DEATH TRAP ON A MOUNTAIN

  • Aakash Hassan
  • Publish Date: Oct 23 2017 9:09PM
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  • Updated Date: Oct 23 2017 9:09PM
DEATH TRAP ON A MOUNTAIN

In early September, two men were taken into the army garrison on Trehmokh Top in Lolab. One is battling for life in hospital, the other has vanished.

 

Two days before Eid-ul-Azha, Nasrullah Khan got a call that his horse and cow had not returned from the pasture. The call came from Trehmokh Top, a mountaintop overlooking Lobal in North Kashmir where Gujjar families shift to in summer to rear cattle and do some farming. They stay in wood-and-mud houses called Dokhas, over 200 of which are on Trehmokh Top. Nasrullah’s family had shifted their dokha, only to return to their village, Devar Patti, to care for his ailing wife and aged mother. Nasrullah had shown his wife, who has a heart condition and suffers from severe back pain, to a doctor earlier that day and hoped to take his mother, too, the next day. The call put paid to his plan.

The next morning, he set out to find his lost cattle. “At 10 am, he loaded two sacks of rice on his donkey and left for Trehmok,” says Tawheeda, 18. “He was wearing a blue khan dress.”

Tawheeda is the second of Nasrullah’s two daughters and three sons. Her older sister, 20, is married. Tawheeda dropped out of middle school when her mother took ill four years ago to look after her and the rest of the family. 

Nasrullah, who is in his early 40s, trekked for over two hours to Trehmokh Top. On the way, he met Manzoor Khan, a neighbour, his uncle Jalal Din and aunt Parveena. Manzoor, who is in his 20s, put a small rucksack he was carrying on Nasrullah’s donkey and the four of them started walking together.

The way to Trehmokh Top is through an Indian army garrison, and anyone who passes must prove their identity to the guards and have their names entered in a register. Currently, the camp is manned by 27 Rashtriya Rifles, a battalion of the Maratha Light Infantry. The garrison was established over a decade ago to deter militants who would take this route coming from Pakistan.

When they reached the camp, Manzoor went in to show his and his family’s identity documents. Nasrullah had reached ahead of them, and gone in.

“We had to take a cow from the Top and reach Aloosa,” says Jalal Din, referring to a nearby village in Bandipora district. “The cow was to be sold to a police officer for Eid sacrifice.” Jalal Din had asked Manzoor to tell the army officials the family would return the same day.

“After fifteen minutes, Manzoor came out and told me to wait because the army Major wanted to speak with him,” Jalal Din recalls.

So, Jalal Din, who is in his 50s, waited with his sister, Parveena, 30. An hour passed. “I approached the gatekeeper and asked how much longer it would take since we are getting late for work,” he says.

They told him to wait a while longer. Meanwhile, a few villagers came asking for Nasrullah. “This time we asked the army men in an agitated voice, ‘when will you leave two men?’” says Jalal Din.

The villagers gathered outside the camp thought the army had put the two men to forced labour, which is quite common. “If there is a carpenter or a mason, they take him to work, and others who do not have such skills are made to do manual labour, constructing barracks or cleaning the area,” says Manzoor’s brother Jameel Ahmad Khan, 22. “They also often demand logs of wood from every house, and we must deliver even if we have to buy it.”

After some time, as more villagers gathered in front of the camp and enquired about the two men, they were told the duo had left from a gate at the back, near the dokhas.

But when they went to find them in the huts, the two men were not there.

By this time word had spread that the army had taken away Nasrullah and Manzoor and more people assembled outside the camp, demanding the two men be released immediately. “When we turned more aggressive, they told us Manzoor was not with them but they would release Nasrullah soon,” says Ghulam Qadir, Manzoor’s father who had reached the camp by then.

Jalal Din had had enough and he started arguing with the soldiers. “I told them I had seen him enter the camp,” Jalal Din says. “This angered them and more soldiers came out of the camp with sticks. They told us to go to the dokhas, adding ‘If you don’t find Nasrullah there, then do whatever you wish.’”

Indeed, they found Nasrullah lying on ground next to his dokha, “half dead”. It was nine in the evening.

They lifted him on their shoulders and trekked down to the health center in Sogam village. The doctors, seeing his condition, referred him to the SMHS Hospital in Srinagar. From there, he was shifted to the Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences, where he is now being treated for kidney failure. He is on dialysis and remains critical.

His family has sold their cow to raise money for his treatment, and taken loans.

Nasrullah’s face and body is visibly bruised from torture by the army. “They tried to kill me but they can’t silence me,” he says, speaking slowly through pain and muted screams. “When I went to make the entry in the camp register, they told me to wait for a while,” he says. The Major wanted to speak with him, he was told.

“I went inside to meet the Major without any hesitation. There they told me to sit on a bench inside a barrack. A doctor checked my blood pressure and asked why I was nervous. Within minutes, the Major came and asked politely, ‘Son, tell me truth, we have information that on 27th of this month, militants came to your house.’”

Nasrullah denied the allegation. “They started beating me with bats and wickets while five to six men sat on me. Feeling helpless, I accepted the allegation. I said yes, militants came to my house but when they stopped beating me, I again told them the truth and they resume the beating,” he says. He was also hit with belts and seel strings.

After beating him ruthlessly, Nasrullah says, the soldiers left, leaving him crumpled on the floor. Through the open door, he heard cries of Manzoor, and a voice telling him: “Nasrullah has told us that militants visited your dokha on 27th of this month.”

There was a short pause. “Then, I heard Manzoor screaming ‘Oh Khudaya’ three time,” Nasrullah says, battling his breath. “Then there was silence.”

The soldiers returned, tightened a rope around Nasrullah’s neck and beat him again.

Nasrullah says he lost track of time. “Two men came, lifted me and started walking, my feet dragging along the ground. I was lifeless.” They left him outside his dokha.

More than two weeks on, there is no trace of Manzoor. The police apparently searched the garrison but did not find him. After the villagers protested, the army’s Chinar Corps commander Lt Gen JS Sandhu visited them. The army has since claimed that a joint enquiry team of senior police and army officials is investigating the matter.

At Manzoor’s home, his parents are in shock. “Is there a possibility he is badly injured from torture and is being treated in some army hospital?” his brother Jameel asks, more in despair than in hope.

Jameel says his brother is “a polite man who would shiver if someone rebuked him. He was suffering from heart problems.”

Manzoor is a small-time walnut trader. He is engaged to be married next month.

Tariq Ahmad Khan runs a grocery outside Manzoor’s house. They are friends. “We will never ever go into the camp for entry now,” he declares. “If they will kill us, let them.”

Manzoor’s family is related to the state law minister Abdul Haq Khan. It is on his assurance that the villagers are waiting for the result of the investigation. Otherwise, they say, they would have attacked the camp.

A few houses away, Tawheeda says he would trade her right to justice for her father for Manzoor, hoping, apparently, that he is still alive. “I will not complain why they beat my father, just let them return Manzoor,” she says. “You know, his mother will die otherwise.”