13/04/2016 1:13 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST

Handwara Firing: Three Civilians Dead, Parrikar Assures Mufti 'Guilty Will Be Punished'

STR via Getty Images
Kashmiri villagers surround the bodies of two civillians reported to have been killed in clashes with security personnel in Handwara, some 70kms north-west of Srinagar on April 12, 2016.Soldiers shot dead two civilians April 12 in Indian-administered Kashmir when they fired at a protesting crowd angry over alleged molestation of a local girl by their colleague, police said. The incident occurred In Handwara town, 70 kilometers north-west of the main city of Srinagar, near the heavily militarized Line of Control that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan.The protesters attacked an army bunker and in retaliation soldiers fired in which the two died,' inspector general of police for the region, Javid Gillani told AFP. / AFP / STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

She took a bullet to her head but continued fighting for her life for almost 24 hours until her body finally gave up. Fifty-four year old Raja Begum is one of the three civilians who became casualties after the Indian Army allegedly opened fire in Kashmir's Handwara on Tuesday. The Army reportedly shot directly at civilians who were protesting the alleged molestation of a Kashmiri girl by an Army man.

Begum wasn't even part of the protests — she was reportedly tending to her vegetable garden nearby when she was hit by a bullet. Even though she was unconscious, she was still breathing after she was brought into the hospital, doctors said they were unable to operate on her. She was shifted to a hospital in Srinagar for advanced treatment, but she succumbed to her injury late last night.

Kashmiri villagers surround the bodies of two civillians reported to have been killed in clashes with security personnel in Handwara.

The other two who died were young boys. Twenty-one year old Iqbal Farooq Pir was shot in his face, dying on the spot. He was the son of a mason, and worked as a runner for a local photostat shop. Another bullet caught Nayeem Qadir Bhat, 22, on his abdomen. Bhat was filming the protest on his mobile phone. He died on his way to the hospital.

The talented cricketer had dreamed that he would play for the Indian team one day. He had represented his state's under-19 team and, until recently, played for his local club, according to reports.

Protesting against an alleged molestation

The protest had broken out after allegations that a Kashmiri schoolgirl had been molested by an Army man in a public convenience in Handwara. An angry mob had allegedly begun throwing stones at an Army picket when the soldiers reportedly opened fire on the civilians. Several people were injured, and are being treated in the local hospitals.

Civilians were struck by tear gas shells, and at least 19 were brought to the district hospital. One young man, Rayees Ahmad, who suffered bullet injuries in his legs underwent an operation and is stable, according to reports.

A Kashmiri Muslim protester throws back an exploded tear gas shell at Indian policemen during a protest in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Tuesday, 12 April, 2016.

A criminal case has been lodged in the district police station, and an investigation is underway. The Indian Army, in an official statement, expressed regret over the loss of life in the and initiated an inquiry into the incident.

"Army deeply regrets the unfortunate loss of life.The matter will be investigated and anybody found guilty, will be dealt as per the law," said an army official.

Conflicting accounts

While eyewitness accounts reported in media say that a soldier from the 21 Rashtriya Rifles (RR) molested a class 12 student of a government school for girls in a bathroom close to an Army bunker, a video released late last night indicate the girl was harassed by a local.

In the video, released by the Army, the girl has apparently denied that her molester was a soldier. She has claimed that her molesters later took part in the protests against the Army. It is as yet unclear who recorded the video.

Kashmir simmering

Huge protests have broken out in the area following the civilian deaths. Protesters allegedly set fire to an Army bunker late last night. Additional forces have been deployed in the area to diffuse the situation. Police have reportedly blocked the entry and exit points of Handwara.

An Indian policeman looks from distance as they clash with Kashmiri Muslim protesters during a protest in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Tuesday, 12 April, 2016.

Meanwhile Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti today raised the issue of Handwara firing with Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, who assured her that a probe will be initiated and the culprits will be punished.

Mehbooba, who is on her maiden visit to the national capital after assuming the post of chief minister, met Parrikar and Union Urban Development Minister Venakiah Naidu.

Describing the incident as "very unfortunate", the J&K CM said "I spoke to Defence Minister. He assured me that a probe will be initiated and the culprits will be punished."

"At the same time the family will be compensated. Such incidents should not happen in the future," she said after meeting Parrikar.

Mehbooba had yesterday said the security personnel involved in the killing of two youths will be handed exemplary punishment, saying such incidents "cannot" be tolerated.

She had said such tragic incidents have a huge negative impact on the efforts of the government and the political leadership aimed at consolidating the peace efforts.

The security forces must exercise maximum restraint and adhere to the Standing Operating Procedure (SOP) while dealing with the public protests as incidents of innocent killings cannot be tolerated, she had said, while expressing solidarity with the families of the two youth.

Mehbooba also raised the issue of handing over of civilian land from army to the state government.

Later, she met the Urban Development Minister to discuss various development projects being undertaken by the state and central government.

Mufti had met Finance Minister Arun Jaitley yesterday.

(with PTI inputs)

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