Indian army orders probe into claims of custodial torture deaths of civilians in Kashmir

Defence minister assures ‘required steps’ to look into incident

Namita Singh
Thursday 28 December 2023 13:54

Poonch Attack: Four Soldiers Killed In Jammu And Kashmir’s In Rajouri

The Indian army has ordered an investigation into the deaths of three civilians allegedly in the custody of the military as defence minister Rajnath Singh visited the region to review security measures.

The action came after anger spread in remote parts of Kashmir as locals accused army personnel of torturing the three to death in a nearby military camp where they were detained.

The military held at least eight civilians last Friday for questioning after rebels fighting against Indian rule ambushed two army vehicles in the southern Poonch district, killing four soldiers and wounding three others. 

The districts of Poonch and Rajouri are close to the highly militarised line of control that divides the disputed Himalayan region between India and Pakistan.

The bodies of the civilians were later handed to the local police who in turn contacted the families. Residents said the bodies bore marks of severe torture as they demanded a fair investigation.

“Each of our army personnel is important to us,” said Mr Singh as he assured that the authorities were taking the “required steps” to look into the incident.

He was also expected to later meet the families of the three civilians.

“The matter is under investigation. Indian army stands committed to extending full support and cooperation in the conduct of investigations," the army said in a statement on Sunday. Police have also registered a murder case against unidentified people.

Meanwhile, the government has suspended internet in Kashmir amid intensifying protests as videos reportedly showing the torture of detained civilians spread online hours after their incarceration.

Indian army chief Manoj Pande visited Poonch on Monday to review the operational preparedness of the troops, said defence spokesperson Suneel Bartwal.

“I have no knowledge about the inquiry ordered into deaths of civilians in Poonch,” he said.

Mohammad Sidiq, councillor of Topa Pir village, said nine people, including his 26-year-old shepherd nephew, were picked up by Indian troops on Friday for questioning.

“One of them was let off and eight others were tortured, and three, including my nephew Shoukat Ahmad, were killed,” he told Reuters.

“Where is the law and where is the justice? Is this the reward we get for supporting Indian troops here on the borders? I even get death threats for raising my voice against these three deaths,” Mr Sidiq said.

Mohammed Younis, a resident, said soldiers also detained his two brothers and a cousin. An elderly man was let go, he said, but the others were ruthlessly beaten and electrocuted.

“My two brothers and a cousin are badly hurt due to torture. They are being treated in an army hospital,” Mr Younis said after seeing one of his brothers.

Pakistan “strongly condemns” the deaths of the civilians, its foreign ministry said in a statement, calling for the people responsible to be held to account.

Nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan each administer part of Kashmir, but both claim the territory in its entirety.

Militants in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir have been fighting New Delhi’s rule since 1989.

India insists the Kashmir’s militancy is Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, a charge Islamabad denies. Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the conflict.

But since 2019, the territory has simmered in anger when New Delhi ended the region’s semi-autonomy and drastically curbed dissent, civil liberties and media freedoms while intensifying counter-insurgency operations.

While Kashmir Valley, the heart of the anti-India rebellion, has witnessed many militants killed in counter-rebel operations, remote Rajouri and Poonch have seen deadly attacks against Indian troops in the last two years. At least three dozen soldiers have been killed in such attacks.

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