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Yet another case of large-scale atrocity by security forces in Kashmir
By Zafarul-Islam Khan

New Delhi: Information is slowly trickling in about a horrible crime committed by soldiers in a far-off Kashmir village since August 20. The army torched at least 130 houses, making around 700 villagers homeless. It laid siege on a number of villages in Marmat area in the district of Doda. Allegedly village women were stripped naked and subjected to atrocities by security forces.

The army action started as a revenge operation against the murder of Colonel HK Sherawat of Rashtriya Rifles same day by militants using an improvised explosive device (IED). A soldier too was killed in the explosion. This was the second such incident within a week in which a senior army officer was killed in a militant attack. A lieutenant colonel and a soldier were killed in a militant ambush in Rajouri district on August 17. 

Soon after the incident, security forces cordoned off the entire area and launched massive combing operations to flush out militants. Some villagers were able to flee, others were still under siege according to latest information.

The national media has ignored the incident but the Kashmiri media published vital information. According to Jammu daily Kashmir Times (August 23), atleast 130 houses were set on fire in four villages of Marmat during the previous two days. While security forces alleged that houses have been set on fire by militants, residents said houses were burnt down by security forces as a 'vindictive step' after their senior officer was killed in an IED explosion.

Kashmir Times reported that residents of Marmat took out a protest demonstration and observed a strike in Doda on August 22 and raised slogans against the army and district administration. Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah alongwith some senior officers visited the area on August 22 and ordered an inquiry into the incident. 

Reports said that property worth millions of rupees was destroyed when at least 130 residential houses were burnt in the villages of Mangota, Behota, Kenthi, Kund and Dehota. Villagers who managed to reach Doda alleged that immediately after an army colonel was killed under mysterious circumstances near Mangota village, security men went berserk attacking villagers residing in nearby areas. They alleged that later security men extended the same method to other villages in the vicinity. 

Villagers alleged that when they noticed the intentions of security men they abandoned their houses and fled in different directions. Villagers told mediamen in Doda that scores of residents including women and children are missing from their houses. They also alleged that the entire area has been cordoned off and no movement is allowed.

According to Kashmir Times, no mediaman or NGO is allowed to proceed to Marmat and despite assurances of ending army siege, thousands of villagers were not able to move out of their villages. Some villagers, who somehow managed to reach Doda, sought the intervention of district administration. Following their protest Doda district senior officers visited the area. 

Official sources said that senior officers have taken stock of the situation and a package is being prepared for the residents who lost their property. When contacted, a senior officer of district administration said that it will be investigated whether the houses were burnt by militants or security forces. Some villagers told Kashmir Times reporter that the houses were set on fire by security men.

No loss of life has been reported so far. The number of the gutted houses is said to be 150 affecting 700 people. The official figure for the destroyed houses is 96.

Srinagar daily Greater Kashmir reported on August 24 that the division bench of the Jammu & Kashmir State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) has taken a serious view of the incident.

Taking suo moto cognizance of the report circulated by a local news agency, the bench comprising the SHRC chairperson, Justice AQ Parray, and member Qazi Muzaffar-ud-din, observed that the contents of the news item "make out prima facie a human rights violation case of grave nature". 

Listing the case for next hearing on September 30, the SHRC bench issued notices to the divisional commissioner and the inspector general of police, Jammu, and the deputy commissioner and senior superintendent of police, Doda, for "their immediate factual report in the matter". 

Jammu and Kashmir Awami Action Committee (AAC), headed by Mirwaiz Maulvi Umar Farooq, has strongly condemned the torching of 150 residential houses and molestation of dozens of women in the two villages of Doda allegedly by the security forces. 

Describing the revenge action as shameful and barbaric, the AAC said in a statement a reign of terror marked by killings, loot and arson and indiscriminate arrests, had been let loose in whole of Jammu and Kashmir as the so-called elections approached. He expressed grave concern over increase in human rights violations to break the people’s resolve. 

The All Party Hurriet Conference on August 24 lambasted chief minister Dr Farooq Abdullah and National Conference government for maintaining meaningful silence over the stripping of women and torching of around 200 houses at Marmat in Doda district.

Strongly condemning the incident, a spokesman of the separatist conglomerate described it as most gruesome and inhuman. He said the worshipers of Lord Rama and Sita, have put Satan to shame by stripping women naked in the remote village.

Lambasting the state government and chief minister Dr Farooq Abdullah, the spokesman said the person who claims to bring normalcy and defends the action of security forces should see how they act with the people.

The spokesman wondered how chief minister and his associates would go to these people and 'beg' for votes? They are the people who talk of peace and tranquillity. "If they have a little conscience left, they should take note of the plight of the people in Marmat", he said.

Hurriyat spokesman said the people of the area have fled from their homes as army, Special Operations Group and (the Hindu-dominated) Village Defence Committees have unleashed a reign of terror in the area. He said a delegation of people visited the Hurriyat headquarters in Srinagar on Agusut 24 and narrated the gruesome tale. The spokesman said the people have left their homes and are camping in nearby jungles to save themselves from the wrath of security forces. 

The 23-party separatist alliance spokesman said the incident is a slap in the faces of the people who try to fool the masses on the slogans of free and fair polls. He said the incident should be an eye opener to the apostles of democracy. 

Hurriyat spokesman said the authorities are trying to mislead the international community over democratic process. "On one side the security forces are making the life of people hell and on the other, the champions of democracy are fooling the international community by raising the slogans of electoral process", he added.

Senior separatist leader Shabbir Ahmad Shah's Democratic Freedom Party (DFP) has decided to lodge a strong protest against the Marmat atrocities with Jethmalani's Kashmir Committee. In a statement on August 24 Shah expressed surprise over New Delhi inviting separatists for talks on one side and crushing people with suppressive policies on the other side. He said pro-freedom people cannot be crushed by suppression. 
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