The mysterious disappearance of a 20-year old Lolab boy from the Army custody has brought back focus on the extra-judicial tactic of subjecting ‘non-conformist subjects’ to enforced disappearance. Human rights activists claim the practice has returned to Kashmir with eight cases reported in a year, Ajaz Rashid reports.
On the International Day of Disappearances on August 30, the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) said the “practice of enforced disappearances seems to have resurfaced” to the Valley.
“Since last year, there has been a significant increase in the abduction of civilians who after forced disappearances are being killed extra judicially. At least eight such incidents have been reported across Jammu and Kashmir in more than a year now, while one among the victims still remains missing,” the APDP said in a statement.
A day after the APDP held protest in the summer capital of Srinagar, a youth went missing allegedly in the custody of army in far-flung Devsar village of Lolab Valley in border district of Kupwara. More than a month has gone by but the whereabouts of 20-year old Manzoor Ahmad are still not known, only adding to the suspicion among the family members and the villagers that Ahmad might have succumbed during alleged interrogation by the army.
His disappearance is a grim reminder of cases of custodial disappearances from frontier Kupwara and across Kashmir during the years gone by. When militancy was at its peak in the Valley, scores of men, mostly from Kupwara, disappeared, only to get reduced to statistics in the government records.
“In our area alone, at least six youths have been subjected to enforced disappearance since the onset of the militancy. We don’t know what happened to those men,” said Hussain, Ahmad’s cousin. “Why aren’t they releasing our son? We are dying to see him?” Ahmad’s mother Haneefa Begum told Kashmir Scan.
Though the police has registered two cases in the whole incident at Lalpora police station in Lolab – the first case under sections 307, 342 and 323 of RPC for attempt to murder, wrong confinement and voluntarily causing harm and the second under sections 342 and 346 for kidnapping and abducting in order to murder, against the army unit concerned and started the investigation, they are tight-lipped about its outcome so far. On its part the army has said that it too has started the investigation into the case.
Ahmad and his neighbour Nasrullah Khan had gone to graze their cattle at Tramukh top, a vast meadow atop a mountain when they were taken into the custody by the army’s 27 Rashtriya Rifles (RR), according to the locals. Though Nasrullah, who was severely beaten by the army while in custody was “dumped” by the army in an unconscious state outside his dok settlement in the meadow at 9 pm, the army is silent on what happened to Ahmad.
Away from the media attention, the family members and villagers have been holding silent protest at the house of Ahmad since his disappearance to seek his whereabouts. But with each passing day, their hope to see Ahmad alive is fading away. “My son is physically very weak. My only fear is that he won’t have been able to bear torture. Let the army tell us truth what they did with him,” said Ahmad’s father Ghulam Qadir.
Devsar comprise of dozens of localities of Pahari speaking people including Kakar Patti where Ahmad’s family lives. The main occupation of people of this entire area is cattle rearing. With the onset of the spring, every year, at least 150 families from different localities migrate to the meadow to graze their cattle. They are however required to get yearly permission from 28 RR before the unit of Army’s 27 RR which is stationed in the meadow allows them the entry for the season.
Ahmad who is the eldest among 10 children of Qadir including five daughters and five sons would look after the cattle. On the day he went missing, Ahmad had left for Trumukh Top with a local, Jalal-ud-Din Khan. Nasrullah had joined them on the way but had soon left them behind as he was riding a horse.
On reaching near the meadow, Ahmad had gone to show the permission cards to army personnel on duty to let them in the meadow, according to Jalal-ud-Din.
“We were asked to wait first and after some time Ahmad was asked to come inside the camp by the sentry who told him that major sahab wanted to see him.” Jalal-ud-Din said.
When Ahmad didn’t return for an hour he went to check with the sentry about Ahmad. “I was shocked when he (sentry) told me that they never called him (Ahmad) inside,” he said. Amid the argument, he said Nasrullah’s two brothers also rushed towards the camp saying he (Nasrullah) has been detained by the army.
“First, the army out-rightly denied having detained Ahmad and Nasrullah but when the villagers who had gathered outside the camp by now raised hue and cry, the army acknowledged that only Nasrullah was in their custody,” said one of the brothers of Nasrullah.
It was only at around 9 pm when the army took Nasrullah out of the camp through the back gate and “dumped” him outside his dok. “My brothers and some neighbours rushed to tell us that,” Jalal-ud-Din said.
Unconscious with bruises from torture all over his body, 34-year old Nasrullah was rushed to the SMHS Hospital late at night. In a video of Nasrullah that had been taken at the hospital he could be heard saying that army “ruthlessly tortured” him from 12 noon to 9 pm.
“We (Ahmad and Nasrullah) were together taken inside the camp and then kept in different rooms. Moments later they (army) came and started beating me with a cricket bat and wickets,” Nasrullah says in the video.
When his condition deteriorated at SMHS, Nasrullah, father of five children, was shifted to SKIMS institute where doctors said he was suffering from kidney failure. “They kept asking us to give details about militants. I had no idea what they were asking me. But when I couldn’t bear the pain and thought that they will kill me, in order to save my life, I lied to them about the presence of militants in the meadow, thinking once they take me out of the camp, I would raise a hue and cry to ensure that people see me. But they kept beating me and telling me that I was lying,” said Nasrullah, adding that during his interrogation he heard Ahmad screaming for help from the adjacent room.
With both army and police tight-lipped about the whereabouts of Ahmad it is the grim reality of the “enforced disappearances” in Kashmir history that has led to deepening of the fears among the family members and villagers that Ahmad may get reduced to statistics.
According to independent human rights observers, more than 8000 people have been subjected to enforced disappearances in Kashmir over the last three decades of turmoil. Many calls were made to reopen these cases but the government has so far shied away from bringing a closure to the families of the victims. The new cases are only reminiscent of the extra judicial practice that is widely blamed on government forces.
“The disappearance in Kupwara shows that the illegal practice has not stopped despite the tall claims of normalcy by the authorities. These cases must be investigated by an independent authority so that the families of the victims get a closure,” Parveen Ahanger, of APDP said.