The Jammu and Kashmir Police have written to the CRPF seeking an explanation that why a lone CRPF vehicle moved through the Nowhatta area of Srinagar where it was decided that there will be no deployment of security forces on last Friday after clashes left at least 20 youth injured on 25 May.
Two youths were run over by an armoured vehicle of the CRPF which left one of them dead and another wounded and the family of the deceased has sought that a murder case should be pressed against the Central force personnel.
Police officials said that after clashes left many youths injured the previous Friday, 25 May, as forces fired pellets at the mob, it was decided that there would be no deployment at the Jamia mosque during prayers the next Friday, when separatist leader and Hurriyat (M) chairman, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, was to deliver the sermon.
The relaxation was also in line with the policy of the PDP-BJP government to declare a unilateral ceasefire and create conditions for dialogue with Hurriyat. The police which is headed by the chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti, who oversees the portfolio of home department, sees this incident of a vehicle moving through Nowhatta area as a “security nightmare”.
On 1 June, it was decided that instead of deploying the forces at the mosque, the police and the CRPF will remain stationed at Nowhatta police station, which lies at some distance away from the mosque, to prevent attacks by youth on the police station.
We reconstructed the sequence of events that followed based on conversations with seven eyewitnesses, CRPF and police officials.
Friday prayers concluded at 2.30 pm, following which the mosque, which holds about 30,000 people, emptied out. As is the norm on Fridays, a few hundred protesters gathered outside the building and began to raise slogans. At 3.45 pm, a CRPF Gypsy containing five armed personnel besides the driver drove down Khwaja Bazar Road, from the direction of Lal Chowk and stopped a few hundred metres from the mosque. Fayaz Ahmad Shah, who sells fez caps and caraculs near the mosque said the Gypsy headed towards the mob, which attacked the vehicle with stones and other objects. Five other eyewitnesses, who did not wish to be named, corroborated Shah’s account. Video footage of the incident, which Firstpost couldn’t verify independently, shows the men leaping atop the vehicle and launching an attack against it. The Gypsy then ran over one of the young men, Kaiser Ahmad, angering his fellow protesters. One other young man, Younis Ahmad, came under its wheels before it sped away in the direction of Nowhatta police station.
Police officials later lodged complaints against the young men as well as the CRPF driver; the former for rioting and attempted murder and the latter for rash and negligent driving.
As per the security guidelines, the local police requests for the personnel of CRPF to be made available for “riot control” and the deployment of the number of people and the places assigned for duty are decided by the police. This is being done as CRPF personnel are mostly from outside the state and are not acquainted about the roads and different localities in Kashmir.
When asked what a lone CRPF vehicle was doing in a volatile neighbourhood on 1 June, reserve police force spokesperson Sanjay Sharma said the CRPF’s 28 battalion second-in-command, who was the ranking officer in the Gypsy, was deployed on permanent duty at the Zakoora camp which lies several kilometres from Nowhatta and that he was “returning after checking deployment of CRPF personnel in that neighbourhood (Nowhatta).”
Inspector General of CRPF, Ravideep Sahai, admitted that the “officer was moving in the area for non-operational duty”. “The officer was not involved in any kind of riot control or crowd control. He was just moving from one place to another to check deployment at Nowhatta,” he said.
He said that the CRPF companies were deployed for the assistance of law and order duties to police at the Nowhatta police station. Sahai said that when the officer had gone to the area there was no mob and it was that when “the vehicle was returning and it came under the mob attack”. He said that the “officer was checking the deployment which was not close to the mosque”. “The deployment was made at Nowhatta police station area away from the mosque.”
However even as the CRPF officials said that the mob may have lynched the officer if the doors of the vehicle were opened, witnesses said that the vehicle came from Khawaja Bazar and took the road to the mosque where both the CRPF and police had decided that there would be no deployment.
Senior Superintendent of Police, Srinagar, Imtiyaz Ismael Parray, said that the police was investigating as to “what the vehicle was doing in the area”.
A senior police official said that they have written to the CRPF seeking any explanation and contradicted the version of the Central forces by stating that the vehicle was coming to the Nowahatta police station.
“We are investigating the matter and have written to the CRPF to explain its position,” he said.
Attempts to reach out to the CRPF driver, who is facing a case of rash and negligent driving and could be arrested by police, remained unsuccessful as the CRPF restricts its personnel from directly talking to media. CRPF spokesman, Sharma, said that the “case of rash and negligent driving by police was baseless”.