Kashmir has attracted international attention over human rights abuse since long now. Many global watchdogs who frequented valley to document its rights situation have painted the picture painfully pathetic. But for natives, the crusade continues to be a cause of concern, reports Bilal Handoo
No sooner they derailed Khurram Parvez’s flight to Geneva on Sep 14, many were reminded of that August 11, 1998 nocturnal detention at Delhi. That night, Ghulam Rasool Dar, a rights activist along with an advocate Ghulam Nabi Shaheen was trying to fly to Geneva for attending United Nations Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities meeting. They were detained at Indira Gandhi International Airport. Their travel documents were confiscated before interrogators grilled them about their rights activism and political views. By the time they were let go, they had missed their flight.
Perhaps what happened to Dar is naught compared to what his tribe went through in valley. When Hriday Nath Wanchoo was assassinated by unidentified gunmen on December 5, 1992, a loud message was apparently delivered to those campaigning for rights situation in valley.
But the death of the seasoned Marxist baffled minds, wagged tongues, and raised eyebrows.
Being a retired trade unionist, Wanchoo had documented cases of torture, extrajudicial executions and disappearances. He had brought these cases to State High Court and international human rights organizations’ notice. “Since Wanchoo was a Hindu,” said a top JKLF member, “the authorities found his work particularly humiliating. There was no way to dismiss him as a militant — as was the case with innocent Kashmiri Muslims.”
Soon after his killing, it was said that two Jamiat-ul Mujahidin (JuM) militants were released from jail on condition that they kill Wanchoo. One of them was subsequently killed by forces. Then came the twist when two doctors were subsequently jailed for his assassination.
When Special Operation Group (SOG) detained Persian professor and Syed Ali Geelani’s biographer, Dr Mohammad Shafi Khan alias Dr Shafi Shariati in a 2011 raid at Srinagar, the Wanchoo case was apparently put to rest. Dr Khan had evaded arrest for over seven years after Supreme Court of India held him guilty and awarded him life term in Wanchoo assassination case.
A resident of Budgam’s Haari Wanin village, Dr Khan as per the official records joined militant outfit JuM in early nineties. The outfit was founded by his neighbour, Hilal Mir alias Nasirul Islam of Rawalpora Beerwah. Islam had launched JuM in 1990-91 after he broke away with Hizb cofounders over the proposal of declaring Hizb as Jamaat-e-Islami’s guerrilla arm.
JuM chief Ashiq Hussain Faktoo alias Dr Qasim was arrested and tried alongwith Dr Khan for the duo’s alleged involvement in assassination of Wanchoo at Balgarden Karan Nagar — just 200 yards from DGP’s office. Both the accused succeeded in getting released on bail from J&K High Court.
Dr Farooq Abdullah’s government went in appeal against High Court judgment to Supreme Court and pursued the matter tirelessly till the Supreme Court declared Faktoo and Khan guilty and awarded both with imprisonment.
Faktoo was arrested at IGI Airport on his arrival from London in 1999. During Prof MY Qadiri tenure as Vice Chancellor, Dr Khan joined back his position at University of Kashmir, but went underground after SC pronounced the judgment.
The state government might have apparently rested the Wanchoo case by detaining the doctor duo, but it continues to be silent about many other cases — like the one where a rights activist was put through a living ordeal.
On May 19, 1996, just days before the first round of parliamentary elections, one major Raju of 7th Jat Regiment of army detained a rights activist and took him to a temporary army camp at Srinagar’s Bagat-i-Kanapori. “Inside four by six feet room,” said the activist who preferred anonymity, “I was stripped. They tied my hands and legs before beating me ruthlessly.”
After near death thrashing, the man learned that the army major wanted to know how many Afghanis were in his home. “I was almost choked to death when the major ran electric currents in my private part. I lost consciousness. Once I regained it, I noticed that my whole body was wet with urine and faeces.” He was eventually released before being detained by SOG on February 2, 1998. “They raided my residence and took all of my copies of human rights reports. I was taken to SOG headquarters in Srinagar where I was badly tortured.” The SOG then recommended him be held under the Public Safety Act (PSA).
