NEW DELHI/SRINAGAR: The Army on Wednesday asserted its soldiers had only opened “controlled fire in self-defence” after issuing enough warnings to the violent mob pelting stones on its convoy at Shopian in south Kashmir last Saturday, which left three civilians dead and seven soldiers injured.
The Army on Sunday had also filed a “counter-FIR”, detailing how four of its vehicles that were separated from the 16 others in the administrative convoy were surrounded and attacked by the violent protesters, in response to the state police lodging an FIR charging “Major Aditya” and personnel from the 10 Garhwal Rifles battalion with murder and attempt to murder under the Ranbir Penal Code for the incident at Ganwapora Chowk.
“We have done our internal inquiry. The soldiers responded after being provoked to the ultimate. It was an act in self-defence and to protect government property,” said Northern Command chief Lt-General Devraj Anbu on Wednesday, amid a political slugfest between coalition partners People’s Democratic Party and the BJP in J&K.
“A generic FIR should have been filed by the police … I think they have prematurely put the name of an individual (Major Aditya) in it. The FIR is an initial step and the investigation is yet to commence,” added Lt-Gen Anbu.
The Army, in fact, contends Major Aditya who was leading the “administrative convoy” was quite some distance away from the site where the firing occurred at Ganwapora on Saturday. “He was with the 16 other vehicles that were separated from the four vehicles surrounded by the over 200 stone-throwing protestors,” said an officer.
The junior commissioned officer (JCO), in charge of the four vehicles, fell unconscious after being hit on the head by a stone while he was trying to reason with the protesters. “The mob even tried to lynch the JCO and snatch his weapon, and also extensively damaged the vehicles despite warnings. Given the extreme gravity of the situation, the soldiers had no recourse but to open fire,” he said.
“It was a desperate situation. The usual norm is to fire below the waist … but the civilians who got hit above the waist could have been bending down to pick up stones,” added the officer.
Apart from lodging the FIR in the local police station, the state government headed by Mehbooba Mufti has also instituted a magisterial inquiry headed by district magistrate Ajaz Ahmad of Shopian to look into the matter and submit its report within 20 days.
While agreeing to the magisterial inquiry, the BJP MLAs in the state assembly have demanded the withdrawal of FIR against the soldiers on the ground that it would demoralize the forces fighting terrorism. Mufti, however, rejected the demand and told the legislative assembly on Monday that the investigation in the case would be taken to its logical conclusion.