By Jehangir Ali

Srinagar: Unidentified Army soldiers allegedly forced villagers in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district to chant the ‘Jai Shri Ram’ slogan inside a mosque, prompting two former J&K chief ministers to demand a probe.

The incident, which took place when the Union home minister Amit Shah was visiting J&K to review the security situation, triggered massive outrage with civil society activists and political leaders terming it a violation of religious freedom and an assault on the sanctity of religious places of Muslims.

The Army’s Srinagar-based spokesperson and Kashmir Valley’s police chief Vijay Kumar could not be reached for comments. A senior police officer, however, said that an inquiry has been ordered to ascertain facts.

Locals of Zadoora told The Wire that the incident took place in the intervening night of Friday, June 23, and Saturday, June 24, at around 1:30 am when a group of soldiers from the Army’s 50 Rashtriya Rifles arrived in the village. The soldiers were said to have been accompanied by an unidentified officer.

“While the officer was sitting on the bonnet of one of the vehicles, the soldiers asked me to come out. I thought that they were looking for some suspects in the village,” said Mohammad Altaf Bhat, who lives in Zadoora.

Bhat, who is the chairman of Zadoora Civil Society, said that the soldiers told him that a new team has been posted in the area and they were carrying out a mock drill in the village to teach the recruits how counterinsurgency operations were undertaken.

Mohammad Altaf Bhat’s son Javed Ahmad’s back, purportedly after soldiers allegedly beat him. Photo: By arrangement.

“I told them that the operation could have been carried out during the day also and it was wrong to disturb villagers in the middle of the night,” Bhat said, adding that the villagers were kept awake till the break of dawn.

Locals alleged that during the ‘operation’, Army soldiers detained at least 10 youngsters of the village, five of whom were beaten up, including Bhat’s son, Javed Ahmad, who works as a teacher.

“They used a belt and beat him repeatedly. His back suffered bruises,” Bhat said, showing a photograph of his son, purportedly taken after the assault.

At the crack of dawn, when a local (muezzin) went inside the mosque to issue the call for prayers (azaan), Bhat said, the Army soldiers followed him. “In the middle of the azaan, the soldiers forced him to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ slogans,” said Bhat.

“They (soldiers) forced the detained youngsters to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ slogans in chorus behind him also,” Bhat said…

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