Her face was pale when she handed out tahar, turmeric rice distributed for charity and thanksgiving, from a bucket on a crossing on the chilly morning today. The young woman was glad that “the army didn’t kill my brother last night”. A few meters ahead, on the dusty road, blood stains lead the woman to 20-year-old Bilal Hussain.
On the prior night, at about 1:30 am, Hussain was scrolling on his smartphone, tucked in his bed, when someone repeatedly banged the door to his residence in Abanshah area in Srinagar’s outskirts. When he opened the door, he stood numb as about forty troopers of the Indian Army stared at him.
Moments later “I and my father walked out on the street”, he said. Neither of them were given a chance to wear shoes. “At least twenty other people”, Hussain said, were ordered out of their homes, they “stood in a line” on the dark street as the temperature dipped to 1°C. As the men and boys shivered, one trooper walked up to Hussain and said: “Yeh raat tu kabhi nahi bhulega. Yeh to shuruwat hai.” (You’ll never forget this night. This is just the beginning.)
Hussain said the troops kept repeating the same questions: “Where are the militants?”, “Tell us where did they eat food?”, “Did you watch the video?”. The troopers were referring to a video recorded and released by militants who attacked a patrol group, killing two troopers, on the afternoon of 26 November in this area.
When contacted by The Kashmir Walla, Indian Army’s Srinagar based spokesperson Rajesh Kalia had this to say about the alleged raids following the 26 November attack: “These allegations are unfounded. No army personnel is involved in thrashing or beating of civilians.”
The Senior Superintendent of Police, Srinagar, Haseeb Mughal, told The Kashmir Walla that “no such complaints are there with the police station”. He added: “We don’t have any such information. If there is any substance in your reporting, you better talk to the concerned army officer.”
‘Not allowed to scream’
Since the attack, the locals have accused the Army of raiding the neighbourhood every day and night, dragging out civilians and beating them up. More than a dozen families The Kashmir Walla spoke with in the neighbourhood claimed that more than sixty people were beaten up by the army so far.
Hussain was caught in a raid on the third night since the attack. Like everyone else in the line that night, Hussain said, “We’ve no idea.” The army personnel asked the group to lie on the road, with their bellies down. Hussain looked at his father, standing adjacent to him, and bended. “Let them hit me as much as they want,” he had thought, “but not my father.”
Armed with assault rifles and thick bamboo sticks, Hussain said, the army troopers thrashed the rounded up residents for nearly an hour. “We were not allowed to scream,” Hussain recalled, “or even raise our heads up.” During this, he said, one man shouted in agony: “If you are going to kill, [then] shoot us.”
For Hussain, the pain didn’t numb with continued thrashing and he let out a scream. Then, “their officer walked up to me and said ‘Bol, Jai Shri Ram’, (chant Victory to Lord Ram, a rallying slogan for Hindu nationalists)” recalled Hussain. “[But] I screamed in pain then he shoved his gun in my mouth.”
Boys on the run
In the neighbourhood’s main intersection, the shops are shut as the army personnel stood guard on all the entry and exits on Sunday. People come out of their homes but no one dares to take a stroll.
One of those shops is run by the father of 18-year-old Adil Mir, a student of eleventh standard. Adil would seldom sit at the shop to help his father. On the day of the attack, Adil was at school in Mirgund, a few kilometers from Abanshah, giving an exam. His father, Abdul Mir, called him to tell that two army personnel had been killed and that “you should stay there [at their relative’s house near the school], the situation is bad here.”
The army personnel of 2 Rashtriya Rifle (RR) asked about him multiple times since the attack, said Adil , but the father stalled them. Two days later, on 28 November, Adil’s father called him again. This time, informing him that he had to present himself at the army camp. Shortly after the call, the teenager reached army camp, alone.
“I was told by my father that many people from our locality are there,” he told The Kashmir Walla, in a phone interview on 28 November. “About thirty-five men were standing in a line and I joined them, quietly.” The army personnel, he said, asked his whereabouts. He replied, “I had my examination but they didn’t believe me.”
Further, Mir said he doesn’t remember anything else but his own screams. “They were seven personnel, who kept beating me,” he said. “Two of them held me [and] others beat me up. Then they pushed me to the ground and kept beating.”
