When he started recounting names of 16 of his cousins who were killed or disappeared by the Indian Army, a smile, almost a smirk creased Raj Mohammad Khan’s fair face, his blue eyes glowed, as if he wanted to say but couldn’t “You think you can come once in a blue moon holding a recorder, a pen and a notebook in hand, exuding those confident, urbane airs, hear our stories, leave in the evening for your cozy homes with a sea of notes, piece them together into a narrative, and fancy you have any idea of the brutality that has visited us. Man you know nothing.”
Well, his smile might not have meant that. It could be his way of dealing with the burden of nearly 20 coffins of his nearest kin he has shouldered, and marching along with 180 funerals in his area, Diver in Lolab, 120 KMs north of Srinagar. But he certainly wanted to say more than just deliver a hasty, abridged description of his cousins and the manner in which they were annihilated.
“Ahsan Khan, civilian, killed by Army”
“Bashir Khan, civilian, dragged out of his home and killed”
“Farooq Dar, civilian, disappeared by the Army”
“Aziz Khan, civilian, STF (Special Task Force) and Army killed him and then disfigured his face”
“Fareed Khan, civilian, killed by the Army”
“Matiullah Khan, civilian, disappeared by the Army”
“Yaseen Khan, civilian, disappeared”
“Shareef Khan, militant, Al Barq (militant outfit) killed by Rashtriya Rifles, counter insurgency wing of Indian Army”
“Showkat Khan, militant Al Barq, killed by RR”
“Wilayat Khan, militant Al Barq, killed by RR”
“Shafizullah Khan, militant Al Barq, killed by RR”
“Zaman Khan, civilian, 17 years old, was walking with his mother, Seedha fire thoka chaati pe (was shot right in the chest), he died in her lap”
“Iqbal Khan, civilian, disappeared, his torn clothes were found in forest”
“Parvez Khan, civilian, he was listening to a cricket match between Pakistan and Kenya on a transistor he was keeping close to his ears. Army shot him dead and later said that they mistook him for militant conversing over a wireless set”
“Dilawar Khan, civilian, all our families got were four pieces into which his body had been torn up”
“Salam Din, civilian, killed by the Army, first branded as militant, then his brother was given rupees one lakh and his nephew Shah Zaman got a job”
At this point, I asked him to elaborate how and why Salam Din was killed. Like their possession in mud and timber houses, however, the details about their lives and death are few.
“Army once took him to Tekipora and he was beaten so much that he lost his mental balance. After that beating, he was never the same and would wander around like a madman. And then he was no longer afraid, which was fatal. When a trooper would shout ‘hands up’, he didn’t any longer. And that was that” Raj Mohammad says.
He didn’t remember all his dead kin though. A few names escaped his memory, but his siblings and a few cousins (who obviously have survived) to tell the tale, come to his aid. And once they are confident that they have named them all, an emaciated man walks into the room.
“Did you tell them about my daughter who was working in the fields and was blown into pieces by a mortar fired by the army?” the man asks Raj Mohammad.
“I forgot to tell you about Khatooney.” Raj Mohammad tells me Khatooney was the first wife of his cousin, Anwar Khan. At first, I thought it must have been one of those mortars fired by Indian and Pakistani soldiers on the Line Of Control and she had become the victim of the crossfire. But I get laughed at.
“No, those days they used to randomly shoot mortars to create fear. Those days the sight of a soldier would make you cringe. Please don’t ask about those days,” says Raj Mohammad.
For her death, the family was compensated with the standard rate for a dead Kashmiri civilian killed by the armed forces in Jammu & Kashmir – Rs 1 lakh.
In the khanate of Kakkar Patti, Raj Mohammad Khan’s native village, a few Khans the locals said working as Army informers or counterinsurgents have been killed by militants, but nobody wants to talk about them. Similarly, nobody wants to talk about the slain militants. The consensus among the Khans seems to be that both militants and the people who were killed for being army informers had taken sides, and therefore deserved the deaths they had had. But they reserve a different set of feelings for both. They want to talk endlessly about civilians who were brutally murdered though.
