16 Mentally challenged persons, including 2 women killed by forces outside camps in 15 years

Government forces operating in Kashmir Tuesday said that they would perhaps have to modify their standard operating procedure (SOP) to minimise killings of mentally-challenged persons who wander around security camps during late hours.
The tacit admission by the forces that there is no specific mechanism to deal with mentally-challenged persons near the camps comes barely two days after Rayees Ahmad Wani, a mentally challenged person was shot dead outside an army camp in Shopian.
Rayees was not the first person to be killed in such a manner. In February this year, a mentally-challenged, aged person was killed outside Air Force Station in Srinagar.
According to rights activists, at least 16 persons, all mentally challenged, fell to the bullets of the forces near forces’ camps between 2002 and 2018.
In 2002, according to rights activist Muhammad Ahsan Untoo, a godly person Salam Din Khan, a resident of Diver, Lolab, in Kupwara district was killed by the army when he was dusting off his shoes during a search operation.
“The army then claimed they killed a militant. It was later proven that the slain was mentally unsound. According to the data I have collected since 2002, Salam was the first person who fell to the bullets of forces. There could have been more before him,” Untoo said.
The year 2011 witnessed two such killings. On 5 January 2011, an unidentified mentally-challenged person was killed in Lolab, Kupwara, and on 7 August 2011, forces claimed to have killed a Lashkar-e-Toiba militant commander Abu Usman in Surankote, but later it was established they deceased was a mentally-challenged Hindu youth.
In April 2009, army shot dead a speech and hearing impaired person, Abdul Rashid Reshi, at Gupkar, the day Omar Abdullah took oath as the chief minister of the state.
A year earlier, in April 2008, a mentally-challenged person, Shakeel Ahmed Malik of Boniyar, Uri, in Baramulla district, was killed outside an army camp. The army had termed Malik’s killing as unfortunate.
In October 2007, Akeel Ahmed Mir, a mentally- challenged boy was shot dead near a forces’ camp at Watlab, Sopore, in Baramulla district. In May 13, 2006, army killed mentally-challenged Muhammad Abdullah Sheikh in Baramulla district.
In July 2006, another mentally-challenged person, Muhammad Abdullah Wani of Braripora, Handwara, was shot dead. The forces said they mistook him for a militant.
In June 24, the army expressed regret after shooting dead a mentally-challenged person at Ganwan, Kangan, in Ganderbal district.
The year 2004 saw four such killings— Ghulam Muhammad Bhat of Chatru, Kishtwar, Shameema Begum of Banihal, Nazir Ahmed Chaku of Anantnag, Ghulam Hassan Chopan of Zainapora, Shopian and Shamshad Ahmed Ganai of Tral, Pulwama.
In 2003, two such incidents had taken place—an unidentified woman was killed in Nogwam Banihal while as a mentally challenged boy was shot dead by forces in Abi Guzar area of Lal Chowk, Srinagar.
A police officer said that it is very difficult to identify a mentally unwell person during the night.
“No specific SoP is in place for dealing with such people when they approach towards forces camp. Normally, forces follow the existing SoP in place for facing the potential threats,” the officer said, wishing not to be named.
“From now onwards, extra measures would be taken to avoid such killings,” he said.
Inspector general of police CRPF Ravideep Singh Sahi said for an alert sentry guarding a camp, it is very difficult to ascertain whether the person approaching towards the camp is mentally ill.
“I am sure, if a sentry is sure that the person coming closer to the camp is mentally unwell, he won’t fire. This is possible only during day hours. During night, it becomes very difficult to identify the person approaching towards the camp. Most of such incidents happen during night hours,” he said.
He said such incidents are avoidable and for that extra alertness and patience is needed.
The army too asserts that it follows proper rules and the existing SoP to deal with suspicious persons who inch closer to their camps. “In the recent incident at Shopian, the SoP was followed. After repeated loud verbal cautions, the person didn’t stop and the alert sentry asked him for hands-up at least thrice as part of the SoP but the person didn’t respond,” an army official told Kashmir Post.
“The alert soldier guarding the camp also fired several warning shots in air and when the person continued to get closer to the camp the solider was left with no choice other than to fire at the suspicious person.”
Shakeel Qalander, a civil society activist, said the SoP of forces for dealing with the mentally challenged persons is faulty and full of loopholes.
“The forces should only open fire when there is fire from the opposite direction. Killing mentally unsound persons on mere suspicion exposes the policy of forces that for them every Kashmiri was a suspicious person and they can kill at their will,” he said.