Writhing in pain, Mir whispered from the other side of the phone, “What could have I done? My whole body is in pain right now. I’m angry but what can I do?”
However, he wants to move on. His annual examinations are coming next month. “If I sit here, I can’t study anymore,” he said. “So now, I’ll go to my relative’s house. I need to concentrate; my studies are important.”
The next morning, before the army came back, Mir sneaked out. He joined more than a dozen men, mainly youth, from the hamlet to go on a run.
The Station House Officer, Parimpora, Zaffar Iqbal, also told The Kashmir Walla: “We have not received any such complaints. There is nothing like that, if there is anything to anybody they can directly approach me. Perhaps if there is any issue, they should obviously report it. As far as my information is concerned, nobody has approached me.”
One of the boys on the run told The Kashmir Walla on the phone: “Police do nothing. … If anybody goes to the police, he would be the first one [to be identified] that he went to police. They are worried about that.”
As the scare grows with each passing night, the boys aren’t sure when they will return home.
“They will come for us”
Not everybody could run from the army. Hamza Mir’s three sons — Hilal, Mehraj, and Hameed — were badly injured in the beating when the army raided on Friday night, the second day from the attack. The trio were in a hospital in Srinagar. Hamza stayed back with his wife, waiting for his own wounds to heal with time.
“The army barged into our house on Friday night, at 1:30 am, and dragged all men above 18 out,” recalled Hamza. He was sitting near a kang’ir, his thighs aching from the fresh bruises, still wearing the thin checked-sweater that he wore the other midnight as he stood with nearly “thirty-five others” on the main intersection where the forces’ personnel were killed.
Under the street lights, a similar choreography of terror followed the night. He, strikingly, remembered a moment from the night: “When they hit my Hilal, the youngest son, on a leg, he fell on the ground. I pleaded, ‘Sir, he is a child, don’t hit him.’ I was crying, but I was next in line.”
So when the army personnel reached him, Hamza merely stood up, and said, “I don’t know where the militants are or where they were.” The army personnel took him to a nearby lamppost on the street, he said. “One of them grabbed my hands, pulled me towards the pole, and tightly held me against it,” he recalled, still shivering. “Then the rest beat me up from the back.”
At least eight boys were in the hospital, undergoing treatment, near Hamza’s residence, their families told The Kashmir Walla. Hamza’s wife interrupted the men, holding a doctor’s prescription amid sobs, to say: “All of my sons are in the hospital. What will I do if they don’t return? I could feel my heart is stopping.”
The daughter of Hamza’s next door neighbour, 8-year-old Iqra, witnessed the entire incident from her window — how the army also grabbed her father along with the other men and dragged him out; the screams in the dead of the night. She now feels terrorised at the sight of men in military uniforms.
On Friday night’s raid, Iqra had joined other women of the hamlet to follow the army personnel, taking their kin, to plead. A few meters away from the intersection, the army blocked the way with their armoured vehicle. “I could hear my father’s screams,” said Iqra, “but I was really afraid. … I thought now they will come to beat me. I still think they will come for us.”
“Shall I sit and watch them beat up my family?”
In the second raid on the third day after the attack, after the beatings, Hussain said, at about 3 am “they asked us to run at the count of three”. “All of us stood in a line and the Army personnel again got ready with their batons; at the count of three, we ran and they hit anyone they could. I didn’t stop till I reached home.”
Hussain returned home with his limping father as the women awaited them on the porch. The blood spilled on that runway is still red. Hussain looked at his father and couldn’t say anything. “I cried,” he recalled, “and ran up to my room.”
Back at home, his sister, Shagufta Akhtar felt helpless and afraid, she could not call for help as the Army troopers had taken away the phones of everyone in the locality, along with passwords. “They even asked me to open the vault on the phone. I observe the hijab (modesty as ordained by Islam) and I don’t feel comfortable when someone else sees my photos. The phone has personal details,” she said, adding that she felt her privacy was being violated.
However, to Hussain, privacy is the least of concerns. “They have told us that they will come again,” said Hussain, looking out the window behind him. “They will definitely come — who isn’t scared?” Standing in the room as Hussain shows his bruised leg, his friend said, “They are pushing us towards it — you know what. Shall I sit and watch them beat up my family? They are forcing us to act.”
Photograph by Bhat Burhan for The Kashmir Walla