Since the government of India’s “Operation All-Out” against the militants in Kashmir Valley has started last year, the government forces – Army, paramilitary forces and police, have also been using their muscle on civilians by beating up youth, barging into houses at night, damaging cars and properties or especially the houses of the militants. Many such incidents have been reported in the last few months and it has taken toll on local population.
In one such recent incident on 27 June, 15-year-old Syed Ateed was taken by army personnel at night after barging into his house in Pakharpora area of Central Kashmir. “As I came outside, army men asked me about my son,” said Mubeena Akhtar, Ateed’s mother. “They took hold of my younger son and dragged him, bundled him into the military vehicle that was stationed outside the main gate.”
After begging for mercy, as Akhtar shared with grief, “I requested them to leave him as he is a child but they pushed me against the wall and said ‘we will release him soon.’ They didn’t even allow him to wear a shirt.”
As per the family, he was beaten up for two hours in the custody, without giving any reasons, and even on asking several times about his fault; only screams could be heard. After this ordeal, Ateed narrated the story.
“While continuously beating me up, they said, ‘Ask Sameer Tiger for help. Beg Azadi to save you,’” he said, almost in a whisper. “When they didn’t stop for hours, I fell unconscious. Later, when I regained some energy to stand, they took me to a nearby village, knocked at the door of some house and dropped me on a balcony.”
Ateed was taken to the district hospital in Pulwama, where doctors declared his arms are fractured. He is now at home recovering from trauma and the injuries (as seen in the featured photo).
Civilians living under constant fear and trauma
As the incidents of beatings and harassment grow, civilians are finding it difficult to live in constant fear and trauma looming over their heads. Another boy Zahid Manzoor, 16, hailing from the same area as Ateed, was also detained by the army during a night raid. He alleged that the army tortured him inside the camp.
“I was beaten up with gun butts for a long period of time,” Zahid said. He was told that he indulges in stone throwing in the area. Refuting the allegations he said, “I have never taken part in any protest nor I have thrown stones at the government forces. I hardly get time from my studies.”
Also, people in Shadimarg area of Pulwama district said that 44 Rashtriya Rifles of Army stationed in the village camp are habitual of such doings, forcing youth to go into hiding. “We do not want our sons to be with us. They can be killed, beaten up or used as a human shield at any point of time,” said an octogenarian parent in Shadimarg.
Twenty four-year-old Mushtaq Ahmad, also from Shadimarg, dared to ask the army personnel reason for entering into his house on 27 June but received severe beating in return. Mushtaq was then taken to the Bone and Joint hospital of Srinagar for treatment. Doctors advised that he will be operated upon in his fractured arm.
In many parts of South Kashmir, according to the locals, the army has installed check-posts like what used to be a common sight in 1990s. They frisk people and vehicles plying on the roads there, locals allege.
“Army and other forces snatch our mobile phones and ask us to visit the camps to collect them back,” said Naveed, a local from Drubgam village in Pulwama. “At the camps, they interrogate us and force us to tell us the names of people who are involved in different pro-freedom movements.”
Such developments have affected the daily life of the residents. Locals add that it has become a nightmare for people of all ages, including women to go to orchards and work.
Responding in anger to the daily beatings and harassment, another youth, Irshad Ahmad, who was ruthlessly beaten up by army personnel last month said, “It’s better to join militancy and fight parallel against them than facing such intolerable situations.”
On the morning of 29 June, the 44RR of army entered into Ahgaam village of Shopian district also and started thrashing youth and vandalized the public property.
“I was sitting inside my house when forces came and smashed the windows, broke cars with batons and stones,” said Bashir Ahmad, a resident of Ahgaam village.
Army takes it out on families of the militants
Many incidents of government forces harassing families of militants have come across mainly in South Kashmir villages where militancy has escalated since the killing of popular militant commander Burhan Wani on 8 July 2016. Among many popular militants, one such commander gaining fame in South was Sameer Ahmad Bhat alias Sameer Tiger, from Hizbul Mujahideen, who was killed in an encounter in South Kashmir’s Drabgam village on 30 April this year.
