‘Who will give us Justice?’

  • Majid Maqbool
  • Publish Date: Aug 25 2017 10:07PM
  • |
  • Updated Date: Aug 25 2017 10:33PM
‘Who will give us Justice?’

In Doda and Bhaderwah, families of persons subjected to enforced disappearances and killings still seek justice

‘Eight of my family members were killed on a single day’

 

Doda: In 1996, on a cold mid-January dawn in the Dhareja village of  Bhaderwah, Abdul Qayoom Zarger’s nine family members had  woken up to have Suhoor to begin their Ramadhan fast. They’d assembled in the kitchen, warming up besides the hearth before having their predawn meals. Suddenly, there was a knock on their door. Few militants wanted to come in – it was a normal occurrence those days – and have some food before they could leave and disappear into the surrounding mountains. After stepping inside the house, the militants bolted the door and quickly had some food. Outside, it’d been snowing for some time.

 Since the house was located in an open area, surrounded by vast fields and little further away from neighbouring houses, the footprints of militants leading up to the house were visible on the freshly fallen snow.  “They were followed by the BSF troops who were accompanied by some members of Shiv Sena and they tracked them down to our house,” says Qayoom in his home in Doda, sporting a white beard and a white prayer cap. Now settled with his family in Doda town, Qayoom works as a senior instructor in the local ITI department.

 As soon as the troops knocked on the door, asking to carry out a search, Qayoom says the militants managed to quickly run away from the backside of the house, jumping out of the widows of one of the rooms.

“The troops thought that the militants were still inside the house when in fact they’d all run away by then,” he says. “They had cordoned off the neighbourhood and then the BSF troops barged inside and starting breaking windows and other household things.”

By then the house inmates, including Qayoom’s old parents, were terrified. The troops were angry. “They came inside and first grabbed my old father and brought him outside the house,” Qayoom recalls, adding that his father was then forcefully pushed inside a water tank and interrogated about the whereabouts of militants before being brought back inside the house. “He told them the truth that they’d come earlier but that they ran away as the troops entered the house,” he says.

Next, Qayoom’s younger brother, who was a tailor by profession, was dragged outside the house. “He was shot at in his head and he died right there,” says Qayoom. “I don’t know why they killed him like that.”

The troops then ransacked the house, as per Qayoom, still frantically searching for the militants who were nowhere to be found. They scattered things around and broke all the cabins and wardrobes inside rooms to search for weapons. 

 “They also stole cash of Rs 3 lakhs we had in our house then, and some utensils were also taken away… and they also took away about a 100 blankets with them,” says Qayoom. “They were angry and they wanted to inflict more damages, knowing that they couldn’t capture any militants.”

Qayoom is unable to forget what happened next later that day. More than two decades after that incident, not a single day has gone without thinking of his family. He says the troops then opened fire inside the house where his nine family members sat terrified. “They fired indiscriminately and everyone inside was riddled with bullets,” he says after an uncomfortable pause, in between gathering his thoughts. “My eight family members, including my mother and my father, were all killed that day.”

Placing his thumb on his index finger, Qayoom goes on to list the names of his eight family members killed that day:

1. Shams ud Din Zarger, father

2. Jana Begum, mother

3. Shabir Ahmed, Younger brother

4. Syeda Begum, sister in law

5. Jehangir Ahmed

6. Junaid Ahmed

7. Mohd Ishmaq (servant)

8. Maryam Begum

 

After the killings, he says the troops hurriedly left the scene, leaving behind the dead bodies of his family members in a pool of blood. “The people from neighborhood couldn’t figure out what had happened in those hours,” Qayoom says, adding that the firing began at 8 pm and continued till 12 pm in the night. “The neighbors didn’t come out of their homes as thought it was some encounter going on with militants.”

“My father had received 14 bullets on his body,” he says.

Qayoom was not at his home on that day and came to know about the incident in Doda the next morning at 9am. “I was on duty here in Doda and lived in a rented accommodation here,” he says. “We would normally go back to our home in Baderwah every Saturday.”

Over the years Qayoom has recorded several statements in Srinagar and elsewhere, hoping that his case moves forward, and he gets some justice. He says his case file is also with several human rights organizations. “But nothing has happened till date,” he says. “Eight of my family members were killed on a single day. We did not get justice. My entire family was wiped off…”

One of his sister-in-laws somehow survived the bullet injuries for seven painful months. During this period, she’d to be operated on several times. But she too passed away after seven months, unable to survive her bullet injuries. “She had received bullets on her arms, on her chest, and on her legs,” says Qayoom. The only survivor from that house that day was his 5-year-old nephew who was badly injured but found breathing that day. He had received bullets on his leg, which had to be later amputated after several operations to save his leg failed.

“My parents were killed in such a way as if they were some hardcore militants,”  says Qayoom. “How can I forget what was done to my family?”

 Qayoom now lives with his four children in Doda where he constructed a house soon after the rest of his family was killed in his ancestral home. He didn’t want to live in his old house. He couldn’t stay there for a single night following the incident. Even now he rarely goes back to his old house in Bhaderwah where a nomad family lives, looking after his ancestral land.

