Ejaz Ahmed had to go to court again last week. In two years, Ejaz Ahmed has gone to court so many times for his car that he has forgotten to count.
Shopian district of South Kashmir is located about 50 km from Srinagar. Shopian is considered a hotbed of extremism and the district is home to Reshingri village where 39-year-old Ejaz Ahmed lives.
Ejaz is a farmer by profession. For the last two years, the documents of his ‘Maruti’ car have been confiscated by the government, i.e. the court.
The reason is that his vehicle was used by the army in an encounter, after investigation it was found that the encounter was fake. Will talk about this encounter later because you must be wondering why the security forces in Kashmir used a common man’s car in the encounter.
People in South Kashmir say that Ejaz Ahmed is not alone, the army often takes away the vehicles of civilians, many locals allege that their vehicles were ‘forcibly taken away’ by the security forces.
The BBC wrote a detailed email to the Army Public Relations Officer to find out the Indian Army’s stand on the matter.
Responding to the BBC’s email, the Indian Army has said that ‘For counter-terrorism activities, the Army sometimes uses civilian vehicles for movement. These vehicles are borrowed with the full will of the owners and they are paid in return.’
The BBC visited a total of 15 villages in Shopian, Pulwama and Kulgam and the people of these villages told us that the soldiers take the private vehicles of the common people, when the army asks for a vehicle, no one refuses because many people are afraid. are
Case of fake competition and use of civil vehicle
In the year 2020, three citizens of Jammu, described as ‘dangerous terrorists’, were encountered in Shopian’s Amshipora village.
On 18 July 2020, the Army reported that 62 Rashtriya Rifles ‘killed three terrorists in an encounter.’
After this incident, three families living in Rajouri, Jammu filed a missing report of their respective sons. The family members said that the last time the three men spoke to their families on phone was on July 17, 2020, a day before the encounter in Amshipura.
After that, the case was investigated and it was found that it was a fake encounter. Court martial proceedings were initiated against the military officers involved in this encounter in April this year.
BBC read the charge sheet in this case and thus we know that Ijaz Ahmed’s vehicle was used by the army in this encounter. Even two years after the fake competition, the documents of Aizaz Ahmed’s car are still in the court.
Giving a car on duty is common
Tata company vehicles are an important means of travel for the people of Kashmir. The public service of these vehicles is called ‘sumo’ and sumo stands are found in every city. We have found in the investigation that the vehicles from these sumo stands are sent to the army camp in the same area. In common parlance this is called ‘putting the car on duty’.
These vehicles are also used as a surprise factor in competitions, anti-terrorist operations, such vehicles are also used for night patrolling.
In the statement recorded before the judge in the court, Ijaz Ahmed has said that it was eight o’clock in the night of July 17, 2020, there was a knock on the door, when I came out, the soldiers said. Give the car key, when we gave the key, we were told to take the car from the camp tomorrow, next morning when we went to collect the car, we were told that your car has gone to the encounter. I went next morning, gave the key and said that the car was parked at the collision site ie at Amshipura, I took another car and towed it and took my car straight to the workshop, got the car repaired from there and home. brought.’
A close associate of Ejaz Ahmed told the BBC on condition of anonymity, ‘The police came to Ejaz’s house in September 2020, three and a half months after the incident. SP of Shopian came and called at 11.30 pm, we were sleeping at that time. When the issue of fake encounter came up, he said give us your used car. This car was locked in Herapura police station for four months, when the car was returned after four months, it was completely damaged.
When the BBC tried to speak to the current SHO of Herapura police station, he refused to talk about it.
Even today, Ejaz Ahmad goes to Durbar for attendance. His car no longer runs because the vehicle registration certificate i.e. RC is not with him but with the court and hence it cannot be sold.
Ijaz Ahmed says ‘Until the case goes on, I won’t get RC. My car is stuck.’
For the past two years, Ejaz has to go to court on every date because his car was used in a fake competition. Ejaz has also paid 10-12 thousand rupees to the lawyer, but now no lawyer is ready to fight the case of Ejaz Ahmed.
Car explosion incident
Another incident is also from Shopian district.
Minhajullah, a 20-year-old man, covers his face with both hands as he speaks, then says in a low voice, ‘Everything is recorded in my mind, it doesn’t go away.’
In June this year, Minhajullah was detained by the Special Operations Group (SOG) for eight days.
On June 2, an IED exploded in a private numbered vehicle in Shopian, killing one army personnel and injuring two others. The Shopian police said in a statement that the vehicle was hired from a local person.
The Tata 207 loading vehicle belonged to Muhammad Altaf, a resident of the village, and was driven by his 20-year-old son Minhajullah.
We reached Altaf’s house. Altaf is sleeping in the room and he got scared hearing our arrival. After talking to us for a few minutes, he said that it was around 4 pm on June 1 when his son got a call from the taxi stand saying that he had to give the vehicle to camp duty today. After that, Minhajullah took his car and reached Sadao village camp.
