IIOJK in focus

Private vehicle snatching by Indian army: BBC lifts veil on less-talked about tragedy in IIOJK

Srinagar, September 08 (KMS): Indian army snatches private vehicles from civilians in Indian illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir, uses them in fake encounters and destroys them while their owners are often arrested and subjected to inhuman torture in Indian army camps.

BBC Hindi lifts veils on this less-talked about tragedy of the Kashmiri people in its one of the latest reports on the miseries of Kashmiri people in the occupied territory.

As per BBC report, the Indian army itself admitted that the soldiers use vehicles of common people for the operations.

The BBC starts its report from the ordeal of one Aijaz Ahmad:

Ajaz Ahmad, a resident of Reshinagari in Shopian district, had to go to court once again last week. For two years, Ajaz Ahmad has visited the court so many times for his car that he has now forgotten the count.

Ejaz Ahmad, 39, lives in this village and is a farmer by profession. For the last two years, the documents of his Maruti Astar car are confiscated in the court.

The reason is that his car was used by the army in an ‘encounter’, which after investigation was proven to be fake. It also proved that Indian troops use vehicles of common people in Kashmir.

People of South Kashmir say that Aijaz Ahmed is not alone victim, the army often takes vehicles of civilians, with many locals alleging that their cars were “forcibly taken away”.

BBC visited a total 15 villages of Shopian, Pulwama and Kulgam and people in these villages said that army camps snatch private vehicles of common people, as when army asks for vehicles, no one can dare to refuse out of fear of reprisals.

In 2020, the killing of three labourers labeled by Indian army as ‘dangerous terrorists’ in Amshipura village of Shopian in fake encounter, has been the most talked about fake encounter of recent times.

On July 18, 2020, the Indian army reported that 62 Rashtriya Rifles had “killed three terrorists in an encounter”. A month after this incident, three families living in Rajouri, filed a missing report. The family members said the last time these three spoke to their families on the phone was on July 17, 2020, a day before the [fake] encounter in Amshipura took place.

After this the matter was investigated and it was found that the labourers were killed in a fake encounter.

The BBC read the chargesheet in this case and thus came to know that the car of Ajaz Ahmed was used by the army in the encounter. The documents of Aijaz Ahmed’s car are still in the court despite the fact that the fake encounter took place two years ago.

“The Tata Sumo is an important means of travel for the people in Kashmir. These are called service sumo and such sumo stands will be found in every town. We have come to know in the investigation that the vehicles from these sumo stands are sent to the army camp in that area. In common parlance, this is called ‘giving the car on duty’.”

These vehicles are also used as a surprise factor in [fake] encounters, such vehicles are also used for patrolling at night.

In the statement recorded before the judge in the court, Aijaz Ahmed has said, “It was eight o’clock in the night of July 17, 2020, there was a sound of bang on the door, when I came out, the soldiers asked me to hand over the key of the car. I was told to take the car from the camp, the next day. When we went to pick up the car the next morning, it was told that your car has gone to the encounter. When I went the next morning, they gave me the key and said that the car was lying at the encounter site in Amshipura.”

A close aide of Aijaz Ahmed, on the condition of anonymity, told the BBC, “The police came in September 2020, three and a half months after the incident. The SP of Shopian came at 11.30 pm and called. We were sleeping at that time. They came when the matter of fake encounter had come to the fore. They said give us your used vehicle. We had to give the vehicle to the police. This car was locked in Hirpura police station for four months. It was completely damaged. Even after this, Aijaz Ahmed was told that the papers of the car would be available later.”

When BBC tried to contact the SHO of Hirpura police station, he refused to talk about the matter.

Even today, Ahmed visits the court. That car is no longer functional. Now this car is kept at a scrap shop. Aijaz Ahmed says, “Till the case goes, I will not get the RC. My car is stuck.”

For the last two years, Ejaz has to go to court on every date because his car was used in a fake encounter. Ejaz also gave 12 thousand rupees to the lawyer as fee to get the car freed. “No lawyer was ready to fight the case of Ejaz Ahmed.”

There is another incident, and it is also from Shopian.

Minhajullah, a 20-year-old young man, covers his mouth with his both hands, then says in a low voice – “I remember everything, I cannot forget it.” In June this year, Minhajullah was taken in the custody of Special Operations Group (SOG) for eight days, where he was tortured.

On June 2 this year, an IED blast took place in a private numbered vehicle in Shopian, in which an Indian army soldier was killed and two people were injured. The Shopian police had said in a statement that the vehicle was hired from a local person.

This Tata 207 loading vehicle belonged to Mohammad Altaf, a resident of the village, which was driven by his 20-year-old son Minhajullah.

