Killings near J&K Army camp: Despair and a 3-year-old girl’s plea

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CLUTCHING A plastic bag with a few packets of chips inside and a toy car, three-year-old Ananya Tyal has a request for almost every visitor. “In broken sentences, she asks them to get her to talk to her father over the phone,” says Paras Ram.

It’s a wish no one can fulfill.

Ananya’s father and Paras Ram’s younger brother, Kamal Kumar (40), was among the two local residents who were killed in firing outside the Army camp in Rajouri Friday morning. The other victim was Kamal Kumar’s neighbour, Surinder Kumar (38). A third person, identified as Anil Kumar of Uttarakhand, was injured and undergoing treatment at a local hospital.

People protesting outside Army camp in Rajouri against the killing of two civilians in army firing of Friday morning. (Express Photo)

The Army has attributed the killings to “unidentified terrorists”, but the family members of those killed and local residents have claimed that the two were victims of “mistaken identity” and fired upon by a sentry at the camp’s gate. Kamal and Surinder were cremated Saturday.

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The killings have drawn a swift reaction from the administration and the BJP in J&K. Taking to Twitter, Lt Governor Manoj Sinha posted: “The incident in Rajouri is very unfortunate. Condolences to the bereaved families. The price of a life cannot be set in monetary 3-yr-old girl’s plea terms but still I announce an ex-gratia relief of Rs five lakh for each affected family.’’

Sinha also spoke to the bereaved families over phone, assured them of help and a fair probe, and said he would visit them soon. Rajouri District Magistrate Vikas Kundal has ordered a magisterial probe into the incident.

J&K BJP president Ravinder Raina said the law will take its course and no one will be spared. “I have spoken to Home Minister Amit Shah, who has taken a very serious view of the incident,” said Raina. He also expressed the hope that the Northern Army Commander will ensure a free and fair probe and bring the culprits to book.

According to the families, Kamal runs a canteen inside the Army camp and Surinder worked for him. Apart from Ananya, Kamal is survived by his wife Geeta Devi and son Danish, 13.

Danish, they say, was asleep when Kamal left home around 6.30 am. “About 10 minutes later, both were found lying dead outside the camp’s Alfa Gate, which is used only for Army convoys… it is about 50m away from the Entry Gate through which civilians are allowed,” said Shambhu Nath, another brother of Kamal.

“Both (Kamal and Surinder) had been issued passes by the Army for the Entry Gate… For the past 14-15 years, the canteen was being run by a resident of Panj Pir whom we called Masterji. Kamal took over the canteen only about three weeks ago… He had borrowed money to run the canteen but died before he could settle the accounts,” Nath said.

According to the families, Kamal used to be accompanied by his nephew Sahil (19) every morning. “But that day, I did not accompany him… he rang me up at around 6.30 am and asked me to get vegetables from the market. Before I could reach the canteen with the vegetables, came the news of their killing in firing,” Sahil said.

At Surinder’s home nearby, his wife Anju Bala and their two sons, Kartik (9) and Ansh (4), are in a state of shock. “Surinder used to take Ansh with him to the canteen every morning and from there get him to board the school bus around 7.30-7.45 am. But on Friday morning, Ansh did not accompany his father as he didn’t wake up on time,” said Bhushan Kumar, a relative.

It’s been two days since the killing and Phaliana village, where the families stay, remains under a pall of gloom. Some residents point to a partially constructed house that Kamal was hoping to complete soon.

Despite the killings and the despair, the Army continues to command respect. “If we are sleeping peacefully at night, it is because of the Armymen who stand guard on the icy mountains for us,” said Shambhu Nath, Kamal’s brother.

Surinder’s father Om Parkash, 75, is an ex-serviceman and a veteran of the 1971 war against Pakistan. “I only want Surinder’s wife to get a job and for something to be done for the education of his children,” Parkash said.

The J&K Police, meanwhile, have registered an FIR and initiated a probe. A senior officer said bullet shells have been found outside the camp, and that they will ask the Army for CCTV footage of the area.

“We are looking into all aspects of the case with an open mind. The injured is said to have stated in the presence of the Army that some gunmen opened fire, but there are other versions, too. We are looking for a truck driver from Poonch who has claimed that the firing originated from inside the camp,” the senior officer said.



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