Srinagar, June 28 (KMS): Mohammad Hussian Wani, 55, does not know that United Nations human-rights experts have mentioned the name of his son, Naseer Ahmad Wani in their May 2021 letter and have asked the government of India for a response.
Wani, a farmer, does not know what the United Nations is. All he knows is that his son “disappeared from custody” nearly two years ago, and he wants the Indian army to at least return his body.
A team of United Nations human rights experts wrote a letter to the government of India, made public in June 2021, seeking details of “repressive measures and broader patterns of systemic infringements of fundamental rights”, in two other cases, along with Wani’s.
Irfan Ahmad Dar of Sopore was allegedly killed in police custody in September 2020 and Waheed-ur-Rehman Parra of the Peoples Democratic Party was allegedly tortured by security forces and remains in prison.
The United Nations has been involved in Kashmir since 1947, when it mediated the first Indo-Pak war in the region. However, India has resisted UN’s involvement in the conflict and maintained that Kashmir is India’s “internal issue”.
In May 2019, India informed the Human Rights Council, a UN body, that it would not engage with its Special Rapporteurs on their Kashmir reports. In July 2019, the Ministry of External Affairs dismissed a UN report on the valley as being “false and motivated”.
When Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) was brought under New Delhi’s control in August 2019, the UN Office of The High Commissioner for Human Right criticised India’s action. Since then UN-appointed independent experts have watched the situation in the region.
The current letter comes from five UN experts, including three special rapporteurs focusing on torture, extrajudicial executions and protection of human rights while countering terrorism.
While getting a rap on the knuckles from the UN is an international embarrassment, India is not legally required to take action on their suggestions. The recent letter might only help activists, journalists and regional political parties draw attention to human-rights issues.
Security expert Manoj Joshi of the Observer Research Foundation, a think tank, said “powerful countries” don’t pay much attention to these aspects of the UN system.
“Their work is usually recommendatory and unless the UN Security Council says something, no one bothers about the UN in political matters,” said Joshi.
On the night of 29 November 2019, about a dozen army personnel entered Wani’s house and vandalised the property, said the UN letter. “While searching the house, the army men used two children as human shields,” it added.
“We were sleeping. All of a sudden, I heard someone banging on our door,” Hussian Wani told Article 14, sitting in his home in Doompora in Shopian district, 49 km south of Srinagar. The men entered the house and locked themselves in Naseer’s room. “After some time, we heard his screams. The soldiers were torturing him,” said Hussain Wani.
They took the 24-year-old away, alleging that Naseer Wani’s phone had been used by militants.
The following morning, the villagers of Doompora accompanied the family to Keegam police station, hoping to file a first information report (FIR). The officer-in-charge refused to file it and directed them to the Shadimarg Army camp. “When we reached the camp, we were chased away by the soldiers,” Hussain Wani said.
That evening, the Army told him his son had been released. Soldiers had asked a local passerby driving a scooter to drop Naseer, the family was told. “How can they hand over my son to an unknown person?” asked Hussain.
The UN letter notes that an Army officer threatened the Wani family and forbade them from making inquiries in the case.
The family approached the District Magistrate who asked the police to look into the matter. The police confirmed that Naseer was never charged with any militancy-related cases. An officer, however, said that they lodged a missing report. “We have reports that Wani fled with the militants,” an official, who wished to remain anonymous, said.
When Naseer was detained, the army told the family that they seized 40 SIM cards from him, which were allegedly used by the militants. “I asked them if they seized 40 SIM cards from him, why did they release him,” Hussain said.
Naseer’s whereabouts are unknown to this day.
On 17 June, Article 14 sought a response from the office of Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha on Wani’s case. There was no response. We will update this story if there is one.
Like Naseer, about 10,000 people have been “forcibly disappeared” in Kashmir in the last 30 years of conflict, said a 2018 report from the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society and Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons. “The [Indian] state has always deprived the victim’s families of truth, justice and reparations, with the result the families of disappeared including parents, half widows and half-orphans continue to suffer endlessly in the quest to know the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones,” said the report.
“If they have killed our son, they should just hand over the dead body to us,” said Wani.
On 16 June, Article 14 sought a response from the defence public relations officer, Srinagar, about the family’s allegations. There was no response. We will update the story if he responds.
While the Wani family was struggling to know if their son was alive, the Dar family of Sopore did not know how their son died.
In 2018, the UN issued its first-ever report on Kashmir which had details of extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations. The Indian government had rejected the report and its contents. The recent letter seeks a response from the Indian government on Irfan Ahmad Dar’s case, who was allegedly killed in custody by the police.
Irfan Dar, 23, was arrested on 15 September 2020, in north Kashmir’s Sopore by the Jammu and Kashmir Police Special Operations Group (SOG).
Hajira Begum, 60, vividly remembered the day her son was picked up by the police from his shop. “If I had an inkling that they would kill my son, I wouldn’t have allowed them to detain him,” Begum told Article 14 in her home in Sidiq colony, Sopore, 36 km north of Srinagar.
Irfan was held along with his brother, who was released the same evening because he developed complications with his health. “I was detained at SOG, Sopore,” said Javid Ahmad Dar. “I asked them about my brother. They said he has been kept in the police station. I didn’t see him at that time.”
Ten days before their detention, the government forces had carried out a search operation in their area, in which Irfan was used as a “human shield”, Javid said.
