Forced disappearances, arrests and using innocents as human shields: Kashmir's unending tragedy

Though nothing really shocks one in these fascist times but the arrest of the internationally known Srinagar based human rights activist, Khurram Parvez, can be termed a tragedy for the masses

Khurram Parvez
Khurram Parvez
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Humra Quraishi

One was awaiting details to the magisterial probe of last week’s encounter killings in Srinagar’s Hyderpora locality, where the victims’ families accused the security forces of allegedly using the civilians as human shields, but then all that one got to hear on November 23, was another shocking news.

Though nothing really shocks one in these fascist times but the arrest of the internationally known Srinagar based human rights activist, Khurram Parvez, can be termed a tragedy for the masses. He and his team have documented the blatant human rights violations taking place in the Kashmir Valley.

For the last over two decades he had been collecting facts about the missing persons, encounter killings, unmarked graves and the countless dead lying tucked in those graves. Unbothered about the major risks involved and not even halting when he lost one of his legs in a landmine blast, he continued unearthing details to the illegal arrests and detentions, disappearances, encounter killings, secret burials, unmarked graves.

In 2008, when unmarked graves were unearthed in and around Kashmir Valley, Dr Angana Chatterji - Professor of Anthropology at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, and the co-convener of a rights watchdog, International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Kashmir - had stated in an interview given to me: ‘ We have released a preliminary report in Srinagar titled ‘Buried Evidence: Unknown, Unmarked, and Mass Graves’… We documented the existence of 2,700 unknown, unmarked, and mass graves containing 2,943 bodies, across 55 villages in Bandipora, Baramulla, and Kupwara districts of Kashmir. …They are unmarked as their identities are unknown, even as the Indian Armed Forces and the Jammu and Kashmir Police routinely claim the dead buried in unknown and unmarked graves to be foreign militants/terrorists. .... Gravediggers and community members tell us that the bodies buried in the 2,700 graves were routinely delivered at night, some bearing marks of torture and burns. ........As an anthropologist, I can say we were able to identify graves within selected districts and inquire into instances where photographic verifications and/or exhumations had taken place. Our findings do not include the forensic study of the exhumations. The graves, we were able to ascertain, hold bodies of men with a few exceptions. Violence against civilian men has expanded spaces for enacting violence against women in Kashmir. The graveyards have been placed next to fields, schools, and homes, largely on community land, and their effect on the local community is daunting.’

This forum had not just submitted a detailed report to the establishment, but had also demanded a re-probe of all encounter deaths. In fact, Khurram Parvez - he was then Liaison IPTK ( International People’s Tribunal On Human Rights And Justice In Indian Administered Kashmir) and Programme Coordinator, Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society - had told me, during the course of an interview, that one of their demands was to investigate those “encounters” which led to the deaths of these men and also the reasons for their secret burial.


Hapless used as Human Shields!

With last week’s Hyderpora encounter killings in the backdrop, with the relatives stating that the killed were used as human shields, I’m reminded of that tragic incident of 2017, where a young Kashmiri was used as a human shield. Thankfully he wasn’t killed but went through severe mental and physical torture.

If you can recall in the spring of 2017, a young Kashmiri, Farooq Ahmad Dar, was seen tied to a military jeep, driven in that tied condition the entire day , for 28 kilometres, across the various villages in the Kashmir Valley. Mind you, 26 year old Farooq Ahmad Dar wasn’t a terrorist. On the contrary, he could be termed a ‘good citizen’. That very morning he’d stood in a queue, outside the polling booth at Arizal’s Chill Bras area to cast his vote for the Lok Sabha by-polls for the Srinagar constituency. And after casting his vote, he took off on his motorcycle to his sister’s home as there had been a death in the family. And it’s then, whilst he was driving his motorcycle he was not just stopped by the Army personnel but pulled off from his bike and tied to their jeep. He kept telling the Army personnel led by Major Leetul Gogoi that he wasn’t a ‘terrorist ’, but a shawl artisan and had just voted at booth number 90 of the Chill village and even showed the indelible ink mark on his finger. But nothing could stop the brutality unleashed on him. With his phiran in tatters and bruises on his body, he was finally let off from the Rashtriya Rifles camp after the village elders pleaded for his release. And to compound the tragedy, Major Leetul Gogoi was given a commendation certificate!

What was the hurry to award Major Leetul Gogoi with a commendation certificate, when an FIR has been lodged against him, an investigation underway , to investigate whether what he did on that 9 April morning was justifiable or even ethical. After all, what Major Gogoi did was something so terribly horrifying! Tying a hapless civilian to a military jeep, using him as a human shield, dragging him for several kilometres before dumping him!

An emotionally and physically bruised Dar could barely cry out: ‘Am I an animal to be tied to a jeep and dragged on …that day has changed my life! Major Gogoi is lying by saying I was pelting stones. If I was pelting stones I wouldn’t have gone to cast my vote! Why hasn’t the police or the Army recorded my statement? The least they could have done was to hear what I have to say.’

Months later it was established by the police conducted probe that Farooq Ahmad Dar, who was tied to a military jeep and used as human shield during the by-polls in Srinagar on April 9 , was telling the truth – he was no terrorist but a law abiding Indian citizen. The police investigation report confirmed that Dar was speaking the truth: that is , he had cast his vote at a polling booth in his native village before he was picked up by the army and tied to their vehicle to be used as a ‘human shield…kept under wrongful confinement.’

Yet we didn’t even bother to hear him out, even when he was crying out –‘I’m no stone-pelter, nor a terrorist or militant. I’m an Indian, went to cast my vote yet they tied me to their jeep and didn’t trust me, didn’t believe me!’

Human tragedies taking place in the Kashmir region are ongoing. Not halting!

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