Unhealed Wounds The widows of Dardpora

“WE do not want to talk to you,” the widows of Dardpora in Kupwara district, around 130 kms north of Srinagar, say they have had enough of talking after losing their male family members. With around 300 widows, the village suffered maximum causalities through the 90s being close to the Line of Control (LoC). The villagers of this mountainous village say over the years hundreds of people from NGOs and journalists visited Dardpora, which literally means an abode of pain. “They came, listened to us, took notes and then they left,” the widows say angrily, “but we did not get any justice.”

 In 1992 Muhammad Saddiq Khoja of Dardpora had gone out of his house to a neighboring village when he was stopped on the way by the army troops from a nearby camp. “We received his dead body next day,” says the wife of Saddiq. “Who could have killed him except the army who ruled this area?” A year after his death she says Khoja’s father Yousuf Khoja was also killed by the army. Devastated after losing their two male members, the family was supported by some sympathetic neighbors and relatives. “Zulm hova yahan..,” she says as her eyes brim with tears.

 The family now lives in poverty in a four-room mud-house without any elder male member alive. Khoja’s daughter, Parveena Bano, who is studying in 12th standard, has a faint memory of his father. She was a little girl when she lost her father. “Even today we fear the army,” she says. Her mother says they still lock their doors from inside, fearing army might come anytime. During crackdowns in the past she says the army would drag men out of their homes even in early winter mornings. “They would not allow them to offer prayers during crackdowns,” she says. 

 “They would call Dardpora as chota Pakistan,” says a local resident Ghulam Mohiudin Mir about the fear the army instilled in the village in the 90s. During many crackdowns, he remembers the army bringing out all the villagers out of their homes. Army from all the units of Kupwara would then surround the village, he says. “The police would not dare to file cases against the army for killing innocent people here,” he says.

 Mir believes even today if a survey is conducted in Dardpora, all the men who survived the terror of nineties will turn out to be “maezoor” given the torture inflicted on their bodies by the army troops. “They did not differentiate between young and old when it came to torture,” he says. “They would ask for weapons from us which we never had.” Mir remembers his own interrogation in 1994. In-between inflicting electric shocks to his private parts, Mir recalls the troops telling him and joking among themselves: “sala, aj kay baed bachay nahe janmo gay.”

 A short distance from Khoja’s house the family of Ghulam Mohiudin Khan is yet to come to terms with his death. One day in 1992, Khan, who was then working in the transport department in Kupwara, had also gone out of his home to attend to his duty in Kupwara. Next day, his family received his bullet-ridden body. “It was the army dour here those days and police could not do anything,” says his son who was a four-year-old kid when he lost his father. “We could not even ask them why they killed him,” his son says about the helplessness of people at the receiving end of that violence. “Army ka raj tha yahan…” Now a PG student in sociology, he says there has been no justice with families like them. Till 2000 we could not even stay at home, he says, such was the fear of army. 

 Earlier, in 1990 Ghulam Mohiudin’s father, Mungta Khan, 50, along with seven other men, was picked up by the army who wanted weapons from them. They were taken to the nearby army camps, says his grandson, and there they tortured him along with other arrested men from the village. “We received his dead body after two days,” recalls his grandson. “Torture marks were visible on his dead body, his neck was broken and his left eye was missing.”

 A short walk from Khan’s house, few mothers gather in a small wooden house of another widow.  FIR copies are folded in their hands. All of them were widowed in the 90s. And since then, without any support from any side, life has been miserable for them. “No one bothered to see our condition after we lost our men,” says one of the widows in the room.

 Gul Jan, 50, shows the FIR copy of her husband Abdul Peer Khan who, she says, was forced to pick up the gun by the army at the age of 40. He was later killed in an encounter with five other men in Kralgund, Handwara. Gul Jan says they came to know about his death when police showed them the photo taken after he was killed. By the time they could reach Handwara, he was already buried by the police.

 “His brother was accused of being a mukhbir and killed by the militants,” Jan says. “His uncle was interrogated by the military in 1993 and his cousin brothers were also killed in encounters,” she says. People would tell him that he is mukhbir (informer), she says, and army would harass him. “So he went across the border and became a militant.”

 Peer Khan’s son, who was eight-year-old when his father was killed, had to drop out of school as the army would come to harass him. He was also tortured. “They would ask for weapons from me,” he says. It has been 21 years since her husband’s death. Jan says people come here from all places but their condition remains the same. “They listen to us and then they leave,” she says. “But we don’t get anything; we are on our own at the end.” 
 Are they hopeful of getting any justice in future? 

 “Who will give us insaaf?” the widows ask before answering themselves. “Only God can give us Insaaf.”

 The widows say the families of “mukbirs” who were killed in Dardpora received lakhs in government aid. But the families of militants killed were not given anything, says Gul Jan, except for a meager widow fund of Rs 200 per month. “Our children are suffering and we live a miserable life even today,” she says.

 Noor Begum’s son was 13 when he disappeared on his way to the school in Dardpora. After six years, the family came to know that he had crossed the border and become a militant. On his return, he was killed by the army in an encounter when he was 20. Like in many such cases in the village, this family did not receive any compensation. The families of the ones killed by the militants were paid one to five lakh rupees by the government, Noor Begum says, but we were not given anything.

 She says many people from NGOs and journalists from outside the state came to their village, made few rounds, listened to their stories, and then they left. “They never come back here and our condition remains as it was,” she says with bitterness about opening up her wounds every time someone cares to visit them.

 An old woman, until then sitting quietly in the room, walks up to me with a small piece of paper in her hands. She looks distraught, disturbed. The FIR copy of her son is folded in her hands.  She says her son Rasheed, studying in 9th standard in 1992, disappeared while going to his school that year. After three years, she received his dead body from the police. He too had become a militant. He was 17.

 After she lost her son, she says her husband Gul Khan was arrested many times by the army and interrogated in custody. “They would ask for weapons of his son,” she says. He could not survive the wounds inflicted in many interrogations and passed away in 1995. He was 50.

 She has difficulty in recollecting all the details about the death of her husband and son. She has been on continued medication since she lost them. The loss of her son and husband has also affected her mental health. She lives alone in her small mud-house along with her daughters. Many of her neighbors say her son was killed in front of her. “Her son was asked by the army to surrender when they caught hold of him,” says another widow who lives near her house, “And when he said ‘No’,” she says, “he was shot at many times by the army troops.” His mother was watching all this from a distance, her neighbor points out, and after that she lost her mental balance.

“Us kay baed mera dimag karaab hogaya…,” she says as she emptily stares at the FIR copy of her son’s death.