Kashmir: Rajnath Singh assures justice to families of dead civilians

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh with the families of the three men
Image caption,Federal Defence Minister Rajnath Singh (first from right) met the families of three men allegedly killed in custodial violence in Kashmir

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has promised justice to the families of three civilians allegedly killed in army custody in Indian-administered Kashmir.

The men were detained for questioning last week after four soldiers were killed in a militant attack.

The deaths had sparked tensions in the region.

“Nobody can bring those who have died back to life. But there will be justice,” Mr Singh told the families.

Locals in Kashmir – a scenic region that is one of the world’s most militarised zones – have long accused security forces of excesses, including beatings and torture.

India and Pakistan both claim Kashmir in full, but control only parts of it. The Indian army has been fighting a separatist insurgency in the region for over three decades, which has claimed thousands of lives. India blames Pakistan for fomenting violence in the region, a charge its neighbour denies.

  • Kashmiris allege torture in army crackdown

Last week, police opened an inquiry into the deaths of the three men. The army hasn’t commented on the allegations of torture but has said it is cooperating with the investigation.

Reports say it has also ordered its own investigation to look into the circumstances which led to the deaths.

Mr Singh was on a one-day visit to Kashmir to review security measures when he met the families of the men.

“We all – I, the Lieutenant Governor and the Prime Minister – are pained [by the incident],” he told families, according to the Press Trust of India. “Whatever has happened… there will be justice.”

Mr Singh also visited four other civilians who were hospitalised after allegedly being severely injured during detention by the army. Their families also allege they were tortured in custody.

Earlier in the day, the defence minister spoke to troops in the region and asked them to “remain extra vigilant, so that no untoward incident occurs in future”.

“Indian Army is not an ordinary army. The soldiers are our protectors. It is their duty to not only safeguard national interests, but also to win the hearts of the people,” he said, according to a ministry statement.

Mr Singh said he was also praying for the recovery of the soldiers who were injured in the militant attack last week.

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

Leaders and workers of Jammu and Kashmir's Apni Party during a protest on December 23, 2023 in Srinagar
Image caption,Protests erupted in Kashmir after three civilians were allegedly killed in army custody

The civilian deaths sparked anger in the valley as locals and political parties demand a fair investigation.

According to reports, at least eight people were picked up for questioning by the army last week.

This occurred a day after suspected militants attacked two army vehicles in Poonch, killing four soldiers and injuring three others.

Three of the detained civilians were later found dead – their bodies were handed to the police who contacted their families, according to AP. Five others were taken to a hospital where they are being treated for injuries.

A relative of one of the deceased civilians told The Hindu newspaper that they were asked to collect the bodies from an army camp on Friday evening.

Families have alleged the men’s bodies showed signs of severe torture. Anger spread after a video, which purportedly showed some Indian army personnel torturing the three men, went viral on social media. The BBC could not independently verify the clip.

On Sunday, police registered a murder http://sayurkole.com case against unidentified people.

In a statement the same day, the Indian Army said: “The matter is under investigation. Indian army stands committed to extending full support and cooperation in the conduct of investigations,” it said.

Indian authorities suspended mobile internet services in Pooch and its neighbouring district on Sunday as protests intensified in some parts.

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