‘I had called him to buy fruit, later learnt he was dead’: Daughter of businessman killed in Srinagar

Mohammad Altaf Bhat owned a building which, police said, was used as a militant hideout. He was killed along with another civilian besides two militants on Monday. Their kin dispute police version

A local resident shows the bullet casing near the gun battle site (Credit: Mir Zeeshan)
A local resident shows the bullet casing near the gun battle site (Credit: Mir Zeeshan)

Gulzar Bhat

“When I asked them (security forces personnel), uncle why you killed my father, they did not have much to say," says Nifa (11), daughter of Mohammad Altaf Bhat, with the words sticking in her throat.

"....And you kill someone without any reason. Is that fair?" she asks innocently, bawling her eyes out.

Bhat, a businessman, who lived in Srinagar's Barzullah neighbourhood owned a building which, according to the police, was used as a hideout by some militants.

Besides Bhat, two militants and a dental surgeon-cum-contractor Muddasir Gull were also killed during the encounter, which began on Monday afternoon in Srinagar's Hyderpora area.

According to the police, Bhat was killed in the cross-firing and it was not clear whether he was hit by the bullets fired by the militants or the security forces.

The police claimed that Bhat had rented out the first floor of the building to Gull, who used the space for carrying out militant activities, an allegation that was outrightly refuted by his family.

Inspector-General of Police (Kashmir Zone) Vijay Kumar told reporters in Srinagar that Gull had provided shelter to slain militants and was working as an ‘Over Ground Worker’.

One of the slain militants was identified as Haider, a foreign national, while the identity of the other militant is yet to be ascertained.

The damaged building where the alleged encounter took place on Monday afternoon
The damaged building where the alleged encounter took place on Monday afternoon

"My uncle received a call at around 10 pm and he started crying. I could not figure out anything. I just prayed and prayed hard for the safety of my father," said Nifa, trying hard to hold her tears back.

"... Then the street began filling with cries and shrills, which left me scared," she said.

Nifa had called her father in the day, a few hours before the ‘encounter’ started, and asked him to buy some fruit when he returned home in the evening.

Bhat, a father of three minor children, had been dealing in construction material over the last two decades.

A family member alleged that Bhat was killed after security forces turned him into a ‘human shield’.

He said that after the forces ring-fenced the spot of the shootout, they asked the shopkeepers in the area including Bhat to bring down their shutters and were shoved inside a showroom.

"Soon gunshots were heard. Bhat was taken to the spot at least thrice and finally, he was killed," he alleged.

Abdul Majeed, Bhat's brother, said that he learnt at around 7 pm that his brother was injured in the firing and he rushed to the spot.

"I saw that the forces were filming the spot using drones and when I inquired about my brother, they asked me to go to Police Control Room (PCR)," Majeed said. He added that they had sent his lifeless body to the PCR.

Majeed appealed to the J&K Lieutenant Governor to hold a non-partisan probe into the incident.

"If you prove my brother's affiliation with any militant group, I'm ready to be hanged in the market square,” said Majeed.

The family of Gull too claimed that their son was innocent and had nothing to do with militancy. They said that Gull was a dental surgeon and was also engaged in some construction business.

"The building where the encounter broke housed his office," said the family.

They staged a protest in Srinagar's Press Colony and demanded that the authorities return the dead body of their son.

The police said that the bodies of both Dar and Gull had not been handed over to their families as there were apprehensions of a ‘law and order situation’. "They were interred in Handawara," it said.

Meanwhile, Jammu and Kashmir police constituted a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the sequence of events that led to the encounter. The SIT will be headed by a DIG.

The killings were condemned by leaders of various political parties who demanded a judicial enquiry into the incident.

People's Democratic Party president and former J&K CM Mehbooba Mufti tweeted: ‘Using innocent civilians as human shields, getting them killed in cross-firing & then conveniently labelling them as OGWs is part of GOIs rulebook now. Imperative that a credible judicial enquiry is done to bring out the truth & put an end to this rampant culture of impunity’

National Conference vice president Omar Abdullah also demanded a probe into the killings.

In a tweet, Omar said that an impartial and credible inquiry into the encounter at Hyderpora was an absolute necessity. ‘There are far too many questions being raised about the encounter & about the people killed,’ he tweeted.

Demanding a judicial enquiry, CPI( M) leader and former legislator Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami said that it was very unfortunate that two more citizens had lost their lives.

"We strongly demand a judicial enquiry into the incident so that their families get at the truth," Tarigami said.

He said that people were going through a very painful phase and that peace could not be restored by violating the law.

Click here to join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines

Published: 16 Nov 2021, 8:00 PM