On Wednesday, 25-year-old Mehraj-ud-Din Shah died after being shot at by personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force in Kashmir’s Budgam district. Protests broke out in his village as two accounts of the incident circulated through the day.
According to the CRPF, Shah sped through checkpoints in his car and did not stop when warning shots were fired. An army convoy was passing through the adjacent road at the time and Mehraj Shah’s car was “driving in the wrong direction”, the CRPF statement said. “Fearing a sabotage”, paramilitary personnel opened fire and a bullet hit Shah in the shoulder, according to the statement. Last year, a speeding car laden with explosives had rammed into a CRPF convoy in South Kashmir’s Pulwama district, killing 40 men.
Shah’s uncle, Ghulam Hassan Shah, an assistant sub-inspector with the Jammu and Kashmir Police, who was travelling with him at the time, gave a different account. According to reports, Ghulam Shah said his nephew was “fired [at] from point blank range” and it was “a cold-blooded murder”.
Ghulam Shah, who lives in the Beerwah area of Budgam, had asked his nephew to drop him at the police control room in Srinagar, the Kashmir Observer reported. When they reached the checkpoint at Kawoosa village in Budgam, Ghulam Shah was asked for identity proof, which he provided. Even as a local policeman signalled to them to go, a CRPF jawan opened fire, hitting his nephew in the chest, Ghulam Shah said. He dismissed claims that they had jumped the checkpoint.
As word of the killing spread, so did anger among local residents. According to a cousin of Mehraj Shah who spoke to Scroll.in, the family feared the police might not hand the body back to them. In the recent past, security forces have refused to hand back the bodies of militants killed in gunfights to avoid large funerals. These large gatherings were in violation of the requirements of the coronavirus lockdown, security forces said. Eventually, however, Shah’s body was handed to his family.
As mourners gathered at his home in Beerwah’s Makhama village, grief turned to anger and protests against the government. Slogans for “azadi” were chanted and local youth pelted stones at security forces.
Meanwhile, political parties in the Valley condemned the incident and demanded a fair investigation. The police have filed an FIR and started an investigation. The CRPF has ordered an inquiry.
The killing occurs at a time when the Valley is still simmering with resentment against the Centre’s unilateral decision to strip Jammu and Kashmir of its special status under Article 370 and divide the former state into two Union Territories. Earlier this month, the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Riyaz Naikoo also led to localised protests in parts of the Valley.