About 71 kilometres from Srinagar, a lane diverging from the Jammu and Kashmir highway near Qazigund, a town in south Kashmir, leads to a nondescript village named Churat. Despite having travelled via this highway—which connects the state to the rest of India—several times, until a few days ago, we did not know that this village existed. Qazigund made headlines on 18 July, when news broke of three killings—of two women and a man—due to firing by members of the 9 Rashtriya Rifles contingent of the Indian army. Hours after the killing, the army released a statement that said, “The Army deeply regrets, the unfortunate loss of life in the incident at Churat, Qazigund where the troops were forced to open fire on Monday when a large mob turned violent, resorting to heavy stone pelting and attempted to snatch weapons from the soldiers.” The army spokesman added that a probe into the incident had been initiated. Two days later, the state government, too, ordered a probe.
The deaths occurred on the tenth day of a curfew in the valley. Public demonstrations, which had begun after the death of the Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, on 8 July, were ongoing in many parts of Kashmir. Since Wani’s death, the government had clamped down upon the citizens of Kashmir: phone and internet services had been snapped, and newspapers had been banned. Close to 50 civilians have been killed, and more than 3,000, injured.
Most reports of the Qazigund incident in the national media carried the account the army had provided. On 21 July, we travelled to Churat to find out what had happened. We spoke to nearly 30 people, and about a dozen eyewitnesses. Though the uprising has rooted itself into every corner of the valley, including far-flung villages and towns, the villagers told us that there were no protests in Churat before 18 July. We also found that the villagers’ accounts of the shooting were markedly different from that of the army.
We reached Qazigund in the afternoon, at about 4 pm. The link road—a narrow serpentine lane on which the Churat and Khargund villages lie, and which connects them to the national highway—was deserted. No security forces seemed to be present in the area. Inside Churat, the scene was entirely different. We saw several people walking on the street, on their way to visit the grieving families. Young boys stood on one side of the link road, preparing Rooh Afza for men assembled under a tent on the other side, who had come to offer condolences. Not far from the tent, about two dozen women—the families and neighbours of the deceased—sat under a walnut tree, on a tarpaulin sheet. The group had gathered for chahrum, the fourth day of mourning.
At the centre of the group of women was 22-year-old Noor Jehan. Jehan’s mother, 55-year-old Saida Banu, was one of the three people who had been killed on 18 July. Jehan’s right hand was bandaged; she had been injured in the firing as well. We asked Jehan and the village residents if they could describe the shooting. She spoke softly as she recalled what had happened that day. The people surrounding her, many of whom were eyewitnesses to the firing, joined in.