Around noon on May 15, Shahid Ahmad decided to pay a visit to his brother’s shop in Darazpora in South Kashmir’s Shopian district. Twenty-year-old Shoaib Mohammad Ganie ran a car accessories shop on the main road.
“It was around 12:30 when my brother crossed a small stream across the road to relieve himself,” recounted 22-year-old Ahmad. “There are some Bakarwals [a nomadic herding community in Jammu and Kashmir] camping on a patch of land on the bank of the stream. So he went a bit farther to a desolate place.”
Darazpora, dotted with apple orchards, is on the border between Shopian and Pulwama districts. As Ganie disappeared beyond the Bakarwal tents, his brother saw a private load carrier vehicle come down the main road from the direction of Pulwama. According to Ahmad, the vehicle stopped near the shop, and three Central Reserve Police Force personnel alighted from it and rushed towards the area where his brother had gone.
Sensing trouble, Ahmad said, he shouted to his brother to be careful. But Ganie did not hear him. “I could see them surrounding my brother, who raised his hands to show them that he was an ordinary person,” said Ahmad. “They didn’t check his identity card or frisk him. They fired directly at him and he fell down. All of this happened within minutes.”
Ahmad said he and other local residents tried to rush towards Ganie but they were stopped by the security personnel. “We could have saved him had they allowed us to go towards the spot so that we can take him to hospital,” said Ahmad. “After some 10-15 minutes, they took my brother’s body on their shoulders and put it in their vehicle.”
According to Ahmad, his brother was killed just a few hundred metres away from his car accessories shop. “He was killed in front of people,” said Ahmad.
‘Killed in cross-firing’
According to the press statement released by the Jammu and Kashmir police on May 15, Ahmad was killed as militants “fired upon a patrolling party of Police and CRPF” on the afternoon of May 15.
“During the exchange of fire between terrorists and joint team of forces,” the press release added, “one civilian identified as Shoib Ahmad Ganai son of Ghulam Ahmad Ganai resident of Turkwangam, Shopian received critical gunshot injuries. Although the injured civilian was immediately evacuated to the hospital for the treatment of his injuries, he succumbed to his injuries.”
After the “brief chance encounter”, the police said, the militants slipped into nearby orchards and escaped.
Ganie’s family, who refuted the police version of a crossfire, held protests against his killing. As anger against the killing spread, Shopian district magistrate Sachin Kumar Vaishya released a video message on social media on the evening of May 15, promising a magisterial inquiry and “suitable action according to the law”.
A magisterial inquiry is meant to be routine in deaths that take place during the course of police action. It is mandated by the Supreme Court’s guidelines.
Ganie’s was the second civilian death in Shopian district in a week. On May 10, Shahid Gani Dar was injured during a search operation in Pandoshan village. Security forces said he was caught in the crossfire as militants opened fire in a bid to escape the cordoned off area. Dar later died of his injuries in hospital.
‘There was only one shot’
Ahmad was not the only witness to his brother’s killing. Scroll.in spoke to at least four people who were nearby when Ganie was shot.
Shabir Ahmad, a Bakarwal herder, was standing outside one of the makeshift tarpaulin tents when he saw uniformed security personnel passing through. “One of them asked me: ‘Bhaagne waala kahan gaya?’ (Where did the running man go),” he said. “I told him I had not seen anyone. Then he told me to go inside my tent and I went in. After that, I heard a gunshot.”
Shabir Ahmad’s tent was roughly 15 metres from the spot where Ganai was shot.
Arshia, an elderly Bakarwal woman, said she heard a gunshot ring right outside her tent. When she looked out, she saw a man lying in a pool of blood surrounded by security personnel. “There were three-four soldiers. They took his body with them,” she recalled.
Another individual, a minor, said he saw Ganie standing in front of the armed security personnel who had surrounded him. “He was pleading with them with his hands folded. The security men then told me to go inside,” he said.
Another local resident was drinking water some metres away from the spot. He said he saw three security personnel rushing towards Ganai and then spreading out to surround him. “Suddenly, I saw one of them moving his gun,” said the man, who did not wish to be named. “I first thought he had fired a shot in the air. We didn’t realise they had shot Ganai. They picked up his body after 10 minutes.”
These accounts have bolstered Ganie’s family’s claim that he was killed “in cold blood”. “How is it a crossfire when only one bullet was fired?” asked one of Ganie’s relatives. “It was pre-planned. They had come to kill him.”
A senior police official in Shopian said the police were investigating the matter. “The magisterial enquiry has also started and we are also looking into the case from all angles,” said the officer, speaking off the record.
Junaid Ahmad, a Central Reserve Police Force spokesman in Kashmir, refused to add to the official police statement released on May 15. “Since it was a joint patrol party of CRPF and police, the police has already issued an official statement about it. There’s nothing further to say,” he told Scroll.in.
‘Struck by lightning’
Ganie lived in Shopian’s Turkwangam village. He had opened his car accessories just three months ago. He was also a fourth semester student at the Shopian Degree College, pursuing a bachelor of arts degree. His father had given him Rs 14,000 for his college fees.
“He was trying to make some money and study at the same time,” said his father, Ghulam Mohammad Ganie, who runs an electronics shop. Shoaib Ganie was the second of his four sons.
According to Ghulam Mohammad Ganie, his son had not had a brush with the police or other security forces before last year, when an improvised explosive device exploded in the area. “After that, the police picked up many boys from the village, including Shoaib,” he said. “He was kept in detention for nearly two months but there was no case registered against him.”
The senior police official in Shopian confirmed that Ganie had no police record. “There is no case against him,” he said.
His family in Turkwangam is still looking for answers. “When a militant is allowed to walk out of a house during an encounter if he drops his weapon, what stopped them from letting my son live when he was just an ordinary civilian?” asked Ghulam Mohammad Ganie. “Even if they suspected him, they could have arrested him or shot him in the leg. But they shot him in the chest. We have been struck by lightning.”