Three Rajouri civilians killed and passed off as militants in Shopian fake military operation has resurfaced a decade-old similar case wherein three civilians of Baramulla were killed in a fake operation in Machil sector.
Captivating brooks meandering through sprawling borough of Baramulla’s Nadihal area create a calm countenance for this Kashmir countryside. But behind the scenic face, the place has come to house a lingering sorrow and a faint hope for three justice-weary families—whose breadwinners were bumped off as ‘war booty’.
Abutted by hushed apple orchards, the village would once witness resounding laughter of three boys who in their adulthood were declared as infiltrators at the frontier Machil and killed in cold-blood.
The upshot of those culled innocent lives was the 2010 sweltering summer—when Kashmir’s lamenting landscape was drenched with the blood of 120 fallen souls.
In that mayhem year, Nadihal’s three sons—three breadwinners—had left home to put food on the tables of their families.
They never returned alive.
A decade later, the nightmare has returned to haunt the villagers after the similar incident at Shopian—when three labourers from Rajouri were killed in a fake military operation—reminded natives of their sons executed in a ‘staged-encounter’.
“Since that encounter, we have been facing step-motherly treatment, as if we don’t matter at all,” says villager Altaf Hussain, while walking through interior lanes of Nadihal laden with dust and dirt.
“Our own local MLA once labelled us as stone-pelters. With the result, our 10-bedded hospital remains pending from last 10 years.”
Tucked in one unruffled corner of this village is grief-stricken Naseema’s hushed home.
Years of struggle for her innocent son’s blood have made her quiet—unlike her past avatar when she would wear jollity on her sleeves.
The mother reluctantly talks about the horror of that night when her lifeless son was brought back from Kupwara.
“It has been a long and crushing battle for us since last ten years,” Naseema, mother of Riyaz Lone, one the victims of Machil fake encounter case, recalls.
“Our sons are in graves and their killers are roaming free. What kind of justice is this? What did army achieve by killing our bread-earners? We’re poor people. I was gutted when they murdered my son.”
Far from the cries and wails that erupted from this sleepy hamlet ten years ago, the staged encounter, as fact-findings would later unearth, proved to be just another instance of the blood business in conflict-plagued Kashmir.
It was on April 30, 2010, when the Indian army claimed to have foiled an infiltration bid from across the Line of Control, in Machil Sector by killing ‘three armed militants from Pakistan’.
But soon, it was established that the encounter had been staged and that the three alleged militants were in fact civilians—Riyaz Ahmad Lone, 20, Shahzad Ahmed Khan, 27, and Mohammad Shafi Lone,19—of Nadihal village, who had been lured to the army camp by promising them jobs as “porters” for the army.
They were then shot in cold blood, in order to claim a cash award.
Investigations would reveal that it was a gang of four soldiers, headed by Territorial Army (TA) trooper from Uri, Abbas Shah, who had committed the chilling crime. Later, army would also disengage its “source” and accomplice called Hamid.
Bashir, the mastermind and the main culprit from Nadihal village, would soon face public ire when his house went up in flames.
In this case, sleuths only uncovered an old—notorious—pattern of shoddy security-syndicate in the strife zone.
It was reliably learnt that ahead of its relocation to Meerut, the 4-Rajputana Rifles wanted to get some war booty.
And since Machil sector, the so-called forward point, is known for frontier fatalities, killing “infiltrators” was only a shot in the arm.
One Maj Opendra Singh had reportedly tasked Abbas Shah to “arrange” three young men.
The Shah-Singh duo was in regular touch since the Major was posted at 92 Divisional Headquarter in Baramulla.
Shah sought Hamid’s help, who got in touch with Bashir. The Nadihal native agreed to help by arranging the trio from his village for Rs 2,000 per day.
They were directed to bring the trio to Kalaroos on April 27.
Hamid and Bashir arranged a Sumo vehicle and drove the young men to Kalaroos where reports suggest they were paid Rs 500 each and were asked to go back due to bad weather, and revisit on April 29.
“That day my son came back late night and I asked him where he was,” recalls Naseema with tears flooding her sunken eyes.
“He told me I earned Rs 500 without doing anything. They had gone to Kalaroos Kupwara. ‘Chene watakh na toure khabas manz (You won’t even reach there in your dream),’ he told me.”
Atop the mountains of Kalaroos, Naseema’s son and his two village boys had seen a robust blackman, who was suspiciously lurking around.
That night, the boy would tell his mother that the menacing blackman would size them up and leave the spot in a huff.
“After that,” the mother says, “my boy, along with the two others, was driven back to Nadihal by Bashir.”
That night, Naseema couldn’t sleep a wink, as her son’s odd outing had created many doubts in her mind.
Two days later, on April 29, she grew suspicious, when her son left home after getting an early morning call.
“That was the last time I saw him alive,” the mother laments.
What happened to her boy and who was that blackman he met on the mountains of Kalaroos would haunt Naseema for years to come.
However, later, police investigations would clear the picture.
On that fateful day of April 29, police investigators would eventually reveal, the trio was driven to Kupwara by Hamid and Shah and were handed over to the army officer.
The army officer drove them somewhere closer to LoC. And later that night, they were killed and dubbed as “terrorists”.
“We came to know after almost one month when the photographs of the trio were carried by one of the local dailies—dubbing our sons as militants,” recounts Firdous Lone, Naseema’s younger son.
“We are peace-loving people and we want justice. They snatched a family breadwinner from us. That tragedy hit us very hard.”
In the same sleepy village, Shahzad’s 14 year-old-son, two brothers, three sisters, widow (now married to his younger brother Showkat), and his aged parents are awaiting justice.
“He was the labourer by profession and used to work with a contractor for many years,” Asha, Shahzad’s mother, says. “His killing broke us all.”
Free culprits are equally giving the mother sleepless nights.
“One of the main culprits in the case after committing the crime used to threaten us even in jail,” she says.
On seeing the photograph of her slain son after a long time, Asha and her two daughters burst into tears.
“We don’t show this photograph to our mother,” Asha’s daughter says. “We hide it from her because it makes her cry.”
After twists and turns, the army court finally awarded life sentence to six of its personnel found guilty in the case in 2015. But later, the Armed Force Tribunal in Chandigarh would suspend the life imprisonment of five army personal, including a colonel, in the 2010 case.
“We believe justice has been denied to us but we will still fight for it,” says Abdul Rashid Lone, father of slain Mohammad Shafi Lone.
“We want every culprit related to this case to be hanged, though most of them are free now,” the father says. “Till justice won’t be done, bloodshed in Kashmir is not going to stop.”
Shopian fake encounter case, Shafi says, is no different from Machil.
“But when we are not given justice, who will give justice to them?”
Sajad Gul contributed to this story.
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