“I tried my best that the case moves forward and we get some sort of justice,” says Qayoom. “At least the soul of my parents and other family members killed on that day would rest in peace if the culprits are punished.”

 “But there’s no justice in sight,” he’s quick to add. “Who will give us justice?”

 

“They didn’t even return his dead body”

Sitting in his home in Akramabad, Doda town, Inayatullah Zarger remembers his younger brother, Muhammad Salim, then a 25-year-old local contractor who was forcefully taken away on September 14, 1995 from his home by the troops belonging to 10 RR regiment stationed in the area. He was never returned.

Since then his family has been waiting for any news about his whereabouts. They suspect he was killed in the custody of troops that year. Over the years their search for him has not yielded any results.

Salim had come home that day from his work. He worked as a contractor, overseeing road works with the local R&B department.  “When the forces barged into the home, they’d covered their faces, but our family members could identify some of them as they would often patrol in this area,” says Zarger who was in Jammu on that fateful day. “He was asked to come with them. My father told them that Salim was little ill that day, which was a fact, but he was forcefully taken away from the house...”

A month after his arrest and his subsequent disappearance, his passport arrived at his home, which Zarger has preserved to this day. He brings it out from an old cloth bag which contains other case documents, including the FIR copy, court documents, and letters related to his brother’s disappearance. “If he was a militant, why would they dispatch his passport on his home address?” asks Zarger, showing the passport copy to me.

He says over the years they have given several testimonials, written many letters, and recorded many statements about his brother’s disappearance in the custody of troops. His brother’s case was also taken up by several rights organizations in the past. “But nothing happened till date in this case,” he says. “We don’t know what happened to my brother. If he was killed, they should have at least returned his dead body so that we could have performed his last rites...”

Until a few months ago, Zarger worked as an ambulance driver in the local health department before an accident confined him to his home. His right leg had to be amputated after the accident.  

“I can produce 20 witnesses in this case even now,” Zarger emphasises. He wants the government to reopen his brother’s case and give them justice. “If government wants, they can bring the culprits to book within no time, but there’s no accountability here,” he says with disappointment, taking the passport copy and other case documents before placing them back in the cloth bag. “Who will punish those troops? They snatched my brother from us?” 

Before leaving his house, I ask Zarger if he still hopes that his brother will return home some day, that he may be somehow alive. His eyes brim with tears. “The case has been closed,” he tells me. “We were not even given his dead body,” he says after a brief, uncomfortable pause. “God knows what they did with his dead body…” he goes on, gathering his thoughts. “Those days here dead bodies would be often thrown into Chinab River and no one could find them...”

 

 

 

“My brother was innocent. He was taken away from us”

Ajaz Ahmad Malik

 

My brother Fareeq Ahmad Malik was 28-year-old when he was picked up by the army from his shop in Bhalla village of Doda on July 4, 1994. The local police told us after his disappearance that some “unidentified gunmen” would have taken him, not the troops. But that was not true. He was taken away by the troops from the 19th Sikh regiment who were posted in this area.

If militants had taken him, why would they kill him? If they would have taken him along, we would somehow have come to know about him, or he would have himself tried to contact us.

My brother had an injury in his leg after he fell from a roof before he was taken away by the troops. He would slightly limp while walking. After he was taken away, when we would enquire from army camps here about his whereabouts, we were told that he might have gone for arms training across the border.

After he was taken away, we went to a local BSF camp where we had heard that he was detained. But they showed us records there which were of the year 1995 and the following years. There were no records of 1994 that could help us in checking if he was kept in that camp.

We registered his case with police, with the DC and in Delhi too, but nothing was done to trace him. Seven years after the government closed the case and declared him ‘dead’, his wife was given a job under SRO. She remarried after seven years. His daughter, who was yet to be born then, is a graduate now.

We fear he was killed since he didn’t reveal anything about the presence of militants in the area. Some of our relatives were militants, yes, and they were subsequently killed in encounters. But Fareed was an innocent civilian. He would leave for his shop in the morning and return home in the evening. That was his schedule. He had nothing to do with militancy.

Decades after his disappearance, whenever I would hear of a dead body found in Doda or surrounding areas, I would rush to the spot to see if it was of my brother. I could have identified him as he had an injury mark on his thigh from his earlier fall from the roof. He also had three broken teeth from that fall.

Once, in 1999, we went to an army camp here to check if our brother was held there. When we saw some local people they had detained there, our brother was not among them.

My brother was elder to me and despite his leg injury he would take care of everything at home. He was a very resourceful person. After his disappearance, my father developed kidney ailments and would often remain ill.

When the government closed the case and we didn’t hear anything about his whereabouts, we lost all hope. Those days they would throw the dead body in Chinab river here and no one could trace it out of those deep and running waters.

I think from the year 1994-1995 there were about 24 local people here in Doda who simply disappeared in the custody of troops in those terrible years. My brother was one of the first civilian from Doda who disappeared in the custody of troops here.

 

“Hum nai ghaibana Jinaza be nahe padha uska...”


As told to Majid Maqbool