“We reached Altaf’s house. After talking to us for a few minutes, he says that it will be around 4 pm on June 1 when his son Minhajullah got a call from the taxi stand that today he will have to give the car to the camp on duty. After this, Minhajullah visited the camp of Sadau village with his car.”

“On June 1, around 3.30 pm, an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) exploded in this vehicle. IED is a type of bomb which is different from army bomb and it is made very improvised. Extremist groups use such bombs. One jawan was killed and two injured in this blast.

“At five o’clock in the morning, the army came to Altaf’s house and picked up five men – Minhajullah, Raqib, Bilal, Sayyar and Milayat – and took them to the Sadau Army Camp. After this he was kept in the camp of Special Operation Group (SOG) located in Gagran.”

Since Minhaj was the driver of that vehicle, he was kept in the SOG camp for eight days. At the same time, his uncle and brother say that he was kept in SOG camp for custodial interrogation for a month and later he was released.

After the IED blast on June 2, Shopian Superintendent of Police Tanushree said in a press conference, “The private vehicle in which the IED blast took place was hired by the army.”

But Altaf, his son and the driver of the vehicle, Minhajullah, say that the vehicle was not hired, but on June 1, they were asked to deliver the vehicle to the Sadou camp. Since it is common to take the vehicle to the army camp in the villages of South Kashmir, according to Altaf and Minhaj, they did not ask any questions before giving the vehicle to the camp.

This vehicle is still impounded in Heerpura police station. Altaf says that neither he got the money for the car nor any help was given.

Altaf himself did not even register any complaint or FIR in this matter. He says, “They picked up five people from my own house, just left me and my old father, so you tell me, I would have gone to rescue my son, asked for a car, and even if I went, where would I go?”

In the two cases that we have mentioned here, the Indian troops themselves admitted said that they have used vehicles of common people for their operations.

Legal documents such as charge sheets and press releases of the army make it clear that the army uses private vehicles of the common people, although in these press conferences and documents they are described as ‘hired vehicles’.

However, the locals whose vehicles were taken say that their vehicles are not hired but they have to ‘pay duty’.

The BBC spoke to a senior police officer of South Kashmir on this matter. “Does the police know about the fact that the army takes people’s vehicles in almost the whole area?” To this he said, “Yes! This is happening here for a long time. Not only us, everyone is there. I know, but it is a little less than it used to be earlier. But yes, it is. It cannot be said that it is not happening, but it has definitely decreased after the recent IED blast incident. ”

We saw numbers written on the houses of South Kashmir, when we talked to local journalists and people about it, it came to know that this number is written by the army on the houses. Actually, this number is the identity of that house. And how many people live in which number house, how many women, men and children are there, how many and which vehicles are in the house, all these are accounted for near the army camp of that area. People here call it ‘Army’s Census’.

The BBC talked to a retired Major General of Indian army and wanted to understand that what the army can use for the common people’s vehicle?

On the condition of anonymity, he said, “The army can hire a vehicle of common people. It can be taken for any work. For this, policies were made 20 years ago in the army itself. But it is important that for this every day’s rent should be paid to the owner of the vehicle. The most important thing is that it should not be forced.”

A Defense Department source also said in a conversation with the BBC that the army uses the vehicles of the common people, but instead they are given petrol and diesel. It is an attempt that a person’s vehicle should be taken only once in a month. However, most of the people said that “this does not happen every time.”

“After crossing the unpaved road on the mountains, we reached Hirpura village in Shopian. The Tata Sumo car of Shaukat Ahmed Mir of this village was taken by the Chowgam Army Camp in April this year.”

Shaukat Ahmed Mir’s car met an accident on 14 April 2022, in which three Indian soldiers died on spot.

When we reach Shaukat’s house, he said in a panicked voice, “We have nothing to say. Our car had an accident, but our son was not arrested. We have to give the car to the army. We have to take the car from here.” But since this accident happened, we were not taken a car, but we take a buggy in low-lying villages. If the army needs it, we will have to give it.”

Of all the people the BBC correspondent has met in these 15 villages so far, Shaukat was the first person who said that he got some help in return for the loss. But at the same time, he also says this in clear words that this is not the first time that he has given a car to the army. Earlier, whenever a car was asked for, he himself had to bring his car to the camp.

At the end of the report, the BBC says that this story is not confined to just one district but it is the same story of Shopian, Pulwama and Kulgam districts of South Kashmir where army takes vehicles from people in the same way. Police and army officers are also aware of this, but it is true that no one wants to talk openly about it. KMS—6K

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