The draconian act was invoked again in case of another rights defender in 2016. Senior Superintendent of Police Srinagar while presenting a dossier in Khurram Parvez case invoked the provisions of lawless PSA. “The activities of the subject [Khurram] are a direct threat to the maintenance of public order,” SSP Amit Kumar said in a dossier. “The subject has achieved a prominent position in the separatist camps under a hidden cover of being a human rights activist.”
An alumni of KU’s media department, Khurram got himself associated with newly floated HR organization namely J&K Collation of Civil Society (JKCCS) in 2005 and started working with it as a Coordinator till date. A year ago, on April 20, 2004, he lost his leg to IED blast while monitoring parliamentary elections in Kupwara along with his colleagues. Two persons including a noted rights activist Aasia Jeelani and driver Ghulam Nabi Sheikh were killed in a blast. Lashkar-e-Toiba militants reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack.
“The subject [Khurram] has a long history of affiliation with secessionist organizations,” the dossier said, “who advocate secession of state of J&K from the union of India.”
But Amnesty International India (AII) termed Khurram’s work consistent on several human rights issues including mass graves, torture and extrajudicial executions. “Khurram Parvez has a right to raise these important human rights concerns abroad,” AII said, “but his attempt to exercise this right is now being painted as an imminent crime. He was not given any official written explanation for why he was not allowed to travel, but was verbally informed that it was on the instruction of India’s Intelligence Bureau.”
After Khurram’s arrest, a debate started in valley: ‘Deep state’ wants to muzzle saner voices in Kashmir. By silencing those-who-dare-to-speak flourishes a culture of impunity and perpetual harassment, many argued. “Such tactics further shrink space for human rights defenders in internal conflict area like Kashmir. Institutions like the National Human Rights Commission of India (NHRC) have a special responsibility to protect human rights defenders.” It was debated that the entire range of violations that human rights defenders attempt to address is often being directed at them. Jalil Andrabi’s abduction and murder case is classic reference in this regard.
Before his trussed-up body surfaced on Jhelum in Srinagar on March 27, 1996, Andrabi had illustrated government’s “fraudulence” claims on rights situation in valley.
As a law student at University of Kashmir, Andrabi was known to rock the campus with his anti-state demonstrations. He faced torture for protesting against the execution of Muhammad Maqbool Bhat on February 11, 1984. He worked for detainees’ welfare after walking out of prison. It was Andrabi who filed a petition in State High Court and secured a landmark judgement that allowed relatives to visit detainees in jails every fortnight.
Andrabi’s another petition made it mandatory upon state government to form review committees in every district to review detainees’ cases. In 1995, he challenged the Governor’s powers of lodging Kashmiri detainees in jails outside the territorial jurisdiction of the J&K High Court. He went on to address the plight of Kashmiri prisoner in UN Sub-Commission on Human Rights at Geneva in 1995. But once back to valley, his colleagues said, he came under scanner.
On March 8, 1996, Andrabi was detained in Srinagar by “Bulbul”—Major Avtar Singh of 35th Rashtriya Rifles. Senior police officials told his family that Andrabi was in custody and would be released shortly. But three weeks later, his body was found floating in Jhelum. An autopsy showed that he had been killed days after his arrest. He was reportedly handed over to a counterinsurgent group to be killed and the five men responsible were shot dead by forces a month later.
The killing attracted global criticism largely because Andrabi was well known activist, a frequent caller at Geneva and US State Department. An official investigation ultimately indicted Major Avtar Singh who detained Andrabi and apparently handed him over to be killed. But the major was instead allowed to travel to US.
Punishing Andrabi’s killers was out of question at a time when even Chief Secretary Ashok Jaitley would acknowledge that only disciplinary action was taken against personnel involved in large massacres in valley.
Years before, as government launched a “catch-and-kill” policy to execute captured militants, Institute of Kashmir Studies (IKS) had started documenting rights violations in Kashmir. The IKS brought out 40 publications on rights situation. But since many IKS office-bearers were affiliated with a right-wing political party, the IKS was accused of politicising human rights issues. After accusations, its chairman was detained in November 2002 under PSA. Soon the president of Jamaat-e-Islami took over IKS.
