Even as the curfew was lifted after four days of tension at Pulwama, police have booked Rashtriya Rifles 55 Battalion personnel on an ‘attempt to murder’ charge. On Friday last, troops had opened fire on a group of residents that allegedly threw stones on an ambulance and blocked the way of a rescue cavalcade rushing a critically wounded Major to a military hospital. Seven persons were injured in the incident.
Deputy Inspector-General of Police (South Kashmir) Vijay Kumar confirmed to The Hindu that the charge of attempt to murder (Section 307 of the Ranbir Penal Code) had been invoked against the Army in an FIR filed at the Pulwama police station. “We have filed an FIR against the alleged assailants and rioters for attacking the ambulance and against the Army for opening fire on the civilians,” Mr. Kumar said. “Section 307 RPC is against the Army while Sections 148, 149, 326 and 427 are against the civilian assailants.”
“We are already acting against the stone pelters. Even as we lifted the curfew, they enforced shutdown. We have arrested five of them today [on Tuesday],” the DIG said.
The Army, at the level of headquarters 15 Corps in Srinagar and the Northern Command headquarters at Udhampur, is understood to have taken with a pinch of salt the registration of a serious criminal case against its men. It has, however, decided not to react before discussing it at a higher level. Top Army circles pointed out that the troops’ action of “clearing the way for an ambulance” came after two officers sustained injuries in a gunfight with the militants. Two of the most wanted militants of the Lashkar-e-Taiba had died in the operation.
Filing of the charges of murder and attempt to murder against the Army is not common in the strife-torn State as the security forces engaged in counter-insurgency operations are protected under the J&K Armed Forces Special Powers Act.Significantly, the police action has come when a tough and terse statement had been issued by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s National Conference (NC).
In a statement on Monday, NC spokesperson Tanvir Sadiq had warned the Army against repeating the fake encounters of Machhil and Pathribal. He had requested UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Defence Minister A.K. Antony to take “strong notice” of the Pulwama shootout. “We will not tolerate, nor will any civil society accept any such excesses on any civilian anymore,” Mr. Sadiq said. “The cases like Machhil and Pathribal resonate in the valley, the wounds of which are yet to be healed. If you don’t learn from your past mistakes then we are sorry you are only making things worse for the people who have sacrificed a lot to restore peace in the valley,” the NC spokesman said.
“In the garb of the AFSPA you cannot simply go on doing what you want,” he added, while holding the Army responsible for creating over three-month-long turbulence with the “fake encounter” at Machhil in 2010.