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 three of a four-part series.
In the winter of 1998, Mohammad Ashraf Bhat and his wife Shameema Bhat, living in Central Kashmir's Budgam district were expecting their third child. A small-time shopkeeper and farmer, Ashraf, had tried his best to ensure that his wife had enough of everything she needed during her pregnancy.
In November 1998, Shameema was seven months pregnant and would spend most of her time taking rest. "I didn’t go out much since one has to be very careful during this time," Shameema said, sitting at her single storey concrete house in Wari Sangam village of Budgam.
But there's one visit Shameema had no choice but to go. In late November 1998, Shameema and Ashraf were asked to present themselves before the camp of Jammu and Kashmir Police's counter-insurgency unit Special Operations Group (SOG) in Humhama. A few days earlier, the personnel of SOG and Border Security Force had raided the house of Bhat family in Wari Sangam village and arrested two brothers of Ashraf over allegations of illegal possession of weapons and giving shelter to militants.
"We had a relative who worked in the police. He got in touch with the camp. They told him my husband's brothers will be set free if we presented ourselves before the camp authorities," Shameema recalled.
'They gave me electric shocks'
During the late 90s, Ikhwanis, a local militia raised by the Indian government and comprising former militants who had switched sides to fight for India, exercised overwhelming power in enforcing their writ on the people. The infamous group became synonymous with horrifying brutality, killings, torture, human rights violations, and extortion. One such Ikhwan leader Mushtaq Pal was a distant relative of Bhats.
"It was him who had told the Indian Army and SOG that we were giving shelter to militants. The idea was that once we were in custody, our family members would approach him to use his influence to set us free. For that, he would have demanded huge money. It was pure extortion," she added.
The day Shameema and her husband went to the camp, the duo was taken inside a tin-shed and tortured in front of each other. "They hung my husband upside down and started beating him with sticks. Some lady police officers got hold of me and slapped me. I told them I was seven months pregnant yet they gave me electric shocks. One of the lady cops put a pistol on my head and threatened to shoot me if I didn’t reveal where had we kept weapons. This torture continued throughout the day until I started bleeding (from my vagina)," Shameema narrated.
According to Shameema, when her condition in the custody worsened, the policewomen informed their higher-ups including a SOG officer named Gupta and another senior police officer Ashiq Bukhari. "They were befuddled and I could see on their face that they were worried about what had they done to us. Gupta gave me Rs 100 for my treatment and we were let go," Shameema, who was in her early 20s at the time of her torture, said.
The next day, Shameema was taken to one of the most prominent maternity hospitals in the Valley, Lal Ded hospital of Srinagar for treatment. “For 12 days, I was admitted in the hospital and finally, they aborted my fetus. I couldn't see my third child,” said Shameema.
Shameema's husband Ashraf refused to narrate his torture to this reporter, saying "it was too disturbing to relive that." Even her son Irshad Ahmad Rather, 23, is averse to talking about it. "I was just three years old then. I don’t know anything. All I have heard about that day is from people," he said.
But while Ashraf and Shameema might have consigned the horrors of that day to oblivion, their lives since then have never been same.
"My son quit studies to run his father’s shop. Look at my husband, he keeps sleeping all day. He can’t stand on his right leg for long. My health also deteriorated and I became physically weak. Even though I mothered two daughters after that incident, there were many complications during my pregnancy. I cannot lift heavy objects now," she added.
'Too afraid to file a case'
Shameema and her husband never tried to approach the police to file a complaint into the incident. "We were scared. Those days, it was a jungle raaj. We thought what if they come in the dead of night and shoot all of us dead?" she said.
Experts attribute this to "a lack of faith in institutions” that "prevents victims from seeking justice or redressal for the torture."
According to JKCCS report on the torture of the 432 torture cases studied by the rights group, only 27 had gone to the State Human Rights Commission out of which 20 obtained recommendations in their favour.
"As per the research conducted so far, there are only a few cases where the victims have been consistent in seeking justice, are allowed to seek legal recourse, or have been awarded satisfactory compensations," the report notes. "In granting compensation to victims even in cases unrelated to torture, the armed forces personnel have contested that it is the state which has requisitioned the army for maintaining law and order and therefore the state government is responsible for payment of any compensation for the violations committed by the armed forces."
But while justice and compensation elude most of the victims, the impact of torture on their lives has hardly vanished. In Shameema’s case, it has gone more worrying.
In Kashmir, while the majority of the torture victims are males, the torture of women inside the custody, besides physical injuries, also invites a lot of insinuations from society. These are the thoughts which bother Shameema more than anything else.
“People say a lot of things… We have to live with it," Shameema added.
Updated Date: Jul 16, 2019 15:15:30 IST