But shortly, the IKS’s activities were suspended. “Political forces interfered in human rights work of IKS,” said one top Jama’at-e-Islami member. Like institutions, individuals spearheading rights campaign continued receiving threats. One such individual was Dr Abdul Ahad Guru.
Dr Farooq Ashai.
Dr Farooq Ashai.
Dr Guru was Kashmir’s cardio-vascular thoracic surgeon of international repute. They called him a human rights activist to the core. Since the onset of armed uprising in early 1989, he was seen as JKLF ideologue. It was on his initiative that JKLF had released kidnapped senior police personnel. He would bring instances of grave human rights violations in Kashmir to the notice of various international forums.
It is said that a testimony by James Baker (ex-White House Chief of Staff) before the United Nations Security Council in 1991 was based entirely on evidences and documents provided by Dr Guru.
But on April 1, 1993, he was abducted by few gun-toting boys near Soura when he was on way back home from hospital. The next day his dead body was found in the vicinity of the area where from he was abducted. The state termed Dr Guru’s killing an outcome of internecine war between HM and JKLF — as both militants groups wanted to outdo the other in early 1990s.
Years later, in summer 2008, a 1968-batch IAS officer and erstwhile Divisional Commissioner of Kashmir, Wajahat Habibullah made a chilling disclosure about Dr Guru’s assassination.
On page 81-82 of his book, “My Kashmir Conflict and The Prospects Of Enduring Peace”, Habibullah says, “In April 1993, the Chief ideologue of the JKLF, Dr Abdul Ahad Guru was kidnapped and brutally murdered by the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen militant Zulqarnain.”
Guru was a leading Srinagar physician who founded medical college, commanded wide respect and presented a reasonable form of resistance, Habibullah writes. “He was therefore an inconvenience to the police. The Police made an arrangement with Zulqarnain, then in custody, who agreed to kill Guru in exchange for his release. But to ensure that this collusion remained secret, Zulqarnain was killed shortly thereafter and the Director General of Police BS Bedi trumpeted his death as a triumph for the security forces, who had killed a dangerous terrorist in an armed encounter.”
But the truth was somewhat different, writes Habibullah.
“Instead of killing Zulqarnain in an armed encounter, the police stormed the home where, under the mistaken presumption that he was safe after having fulfilled his end of the bargain, he was consorting with a lady friend.”
Two months before Dr Guru’s killing, another doctor cum rights defender was killed in Kashmir. On Feb 18, 1993, Dr Farooq Ashai was driving his family home. His wife heard three shots coming from a nearby bunker on Barzulla Bridge. One bullet hit him. He collapsed that very moment.
His family complained that he died due to a massive blood loss as the same CRPF unit that fired at him had stopped an ambulance carrying two surgeons for a long time.
It was the death of the “father of orthopaedics” in Kashmir who had founded Srinagar’s Bone and Joint Hospital. Prof Ashai frequently interacted with foreign scribes and human rights defenders. As per his friends, Dr Ashai acted as a spokesman for bullet-torn, blast-ripped Kashmiris.
The year 1993 was brutal for rights defenders in valley. After Dr Ashai and Dr Guru, another renowned rights activist — about whom Prof Abdul Gani Bhat said in 2011, “he was killed by our own people” — was killed on December 31, 1993 by unknown gunmen.
A law professor at University of Kashmir, Prof Abdul Ahad Wani was an advocate of Kashmir freedom movement besides prominent rights activist. The academic was on way to University when an anonymous assailant shot him dead.
Known as “Shaheed-I-Danish”, Prof Wani is being described as the victim of an ideological war. Wani defended the struggle in early 90s and mobilized global opinion in favour of Kashmir by his capabilities, Yasin Malik once said about him. “History will never forgive the killers of Prof Wani.”
When United Nations Army General met Prof Wani, he told him if there are 10-15 persons in the world like him, there would be a revolution, Malik said. “The US assistant secretary of state Robin Raphel after a meeting with Prof Wani said she doesn’t think US President is more intelligent than him. Shadow Foreign Minister of Labour Party during an interaction with him was taken by his intellect.”
It is believed that killing of these prominent rights defenders deterred other human rights activists from carrying out documentation and advocacy work. Those who continued going against the tide were “harassed, threatened”. Khurram Pervez, many say, is one such activist.