Sitting near the window of her modest home in Diver, Lolab, 120kms north of Srinagar, Jana Begum, 51, emptily stares around, heaving long sighs of “haye meray Khuda”, before talking about what she has lost in the past sixteen years: four sons killed, including her husband, all of them by STF (Special Task Force) and Army in Kupwara.
Jana Begum can no longer bring herself to weep now. Tears have dried up in her sunken eyes that speak of immense pain. Sometimes, when she looks at you while talking about her sons, it seems as if she is looking through you. She now survives on medicine she can’t name. She seems indifferent to what is happening around her. But talk about her sons and she remembers and recounts, in a calm and composed voice, how and when her sons were killed one by one. She recalls little details of the days when they left home, one after another, never to return. She narrates how her husband was tortured, and how he latter died at home, unable to survive the torture wounds inflicted on his body.
Does she want justice after all these years?
Will the killers of her sons and husband be ever brought to book?
Is she even hopeful of getting justice now?
Whenever Jana Begum is asked such questions, she answers them by asking another question:
“koun sa insaaf mileaga ab itnay saal baed?”(What justice will I get now after all these years?)
Ask her about the photos of her sons, and Jana brings out a framed large size colored photo. The photo is a mosaic of five small pictures: three small photos of dead bodies of her three sons, a picture of her young son and that of her husband when they were alive. Below the photo is inscribed in bold, capital red letters, “FOUR SONS OF JANA BEGUM.”
While holding the framed photo in front of her, she narrates the story of each small picture. It’s the story of murder, of torture, disappearance and harassment and injustice, and immense pain. In between narrating the painful stories of the loss of her three sons and her husband, she tenderly rubs the family portrait with her hands. The photo is too painful to be looked at for long.
One night in the year 1996, Jana’s first son, 20-year-old Muhammad Lateef War, a student in a Darul Uloom in Lal Bazar, Srinagar was repairing his watch in the kitchen of his home. At nine in the evening a shot rang out from the window. Some armed men, which Jana believes to be some STF and BSF personnel, shot her son. “The bullet pierced him from one side and left him dead,” says his mother. At a young age Jana says her beloved son had memorized the whole Quran. He was a Hafiz Quran.
Two of her sons, Muhammad Sharif and Bhaktiyaar War, both in their early twenties, were arrested from Bohama in Kupwara by STF while they were travelling to Srinagar in 1998. They had to join back their madrassa in Lal Bazaar after their vacations were over. “We later heard that they were brought down from the bus and taken away by STF in a vehicle,” says Jana. “We came to know after four days that they have been killed.”
Jana says when they came to know that in Kupwara some “militants from Pakistan” have been killed, they rushed there and found the clothes of her sons hung from a walnut tree. They were not shown the dead bodies of the “militants” by the police. “We recognized them from their clothes,” she recalls. “The Task Force had shown some guns recovered from them that were placed near their dead bodies.” In the FIR registered in the Kupwara police station, Jana says her sons were shown as “foreign militants.”
Jana’s elder son, Muhammad Sharifuddin War, 25, mysteriously disappeared one day in 2000. After finishing his Quranic studies from Deoband, UP, he had returned home and was teaching Quran in a local madrassa. One day, while going to his in-laws place about three kilometers away from his home, he disappeared. At home they thought he was staying at his in-laws place. But when they went searching for him, they couldn’t find him anywhere. When Jana approached DCs office in Kupwara to seek the whereabouts of her son, she says she was threatened there with a pistol. When she went looking for him in the Kupwara army camp, they denied having arrested him. “We came to know about his death after four days,” says Jana Begum. They couldn’t even trace his clothes. Only his identity card was found by an old man in the jungles of Dardpora.
When Jana lost her four sons, her husband, Abul Karim War, 60, went to collect some relief from the local administration in Kupwara in 1998. He was picked up by BSF and STF personnel from Kupwara bus stand, says Jana, and tortured for four days inside the STF camp in Kupwara. “The Task Force took away the relief as well and returned one thousand rupees out of one lakh he had collected,” says Jana. When Abdul Karim was released after four days, he couldn’t talk. He was bedridden. He couldn’t even walk a few steps at his home. Jana says during his torture his hands were tied at the back and he was kept in cold water. He was also given electric shocks. A roller was used on his body. “There were torture marks near his ears, feet and head,” recalls Jana. “After four days he died of heart attack,” she says.
Even after losing her four sons and her husband, Jana says STF and BSF men would often raid their home, beat them up, and ask for the whereabouts of militants and weapons they never had. “All my sons were innocent,” she says, “still they killed them and did not spare my husband too.” Jana says she was also tortured when she went to the STF camp in Kupwara to free her husband who was in their custody in 1998. She says her two-year old son, who was in her lap at that time, was also beaten up inside the STF camp. “My hands were touched with the bukhari and I was asked to leave the camp,” she recalls.
Since Jana’s sons were dubbed as “foreign militants”, no ex-gratia relief was sanctioned to her. Despite losing everything she loved, she says no one helped them in all these years. No MLA visited their home, she says. “No Hurriyat leader bothered to help us.”
Every year, before Eid, Jana travels to Srinagar to seek some financial help to run her house. She comes back home disappointed. “We have to beg even to buy clothes for the rest of my children and three unmarried daughters,” she says. “Only Khuda is with us,” she laments.
Jana’s youngest surviving son attends school only a few days in a week. For the rest of the days, he does labor work to earn a living for his family. “I know how my mother suffered over the years and no one came forward to help us,” he says. “We were left alone to suffer.” On Eid days the family does not prepare any dishes. They don’t eat anything on that day. Festive occasions turn into days of remembrance—and mourning—for this family.
“People celebrate Eid but how can we?” Jana’s youngest son asks.
Whenever Jana Begum visited the residences of Hurriyat leaders in Srinagar, with the pictures of her dead sons and husband in hand, she says she was stopped at the door. She was not allowed to meet them. When she went to the residence of Shabir Shah, she says she was not allowed to go beyond the gate. “Someone at the gate gave me Rs 200 for the return bus fare,” she says. When she went to the residence of Syed Ali Geelani, she says she was given Rs 30 at the gate. Another leader told her that money for her will come from Pakistan.
The word Insaaf (Justice) has lost its meaning for Jana Begum. For her, the idea of justice is a mockery, a joke in this godforsaken part of the world. When there was no Insaaf for the past sixteen years even after I lost four of my innocent sons and my husband, she asks angrily, what can I expect now?
“Kaun deaga insaaf Khuda kay bagear?”
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