The counter-insurgency wing of the Indian Army has been sucked into allegations that soldiers led by a major stormed two mosques in Pulwama district in south Kashmir in the wee hours of Saturday and forced worshippers to chant “Jai Shri Ram”.
Altaf Ahmad Bhat, the chairman of a civil society group in Zaddora village and who described himself as an eyewitness, told The Telegraph that senior army officers on Sunday apologised to the villagers and informed them that the major allegedly involved in the incident had been removed.
The stated apology came after senior politicians in the Valley, who proceed with caution and restraint on matters associated with the army, blasted the military over the allegation and sought a probe into the alleged incident involving soldiers of the Rashtriya Rifles.
The Rashtriya Rifles is the counter-insurgency force of the army in Kashmir. Raised by the Indian Army, the Rashtriya Rifles personnel are provided by the army on deputation.
An army officer in Srinagar told this newspaper on Sunday that the defence force was ascertaining the facts. “I will share the details as and when they (his seniors) share them with me. I have seen some media reports that there has been some action. But I cannot confirm,” the officer said.
A few days ago at the White House, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had categorically denied discrimination on the basis of religion in India. On Saturday, Union home minister Amit Shah was in Kashmir on a visit to review the security situation in the run-upto the Amarnath Yatrabeginning next month.
Former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti was the first to flag the issue and she publicly named the troops of 50 Rashtriya Rifles.
“Shocked to hear about army troops from 50 RR storming into a mosque at Pulwama & forcing Muslims inside to chant ‘Jai Shree Ram’. Such a move when @AmitShah is here & that too ahead of the yatra is simply an act of provocation. Request @RgGhai to immediately set up a probe,” Mehbooba tweeted on Saturday evening.
Lt General Rajiv Ghai heads the Srinagar-based Chinar Corps, which is responsible for operations in Kashmir. He took over as the Valley’s army chief a week ago.
“Reports of security force personnel entering a mosque in Zadoora in Pulwama are deeply distressing. It’s bad enough they entered but then forcing people to chant slogans like “Jai Shree Ram”, as reported by the locals there, is unacceptable. I hope @rajnathsingh ji will issue instructions for these reports to be investigated in a timely & transparent manner,” Omar Abdullah, another former chief minister, tweeted, mentioning the defence minister.
Bhat, the civil society group chief in Zaddora, said the soldiers visited the site around 2am on Saturday and asked him to summon some residents, including his younger brother Javed Ahmad, a government teacher.
“It was pitch dark. They sealed all the roads, knocked on my door and asked me to get these men as the officer wanted to meet them. I went to their homes and took them, including my brother, along, although their families were reluctant,” Bhat said.
Bhat added: “Sometime later, I heard their cries. I felt that they were being beaten. I protested and raised some slogans but they (the soldiers) warned me to keep quiet. What I learnt later was that they (thesoldiers) were telling themto open the doors of the mosque and chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ slogans. They (the residents) apparently refused to open the mosque (for this) but were thrashed. I saw them (the soldiers) trampling on the head of my brother. He seemed to be telling themthat he would chant the slogans outside the mosque but not inside.”
An hour and a half later, Bhat said, Arif Wagay, who calls azaan, entered the mosque for pre-dawn prayers. He switched on the loudspeaker and started reciting the azaan.
“Midway, he was stopped by them (the soldiers). They yelled at him to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ slogans. I heard him chanting the slogans on the loudspeaker. He was in fact asked to recite it in rhythm — as we say the azaan,” he said.
Bhat claimed that other soldiers had, meanwhile, entered Jamia Masjid, a few hundred metres away, and asked the worshippers there to do the same thing.
“Sheeraz Ahmad, who is a muezzin there, tried to flee but he was dragged inside and forced to chant the slogan along with other worshippers. When I told them that it would cause disturbances in the area, he (the major) retorted that no “mai ka lal (mother’s son)” would dare do soin his presence. He warnedus against sacrificing animals in the village on the coming Id ul Azha without his permission.”
Bhat said there were protests in the village after the army left.
“Some people from the intelligence wing approached me during the day yesterday (Saturday) and said some top army officer wants to talk to me over the phone, I narrated the whole incident. He apologised and promised action. He pleaded that there should be no protests. He said he would send the CO (commanding officer) of the unit to the village,” Bhat said.
“CO sahab came early today (Sunday), along with other officers, and apologised. We were told that the army major had been removed and that he would be court-martialled. We are satisfied with the army’s action but we don’t want a repeat of such incidents,” Bhat added.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to the Al-Hakim mosque in Cairo on Sunday. The 11th Century mosque has been restored with the help of the Dawoodi Bohra community in India. “Honoured to visit the historic Al-Hakim Mosque in Cairo. It’s a profound testament to Egypt’s rich heritage and culture,” Modi tweeted in Arabic and English. PTI picture