On September 7, when the entire state administration was busy providing security to the much hyped concert conducted by Zubin Mehta in the 17th century Shalimar Mughal Garden in Srinagar, four people were killed when guards posted at the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) camp at Gagaran fired at them.
Initial reports said the camp had been attacked by guerrillas to register their presence in Kashmir on a day the media focussed all its attention on the high-profile concert, the likes of which had never before been held in the Valley.
Security force officers said a weapon and some grenades had also been recovered from one of the four slain persons.
But Shopian town burst into instantaneous protests, with residents claiming that four unarmed civilians had been shot in cold blood.
Top police officers who visited the town immediately after the incident said three of the slain people were civilians, but the fourth, "according to police information, was a militant whose exact identity is being established".
Even after 12 days, the identity of this person remains a mystery, with locals claiming he was a labourer from Bihar.
State Director General of Police (DGP) Ashok Prasad said the Bihar Police was being contacted to establish the man's identity.
Curfew was imposed in Shopian on September 7. While tempers ran high in the town, another unfortunate incident occurred on September 11. A local driver, Muhammad Rafiq, 28, was killed in another firing incident at Gagaran that was also blamed on the CRPF troopers posted at the camp.
CRPF officers denied their troopers had opened fire at the civilian on September 11. They also said none of the CRPF personnel had been deployed on the road outside the camp when the incident occurred.
The state government ordered a magisterial probe, shifted the CRPF camp, replaced it with the state armed police and announced compensation for the families of four of the victims.
While the findings of the magisterial probe are awaited, Kashmir's separatist leaders have trashed this as yet another exercise to shift the people's attention from the wrong doings of the security forces.
Separatist leaders have been calling for protest shutdowns, sit-ins and marches to attract international attention to what they call the "growing human rights violations by India in Kashmir".
The state government is doing whatever it can to ensure that the incident does not result in violence at other places that would endanger the fragile peace in Kashmir.
Ministers of the National Conference-Congress coalition have also visited the town, but the bereaved families have so far refused to meet them.
Opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti was not allowed to visit the town last week. Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, chairman of the moderate Hurriyat group, was arrested in Srinagar Wednesday after he decided to visit Shopian.
Those advocating the revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) that gives sweeping powers to the armed forces in Jammu and Kashmir have started upping their ante against the statute.
Given the fact that during the communal clashes in Kishtwar town of the Jammu region the state government had to seek the army's help to control the sectarian clashes in the Valley, sending the CRPF to the barracks and removing them from law and order duties would definitely be a tough call for Chief Minister Omar Abdullah to take.
Yet, nobody can deny the fact that the chief minister will have to do some tightrope walking to convince his people that those responsible for the Gagaran firing incidents would be brought to justice.
Incidently, Abdullah has himself been a big votary for revoking the AFSPA at least from cities and towns where the army does not operate against the guerrillas.
(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at email@example.com)
--IANS (Posted on 19-09-2013)