The army alleged that Dar had sheltered some militants. “I told them that we have installed CCTV cameras and I can provide the footage,” said Javid, denying the allegation.
On 16 September, when news broke that Irfan had died in custody, the family along with several locals took to the streets to protest.
The police claimed that Irfan Dar was killed while he was trying to escape from them. However, the family alleges he was killed in police custody.
Irfan was buried in a graveyard in Sonamarg, about 100 km away from his house. The family was allowed at the funeral only briefly. “It was found that facial bones were fractured… and his head appeared to have bruises of blunt force trauma,” read the UN letter, detailing the state of the body.
On the same day, the Jammu and Kashmir police issued a statement claiming Irfan was an over-ground worker (OGW) for the militants and that two Chinese hand grenades were recovered from him.
The police statement makes no mention of the cause of death or any injuries on Irfan’s body. Although a postmortem examination of the body was conducted at the police control room, the family was not provided with a copy of its findings.
On 24 September, the J&K police suspended two police men in connection with Irfan’s death but for being negligent and allowing him to escape. There was no accountability for his killing.
Fighting For Information
Since Irfan’s death, the family has fought to get information about his final days.
Following the protests, the administration ordered a magisterial inquiry into the alleged custodial death, whose report was submitted in February 2021. Yet again, the family was denied a copy.
The Dar family filed an RTI seeking the details of the inquiry report. The RTI application was rejected by the Public Information Officer, claiming that divulging such information might hamper an on-going investigation.
The Dar family then approached the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in October 2020. The commission issued a notice to the J&K Police seeking a report on the alleged custodial death.The police have not yet responded to the NHRC.
Senior superintendent of police (SSP), Sopore, Sudhanshu Verma told Article 14 that he could not comment on the case since it was sub-judice.
In March 2021, the family moved the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, seeking a copy of the magisterial inquiry and post-mortem reports. “Our argument is that since the investigation has already been completed as per the police, how will sharing the reports hamper the investigation, and under no circumstances can the family of deceased be denied the post mortem report,” said advocate Shafqat Nazir. “The J&K police know that the conclusions of the inquiry report are against them, so they are just buying time and delaying justice.”
The court issued notice to the government and police authorities seeking their response on a plea filed by the family. The next hearing is on 28 June 2021.
The Dar family alleged that the Sopore police several times offered bribes over the last eight months.
SSP Verma denied the family’s bribery allegations. “We didn’t offer any money to anyone and whatever they (family) are claiming, they have to say in the court,” said Verma.
“The offer started from Rs 20 lakh, increased to Rs 50 lakh and eventually we were told that rupees one crore along with a government job will be given if we withdraw the case,” said Javid. “But how can we sell the blood of our child?”
Javid said that his brother was sharp and shouldered the responsibility of the family. “Irfan expanded the business within no time and gave employment to at least eight other people,” he said.
Policemen continue to check on Javid ever so often. On 15 June, he was detained at a checkpoint near Reban village and was taken to Sopore police station for questioning. He was released shortly after.
The following day, police checked his phone and took his Facebook username and password. “They have been pressuring us since the UN letter came out,” said Javid, but the family is happy that someone was following up on his brother’s killing.
Torture in Prison
In Pulwama, 30 km south of Sringar, the family of Waheed-ur-Rehman Parra said they were struggling to come to terms with physical and mental torture allegedly meted out to their son.
In August 2020, a year after India took away Jammu and Kashmir’s statehood, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, raised concerns about the Indian government’s alleged illegal detention and custodial torture of Kashmiris.
The latest UN letter details the case of Waheed-ur-Rehman Parra, who was allegedly subject to “abusive interrogations” subjected to ill-treatment in New Delhi by National Investigation Agency (NIA) officials, who arrested him on 25 November 2020. He remained in their custody for a month.
The Agency accused Parra of being involved with banned militant groups Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Parra, is the youth president of the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and has been a close aide of former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti. “Who would have thought that a political leader like Parra would be given this kind of treatment?” said a relative, who requested anonymity.
According to NIA’s chargesheet, Parra was a crucial player in sustaining the “political-separatist-terrorist” nexus in Jammu and Kashmir.
The NIA claimed that the youth leader paid Rs 5 crore to separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s son-in-law to keep protests in Kashmir going after Hizbul Mujahideen leader Burhan Wani was killed in 2016.
The UN letter said Parra was subject to “abusive interrogations” after his arrest, which lasted 10 to 12 hours at a time. “He was held in a dark underground cell at subzero temperature, was deprived of sleep, kicked, slapped, beaten with rods, stripped naked and hung upside down,” said the letter. “Mr Parra was examined by a government doctor three times since his arrest last November and three times by a psychiatrist. He requested medication for insomnia and anxiety.”
Parra began receiving threats after his participation in a closed group meeting with UN officials in July 2020. However, the PDP leader was granted bail by an NIA court on 9 January, after it observed that there was not even a “whisper” about his involvement in the offences listed in the original charge sheet presented in July 2020.
Shortly after Parra was granted bail, a unit of the J&K police called Counter Intelligence Kashmir detained him under a charge related to providing financial support to terrorist groups.
Parra continues to be incarcerated in Srinagar Central Jail.
At the Parra residence at Naira in South Kashmir’s Pulwama, there is gloom. Visitors usually throng the double-story concrete house, seeking favours.
That is all in the past now.
(Auqib Javeed is a Srinagar-based journalist.)