Before Raj Mohammad Khan started enumerating casualties, especially the long list of names of his cousins alone, he narrated how his brother Ahmadullah Khan and slain father Habibullah Khan had been killed. On 21 May 1999, Ahmadullah went to the nearby forest, a 20-minute walk from his home, to collect firewood. An army ambush shot him dead. His body was handed over to the family a day later along with the body of a local militant by the 3 Gorkha Rifles of the army. Ahmadullah left behind wife Jameela and three kids, then aged between 1-4. Jameela remarried and the kids stayed with the grandfather Habibullah Khan. It took family four years to prove Ahmadullah was a civilian and receive Rs 1 lakh as compensation. From a portion of the money, the family bought its first cow.
Now Habibullah Khan had to feed eight people, himself, his wife, his three kids and the children of his slain son. At 70, with failing health, he found it difficult. He started begging and would be seen seeking alms in Kupwara market. In April 2010, Raj Mohammad went to Kupwara to search for his father who hadn’t returned home for three days. Kupwara market was abuzz with media reports about the killing of a 70-year-old militant by the army. Raj Mohammad showed a shopkeeper a photo of his father.
“The same,” he was told.
Raj Mohammad resorted to brevity again. He says, “I went to the police post and told the chowki officer about my father. They had buried him 3 days ago. The officer showed me a picture on his mobile phone. The killers had changed father’s clothes, his pheran, his shoes, and put a cap donned usually by militants on his head.”
“The superintendent of police was blunt” Raj Mohammad says, “he said ‘people keep on dying, still I will look into the matter, come after four days.’ But one of our influential relatives told him that we will go and speak to legislator Haq Sahab. The SP then changed his tone and a day later he said he had heard about the death of an old man in Bandipora. Obviously, this was a red herring.” A day later the body of Khan was exhumed from a grave in a forest in Pahal Dajji, Magam, Handwara, nearly 52 KM from his home. He had been shot in the forehead and the chest.
“The SHO officer told us not to create a fuss as the government will give a job to one of us in the family. When we went to remind him of that promise, he said the government doesn’t provide jobs in such cases anymore. We went to Haq Sahab, he said ‘no job’. Bilal Lone (Hurriyat leader) and Mehbooba Mufti (PDP leader) came and sympathized with us. Only Engineer Rashid (legislator) gave Rs 5000″ Raj Mohammad says.
The police have filed a case of murder against the army and a magistrate has heard the case once. Since then, nothing. It is as if 1 lakh ex-gratia, or blood money as Kashmiris call it, is counted as the closure.
The horrors braved by the Khans of Kakkar Patti busts the myth that the state makes any distinction between ethnicities when it comes to dealing with rebellion. Khans are Gujjarrs and have been viewed, erroneously and in gross disregard of contextual reasons, more sympathetic towards the state, than their Kashmiri co-religionists who have risen against the state in their quest for freedom. 23 of them had died fighting the army.
Of more than 200 people who have been killed in Diver by forces during the past 20 years, more than 170 were civilians, says civil rights activist Ahsan Untoo who hails from the place. Many civilians killed by the army, or the dreaded SOG of Police or both together, were first branded as militants and then exonerated posthumously of the blame by compensating their kin with the fixed amount of Rs 1 lakh, half the cost of an exotic breed of sacrificial sheep which are sold on Eid ul Azha in Srinagar.
The most poignant thing about these killings in Kakkar Patti and other villages of Diver is the silent acceptance by people of the official version of those killings, even as they vividly narrate – ten, fifteen or even twenty years later – the horrific ways their loved ones were killed in the first place. The government pays Rs 1 lakh ex-gratia only when the kin of the deceased agree to accept the official version, which is meant to take the blame off the army, paramilitary troops and the police. Nowhere has been the poverty of people used to split their loyalties between a sum of money and faithfulness to the memory of their slain. On the side of the army was AFSPA, which provided them immunity from persecution for such killings. The Khans had instinctively accepted the infallibility of this draconian law over all the others.
Consider the case of Dilawar Shah, a father of five daughters and a son. Like almost every adult male in his area during the nineties, he had been picked up by the army on the suspicion of supporting militants. His brother Hussain Shah says the army tortured him in custody and passed electric shocks through his body. The year was either 1998 or 1999, he says. “The torture left him debilitated. He was unable to walk properly and he couldn’t work anymore. His mental capacities were diminishing by the day and he would beg to feed his big family.”