On June 1, an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) exploded in this vehicle at around 3.30 pm. Extremist groups use such bombs in Kashmir. One soldier was killed and two were injured in the blast.
At five o’clock in the morning, the army came to Altaf’s house and picked up five persons Minhajullah, Rakib, Bilal, Siyar and Malait and took them to the Sadao army camp. He was then kept at the Special Operations Group (SOG) camp in Gagran.
Since Minhaj was the driver of this vehicle, he was kept in the SOG camp for eight days.
After the June 2 IED blast, Shopian Superintendent of Police Tanushree said in a press conference, “The private vehicle in which the IED exploded was hired by the army.”
But Altaf and his son Minhajullah say that the car was not hired, but on June 1, they were asked to deliver the car to Sadu camp. As it is common practice in the villages of South Kashmir to take the vehicle to the army camp, according to Altaf and Minhaj, they did not ask any questions before giving the vehicle to the camp.
Altaf says that he neither received the money for the car nor was given any help.
Altaf himself did not file any complaint or FIR in this matter. He says, ‘They took five people from my house. Tell me, where should I go to save my son or ask for a car?’
Altaf says that after the incident in June, the Sadao camp has not taken civilian vehicles from the village for the past four months, but before that they had three Tata 207 loading vehicles that took turns driving to the army camp. She used to go.
In the two incidents that we have mentioned here, the security forces themselves have said that they have used the vehicles of the common people for their operations.
Legal documents such as chargesheets and army press releases reveal that the army uses private vehicles belonging to civilians even though these press conferences and documents describe them as ‘hired vehicles’.
But the locals whose vehicles have been taken say that their vehicles are not taken on rent but they have to pay ‘duty’.
The BBC spoke to a senior police officer from South Kashmir on the issue.
When we asked him, ‘Does the police know that the army takes away people’s vehicles in almost the entire area?’ So he said, ‘Yes! This has been happening here for a long time. I know, but it happens a little less now than before. But yes, it is. It cannot be said that it is not happening, but after the recent IED blast incident, it has definitely reduced.’
He further says that ‘earlier, civilian vehicles used to be a surprise in the operations of the militants, but this is no longer the case. Trying not to, yes, but it won’t stop completely.’
We saw numbers written on houses in South Kashmir, when we talked to local journalists and people about it, we found that these numbers were written by the army. Actually, this number is the identification of this house and how many people live in the house of which number, how many women, men and children are there, how many and which vehicles are in the house, all these are calculated by the military camp of this area. People here call it ‘Army Census’.
Under what circumstances can the military use vehicles?
BBC spoke to a retired major general and wanted to understand how the army can use the car of common people?
On the condition of anonymity, he said that ‘Army can rent the car of common people, can take it for any work, for this policies were made in the army itself 20 years ago. But it is necessary that every day’s rent should be paid to the owner of the vehicle. The most important thing is that the vehicle should not be taken by force.’
“Many times in Kashmir private vehicles of common people are used for security reasons, for example if the army is going to an operation site and there are extremists hiding there, the army Anyone can inform by watching the movement of the vehicle. But if it’s a vehicle with a normal number plate, it becomes easier for the army to corner successfully.’
Sources in the Department of Defense also told the BBC that the army uses civilian vehicles but the owners are given petrol and diesel instead. Attempts are made to pick up a person’s vehicle only once a month.
Although some people interviewed by the BBC believed that they get petrol and diesel from the military camp according to the distance traveled by the vehicle, most people said that this is not always the case.
After crossing the dirt road over the mountains we reached Herapura village in Shopian. The Tata Sumo car belonging to Shaukat Ahmad Mir of this village was taken from Chogam Army Camp in April this year.
On April 16, the Indian Army said in a press release that on April 14, the vehicle overturned while on its way to the collision site, killing two army constables and a subedar. This car belonged to Shaukat Ahmed Mir.
When we reached Shaukat’s house, he said in a panicked voice, ‘We have nothing to say. Our car met with an accident, if the army needs it, we have to give the car.’
Shaukat says that ‘about two and a half months after the accident, the army gave me two hundred and ninety thousand rupees. It cost me 310,000 rupees to repair the car. We have the area but before that whenever a car was asked for we had to give it.’
Of all the people we have met so far in these 15 villages, Shaukat was the first to tell us that he had received help in compensation for his loss. But at the same time he clearly says that this is not the first time that he has given a vehicle to the camp. Earlier, whenever a vehicle was requested, they had to bring their own vehicle to the camp.
This story is not only of one district but also of Shopian, Pulwama and Kulgam districts of south Kashmir where army camps are similarly taking away vehicles from people.
Even police, administration, army officers who spoke to us on condition of anonymity are aware of it, but it is true that no one wants to talk about it openly.