Survivors of torture in Kashmir Part 1: 25 yrs on, Nazir Ahmad Sheikh, who lost both legs to Indian Army's assault awaits justice

Editor's note: In a first such report compiled over a span of 10 years, Srinagar-based rights body Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) has documented accounts of 432 survivors of torture since 1989, when armed militancy took root in the Valley. Safwat Zargar met four of these survivors to document their stories. This is part one of a four-part series.

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On a scorching afternoon in early June, 45-year-old Nazir Ahmad Sheikh had taken a nearly 22-kilometer trip on his specially-designed scooter to reach the main town of Handwara in North Kashmir's Kupwara district. With Eid just around the corner, Sheikh's tight financial situation had forced him to pay a visit to some government offices and top businessmen in Handwara for financial help.

Sheikh is not new to such visits. Whenever he finds himself out of funds, he knows what to do.

"You can call this begging," Sheikh said, while taking rest during his day out at one of the government offices in Handwara town.

According to Sheikh, unlike other beggars, the authenticity of whose claims is hard to verify, it's hard for people to turn him down. "They can see what has happened to me. And they know I was not like this," Sheikh said, while pulling up his pant cuffs to show the two prosthetic legs fixed to his body.

First ever report on torture

Sheikh is one of 432 victims of torture documented by Srinagar-based rights body Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) over a span of ten years. The report, which was released on 20 May, was a first of its kind, and demanded a probe commissioned by the United Nations into the allegations of torture in the conflict-torn state.

 Survivors of torture in Kashmir Part 1: 25 yrs on, Nazir Ahmad Sheikh, who lost both legs to Indian Armys assault awaits justice

In custody, the army personnel allegedly used rollers on Sheikh's body, pushed his hands into a wood-burning stove and subjected him to severe beatings.

The report had triggered a strong reaction from the Indian government which decided that it will no longer entertain any communication from the UN's Geneva-based Human Rights Council (HRC) on the alleged human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir.

Among the total 432 cases studied in the report, 301 victims were civilians, 119 militants, five were ex-militants, while two belonged to the Jammu and Kashmir Police. Twenty seven victims were minors at the time of their torture. According to the JKCCS report, 49 torture victims died during or after torture.

"Torture is the most under-reported human rights violation perpetrated by the state. Due to legal, political and moral impunity extended to the armed forces, not a single prosecution has taken place in any case of human rights violations," the report noted.

In most of the cases, the victims are still living the horrors of the torture they have been subjected to.

'They used rollers on my body'

In October 1994, when the armed uprising against Indian rule in Kashmir Valley was at its peak, Sheikh was picked up by army outside his home in Mawar village of Handwara. Accusing him of being a militant and possessing weapons, Sheikh, then a mason, was subjected to horrific torture in the army custody.

"It was the personnel of 14 Dogra Regiment of Qalamabad camp who blindfolded me on the road and bundled me in their vehicle. There's one Major Multani Veer Singh, the mere mention of his name would send shivers down the spine of people. People were so terrified of him that they would avoid travelling or walking on the road on which Major Multani used to travel. He was the one who tortured me," Sheikh recalled.

In custody, the army personnel allegedly used rollers on Sheikh's body, pushed his hands into a wood-burning stove and subjected him to severe beatings. "Sixteen people in total mounted on the two sides of the iron roller and then they rolled it down on my legs. This torture continued for a period of one month and nine days," he explained.

But Sheikh's survival was nothing short of a miracle. "In the last phase of my torture, I was taken to the headquarters of army's 15 Corps in Badami Bagh Srinagar. When my condition worsened, they left me to die outside the camp during the night. But a taxi driver who was driving by, saw me and dropped me at Police Control Room Srinagar. After that police issued a press release so that my family members come to know. They also took me to hospital where I remained for next six months," he recalled.

When Sheikh was finally discharged from hospital, his two legs and four fingers on his left hand had been amputated. While the scars of the torture were yet to heal, Sheikh's wife abandoned him. Months later, she divorced him. With no means of livelihood for survival and his medical bills mounting, Sheikh was forced to sell his ancestral land 2 kanals (0.25 acres) to raise enough money for his treatment.

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"Sometimes, I think, it was better if I had died during the torture. At least, my family would have mourned for me only once unlike they do every day. When I take off my prosthetic legs at home and put them in a corner, my mother always breaks down," Sheikh rued.

Sheikh lives with his mother Khatija and 18-year-old son Javid Ahmad Sheikh. The family survives on the meagre earnings of Javid to get by. "I wanted him to study but once he passed his Class 12, he couldn't tolerate my situation and then took up a job as a labourer. He earns Rs 2-3,000 every month. Besides, I get Rs 1,000 monthly from government's social welfare department," he said.

 A gruelling legal battle

Sheikh himself has been waging a solitary battle for justice since 1995. In 2003, Sheikh approached the Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission which recommended a compensation of Rs 2,25,000 and a government job for him. While Sheikh received the compensation, he didn't get the job. As far as the perpetrators of the torture are concerned, the investigation in Sheikh's case was "ultimately closed by declaring the perpetrators as untraced…" the report notes.

Despite that, Sheikh hasn't given up. In 2011, he filed a writ petition before the J&K High Court seeking re-investigation in the case and a compensation of Rs 50 lakhs. "I will continue to fight till I am alive. That's why I always carry all the court documents and news articles written about me, along, so that whenever I narrate my ordeal before people, they would trust me," Sheikh said while pointing towards a handbag in his lap, adding "this file kept getting thicker but I didn't get justice."

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Updated Date: Jun 28, 2019 16:04:16 IST