17 years on, justice eludes Sailan massacre victims

Family protests ‘inaction’ of CBI
17 years on, justice eludes Sailan massacre victims

Irfan Rashid


Justice eludes two brothers Muhammad Shabir Sheikh and Mohammad Lateef Sheikh for last 17 years as their 19 family members were massacred allegedly by the men in uniform belonging to Army’s 9-Paratroopers and four Special Police Officers (SPOs) in their uncle’s house at Sailan village in Poonch.
Sailan is a one and a half kilometer uphill trek from Mughal Road in the highly militarized ‘border district’ of Poonch, which is divided by the Line of Control between India and Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK).
Shabir (27) with a picture of lost family members engraved on his mind narrated what happened on the fateful night with tears dribbling his sunken cheeks. He was only 16 then.
On that night (August 03, 1998) their father, mother, four sisters, two uncles, an aunt, nine cousins and a sister-in-law were killed in their uncle’s house, some chopped with an axe and some pierced down with bullets. The dead included 13 females and six males of three closely related families and eleven children in age group of 4 to 15 years.
Among the dead was their pregnant sister, Zareena (24), married a year back. Her unborn child would round up the figure of the massacred to 20, if counted. The axe was found embedded in the ribcage of another sister, 12-year old Javeda, so deep that villagers couldn’t free it. “The doctors removed it later during post-mortem,” Lateef told Rising Kashmir.
In official records, the killings were attributed to “collateral damage in an encounter with or an attack by foreign militants,” despite evidence to the contrary.
Last year, a report was prepared by J&K Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), titled “The Anatomy of a Massacre, the Mass Killings at Sailan” providing an account of the history of the massacre and the continuing legal battle of the survivors.
The report is based on visits to the area, human rights documentation, first person accounts and interviews with survivors and residents of Sailan, official and court documents and RTI responses.
“On August 3, Mohammad Imtiyaz, a militant associated with Hizbul Mujahideen killed Zakir Hussain, an army informer working with 9 Paratroopers because he would molest village girls,” said Mohd Lateef.
Fearing for their lives, Imtiyaz’s family members consisting his father Lassa Sheikh, mother Zainab, two brothers and three sisters Shaheena, Jabeena and Tanveera abandoned their home and took shelter in Imtiyaz’s maternal and paternal uncles, Hassan Mohammad and Ahmad Din Sheikh, respectively.
Abdul Ahad, Hassan Mohammad’s son, who is one of the survivors of the massacre, said during the night at around 12:30 pm he heard someone knocking on the door; it was Mohammad Younis alias Tiger and Mohammad Rafiq alias Pathan, two associates of Zakir.
Ahad alleged they were accompanied by army. “They asked me whereabouts of the family members.”
“I was outside the house and when they came I ran to a nearby field and lay flat on the ground. They closed the windows and doors and whatever faint light was there went off. Then for seven to eight minutes I heard shrieks. They were crying “bachao,” and “koi hume bachao”, said Shabir.
In the morning he went to the house and saw his father’s left hand severed from the arm. “Bodies of uncle and aunt (Imtiyaz’s parents) were literally chopped off. The sight was horrible,” Shabir said.
Shabir said, Dr Farooq Abdullah (then chief minister) “called me to Dak Bungalow at Surankote. He told me ‘don’t tell anybody about it (the massacre). Your life is in danger.’ He also assured that killers would be punished. Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes also made a similar promise.”
The State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) had heard the testimonies of witnesses and the villagers. Then Chairman Justice Kuchay along with many officials of the commission trekked the hill and recorded the statements of people. The SHRC report had indicted the troops of 9 PARA and Special Police Officers working for them. The team had found empty cartridges of SLR guns, the weapon used by army at the massacre spot.
According to the report prepared by JKCCS, on August 4, 1998, an FIR (no. 122/98) regarding the massacre, under sections relating to waging war against the state, illegal acts by enemy agents, murder and house trespass was registered at police station at Surankote, blaming the killings on “unidentified foreign militants.”
“The FIR states that a gang of militants who had come from Pakistan, equipped with arms and ammunition had entered the country with the aim of disturbing the peace and committed murders with criminal intent,” said the report.
Though police had blamed militants for the killing, the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) had ruled out the involvement of militants in the massacre.
On Monday, the survivors of the Sailan massacre protested the “inaction of the CBI and the violence of army and police” here at Press Enclave.
High Court had ordered fresh investigations by the CBI in this case in November 2012.
“Despite the passage of 3 years, very little investigation has come forward,” rued the protesters.
Less than a year after the Sailan massacre, on 29 June 1999, 15 members of related family were killed in Mohra Bachai, Poonch district. The houses of the family were razed to ground, burnt with bodies of the dead inside.
“Today we protest, the inaction of the CBI, the violence of the army and police and against perpetrators of crime,” cried protesting family members.



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