The death of four civilians in the Border Security Force firing in Ramban district led to clashes at several places in Jammu and Kashmir on Thursday.
Independent sources told The Hindu that officials at a BSF 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 the daily evening prayers during the month of Ramzan. As a mark of protest, he sat on an old bridge and began reciting the Koran. Some personnel from the BSF camp removed him forcibly. He went to the mosque and alleged that the BSF had roughed him up and torn off the pages of the Holy Scripture.
On hearing this, angry residents marched to the camp, shouting slogans and condemning the forces’ “interference in religious practice.” Two clashes took place — the first one at midnight and the other on Thursday morning. The situation was controlled. However, at 9.30 a.m. over a 1,000 people marched to the camp alleging that some personnel had gate-crashed into the mosque wearing shoes, desecrated the place of worship and roughed up the Namazis. During the third clash, the BSF guards opened fire. Four of the demonstrators died and 42 sustained injuries.
Divisional Commissioner of Jammu Pradeep Gupta, who flew in a helicopter to the spot along with Minister of State for Home Sajjad Ahmad Kichloo and Director-General of Police Ashok Prasad, said that 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 the 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.
At a news conference in Jammu, BSF IG Rajeev Krishen claimed that someone in the mob fired upon 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 to an armed attack. Mr. Krishen claimed that nobody from the camp went to the village or the mosque. He denied allegations of desecration of the Holy Scripture and the mosque.
“The situation is extremely tense but we are trying to control it. We want to ensure that the 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. Ramban DC Sham Vinod Mena was removed and replaced by Director of Estates M.H. Malik. Sources said the Cabinet would discuss the situation at a meeting on Friday.
As the news of the four deaths broke, traders downed the shutters and demonstrators clashed with the police at several places in the State.