On the night of 7 May 2003, army claimed they had killed two militants during a gunfight in Wani Daroosa, 4 KMs from Kakkar Patti. The next day, Hussain went to Daroosa to meet a revenue official in connection with some work. He saw at the site of ‘gunfight’ bits of flesh and blood stains. He was told by a woman that during the night army triggered an explosion and later claimed they had killed two militants. The woman told him the bodies were taken to Maidanpora, a nearby hamlet, for burial. “I got worried because Dilawar had gone missing a day before. I rushed to the graveyard where the Imam was reciting last prayers for the deceased placed in a coffin. I told that my brother had gone missing and I want to make sure this is not him. They opened the coffin and unwrapped the shroud. I exclaimed that this was my brother” Hussain says.
“The people told me the army had handed over to them two sacks for burial, saying the bags contained bodies of two militants. But what they saw was that a body had been cleaved into two and each part packed into a bag. The two parts were then put together in the shroud by the local people.” Martyrs are not given the ritual ablution, which saved the effort that could have gone into stitching the two pieces together. The burial was temporarily stopped. Hussain left the body at the graveyard and rushed to Lalpora police station and told the officials it was his brother, a civilian cleaved into two, who had been killed during the night and not two militants as claimed by the army. He was told to file a complaint with the Sogam police station, as Daroosa was not in their jurisdiction. He gave his and people’s version of the story to the Sogam police. When Hussain returned to the graveyard to take the body to Kakkar Patti for burial in the community graveyard, the army didn’t allow the transfer. A demonstration by the local residents in Maidanpora made them relent.
Sitting in his home, Hussain asks his daughter to bring out the case documents from a tin box. He shows me the FIR he can’t read. It has been filed against the “two unidentified armed men killed in the encounter” at Wani Daroosa on charges of attempt to murder and possession of arms. It says some other militants had escaped from the scene and a civilian had also been killed. The civilian was Dilawar Shah. By sleight of hand enabled by AFSPA, the FIR cleverly passes off the murder of Dilawar as apparent collateral damage in a ‘gunfight’ about which the local residents remember nothing more than just a loud explosion.
Why were people told the sacks contained bodies of two militants? Who were those ‘unidentified’ militants? How did a mentally disturbed man end up four kilometers away from his home in the dead of the night at the site where the army had to use explosives to kill ‘two militants’? That too in an area the entry road to which is closed in the evening with a steel gate by the army.
From a clutter of FIRs, Hussain picks up one more FIR. It is related to the death of his wife’s son Zaman Shah from her first marriage to Yousuf Shah, a militant, who died fighting the army 15 days before his son’s killing. She is not apologetic about Yousuf’s militant past. Her voice and demeanor displays a stoic resilience, which gives way to anger, however when the contents of FIR are read out to her.
“A lie”, she says.
“That day I and Zaman were going to our relatives in Bumsi in Bandipora ( a one-hour walk). When we reached Kitsan, I heard a burst of gunfire and the next thing I saw was Zaman falling down. The bullets had riddled his chest. I took him in my lap and screamed for help. I wailed and wailed for a long time but there was no one in sight. Then a group of 30-40 Indian soldiers came and took away his body. They said they had a misfire and thought he was a militant,” Bano says. Zaman was a student of class 9.
The FIR reads: “An army patrol moving in the area of Rosikal heard gunshots towards jungle near Kitsan. On search of the suspected area, body of an unidentified youth with gunshot wounds was recovered (wound in the middle of the chest).”
Rupees one lakh provided to the family for Zaman’s killing has been spent on building a small mud and timber house.
I exited Raj Mohammad’s house. He is now a father of two kids. His mother Nazila Khan, who would cringe at the sight of a soldier, sits relaxed in the new house her slain son Amanullah had built. Habibullah lived in a mud hut.
“There is no more fear. They killed enough people. Who will they kill now?”
As I walk down the terraced Kakkar Patti hamlet, which sits on a hillock, small timber houses seem to melt into a dense growth of denuded, light brown trees, giving the entire village an appearance of emptiness. But soon, old and young men and women emerge from these dwellings, all holding documents in their hands – fresh, crumpled, torn, laminated. One document is an official piece of paper certifying that a slain man in question was a civilian. The other is the income certificate, declaring the family of the slain below the poverty line, a step towards the ex-gratia or some other form of official help. They all want me to listen to their stories too. Raj Mohammad smiles, or smirks.
“I told you. It will take you ages penning down the stories of people in this village,” he says. Then I realised it had been a smirk all along.
– With Lubna and Mudasir
The article was first published on 24 December, 2011 in Conveyor Magazine.