A few weeks after killing of Sameer, on May 30, locals alleged that his grave was damaged by the Army during the intervening night. “After coming out of mosque following the early morning prayers we found the headstone of Sameer’s grave was damaged. The banners covering the grave were also torn into shreds,” said a local from Drabgam without giving his name. This had led to protests and clashes between youth and the government forces in the area.
A day before this, at least five dozen houses were ransacked by the army in Sugan village of South Kashmir’s Shopian district, after an IED blast in the area, in which three army personnel were injured. Among the five, one house belonged to Hizbul Mujahideen militant, Zeenat-ul-Islam.
“They broke down all electronic items, windowpanes, utensils and food items,” said one of his family members. The family also alleged that the army men snatched a mobile phone, stole a laptop and some cash from their house.
Similarly on 31 May, in Gundibagh village of Pulwama district, locals said, forces attempted to ablaze the house of a Jaish e Mohammad (JeM) militant Adil alias Waqar at night.
“Army men sprayed some flammable liquid on our house and spread some sheaves of dry paddy around our house and set it on fire,” said a family member of the militant. The family said that as soon as the villagers noticed the flames they came out of their houses and doused out the flames.
Reacting to these incidents, in a recent audio statement, the Hizbul Mujahideen commander Riyaz Naikoo asked the army to stop harassing common people and act like professionals as in war. “Indian forces are thrashing our family members and vandalize our houses,” said Naikoo.
“I want to ask India that you call your Army a brave force but does vandalizing houses, beating up women, cutting down orchards, is called bravery. No this is not bravery, it is cowardice of the army. This is war sometimes we are martyred at your hands or you will be killed by us. That is the rule of war. When any of ours gets killed by you we don’t attack target your families.”
Human rights violations continue, despite international pressure
Earlier this month the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights released a damning ‘Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Kashmir’ analyzing the situation from June 2016-April 2018. The report gave recommendations to the authorities of India, asking them to “fully respect India’s international human rights law obligations in Indian-administered Kashmir” and “respect the right to self-determination of Kashmiri people.”
The report, though, was immediately rejected by the government of India. The ministry of external affairs (MEA) said that the report is “overtly prejudiced” and seeks to build a “false narrative”.
“India rejects the report. It is fallacious, tendentious and motivated. We question the intent in bringing out such a report,” the MEA spokesperson said.
Human Rights Activist Ahsaan Untoo says that the army is not following the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) in the Valley. “The Law states that if Army has to conduct any search operations, place checkpoints or any anti-militant operation, first they have to get permission from the Jammu and Kashmir police or from the first class magistrate of the concerned district,” said Untoo.
He added that the state is under AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) but that doesn’t mean “the Indian army can go to any extent and can humiliate the innocent people here.”
Responses from the army, police and CRPF
However, while speaking to The Kashmir Walla, Army’s Srinagar-based Defence spokesman Col. Rajesh Kalia denied that army personnel have been involved in any such incident. “These are only allegations. Mostly after we checked, the army personnel have not barged into any house or ransacked any property. It has all been found baseless,” said Kalia.
He further added that every day when there is such allegation we check on ground with stationed army officials. “Army are personnel are not involved and even in most of these cases, police is saying that army was not there,” he said.
Senior Superintendent of Police (Pulwama) Muhammad Aslam Chaudhry told The Kashmir Walla that there a few such incidents have come to their notice but nobody has filed a complaint. “I was told by the SHO Rajpora about the incident in Shadimarg but no one came to us for lodging a proper complaint. Meanwhile, we have apprised the Army authorities about such complaints and asked to take some action.”
The Kashmir Walla also reached out to Manzoor Ahmad, the Station House Officer of Rajpora police station, who said that there is no such complaint from Shadimarg area. “No witness has come forward. When someone will come to us then only we will investigate,” he said.
On speaking to the Station House Officer of Pakharpora police station, Imtiyaz Ahmad, he said that they have no such information in the area. “It is better to speak to the army officials,” he added.
The names of the civilians mentioned in the story have been changed on their request.