehbooba Mufti-led Peoples Democratic Party also held protests against the incident in Srinagar.

The local bar association held a protest against the incident and called for a protest shutdown.

For the first time since the abrogation of Article 370 and downgrading of the state into two Union Territories in 2019, separatist leaders Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Masrat Alam have called for a public shutdown against the incident.

Notwithstanding what the politicians say about Monday's encounter, one thing is clear -- the authorities haven't been able to clear the air on it to the satisfaction of the common man.

The sooner this is done, the better for both the authorities and the general public.

Meanwhile, unconfirmed reports said the authorities have now decided to hand over the bodies of the two civilians to their families.

Sources said the bodies would be handed over anytime on Thursday evening. There is, however, no official word on this so far.

--IANS
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