Authorities have imposed curfew, beginning 5.a.m. Friday, in Srinagar and all other major towns in the Kashmir Valley as also in several towns in the Jammu division following widespread tension and clashes triggered by the death of four civilians in BSF firing at Sangaldan in Ramban district on Thursday.
Independent sources told The Hindu that officials at a Border Security Force camp called the brother of an imam of a mosque at Dharam, Sangaldan, on Wednesday evening and asked him to stop Darood and Taraveeh, which are performed at mosques after daily evening prayers during the month of Ramzan. In protest, the man sat on an old bridge and began reciting the Koran.
As some personnel from the camp removed him forcibly, the man went to the mosque and gave his version with the allegation that the BSF had roughed him up and torn off pages of the Holy Scripture.
On hearing this, angry residents marched to the camp, shouting slogans and condemning the BSF’s “interference in religious practice.” Two clashes took place — the first one at midnight and the other on Thursday morning. Though the situation was controlled, at 9.30 a.m. over a 1,000 people marched to the camp again, alleging that some personnel had gatecrashed into the mosque wearing shoes, desecrated the place of worship and roughed up Namazis.
During the third clash, the BSF guards opened fire. Four of the demonstrators died and 42 others sustained injuries.
Following the incidents, Ramban Deputy Commissioner Sham Vinod Mena was removed and replaced by Director of Estates M.H. Malik.
Jammu Divisional Commissioner Pradeep Gupta, who, along with Minister of State for Home Sajjad Ahmad Kichloo and Director-General of Police Ashok Prasad, flew to the spot in a helicopter, said 13 of the injured were airlifted and admitted to the Government Medical College Hospital in Jammu. Mr. Kichloo and Mr. Gupta maintained that the death toll was four, though unofficial reports put it at six.
“We have resolved the crisis amicably and the funeral of all four persons passed off peacefully,” Mr. Gupta told The Hindu from Gool. He said the official team pacified the residents and they dispersed peacefully.
‘Firing from mob’
At a news conference in Jammu, BSF IG Rajeev Krishen said someone in the mob fired at the camp, resulting in gunshot wounds to constable Ram Hari. He was airlifted and admitted to GMC Hospital. The IG claimed that the BSF firing was in retaliation for an armed attack. Nobody from the camp went to the village or the mosque, he said and also denied allegations of desecration.
“The situation is extremely tense but we are trying to control it. We want to ensure that tension does not spill over to Doda and other districts,” Mr. Kichloo said.
On his arrival from New Delhi, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah reviewed the situation. Sources said the Cabinet would discuss the situation on Friday.
As news of the four deaths broke, traders downed the shutters and demonstrators clashed with the police at several places in the State. The district headquarters of Ramban on the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway witnessed the most violent clashes as hundreds of protesters attacked the Deputy Commissioner’s office and the police station. Two official vehicles were set on fire. The police foiled the mob’s attempts to set the DC’s office on fire. Traffic on the highway remained disrupted for six hours.
Amarnath pilgrims on their way to the Kashmir Valley were stopped amid massive traffic jams.
However, “the yatra is continuing. We have no instructions to suspend it,” said Garib Das, Deputy Inspector-General of Police, Udhampur.
In the Valley, demonstrators clashed with the police and the CRPF at 20 places, mostly in downtown Srinagar and Maisuma. JKLF Chairman Yasin Malik was arrested while leading a demonstration. Stone throwing, baton charge and firing of teargas shells marred the day as a shutdown was enforced in Civil Lines.
Even as most of the separatist leaders were forced to remain indoors, they issued separate calls for protests, a complete shutdown and a mass march to Lalchowk on Friday.
Killings unacceptable, says Omar
Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah described the death of the four civilians in the Border Security Force (BSF) firing at Dharam, in the Gool area of Ramban on Thursday, as “unacceptable.”
In an unusual statement of condemnation, Mr. Abdullah said, “It is unfortunate that despite costly lessons learnt in 2008 and 2010, some of us are determined to repeat our mistakes and use force against unarmed protesters. Such incidents risk throwing a peaceful atmosphere into jeopardy.”
“It is highly unacceptable to shoot at unarmed protesters just because they were reportedly protesting manhandling of an Imam of their area. There is no justification for this deplorable act. This demands the severest of condemnation in the strongest possible terms. Justice will be done and those involved in the ghastly incident will be brought to book”, Mr. Abdullah said.
The Chief Minister has ordered a magisterial inquiry into the incident.