Wandering in a Country Without Hope

  • Raqib Hameed Naik
  • Publish Date: Aug 8 2017 9:10PM
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  • Updated Date: Aug 8 2017 9:10PM
Wandering in a Country Without Hope

His teenaged daughter was allegedly abducted by the Indian army 17 years ago. Ghulam Mohammad Bhat of Doda is still searching for her

 

Ghulam Mohammad Bhat is a crumbling monument to the despair and utter helplessness that Indian state repression has wrought in Jammu and Kashmir.

For over 17 years now, Gh Mohammad, a frail cattle herder in his 80s wearing a flowing white beard and a skull cap, his amputated left hand hidden in the long sleeve of his kurta, has been running around the state, hoping to find his daughter. Mumtaza Banoo was taken away by men of the Indian army’s 10 Rashtriya Rifles, with the help of two local Special Police Officers, in June 2000. She was just 16.

Zoona Begum, who is in her 60s, vividly remembers that fateful day. It was June 3 and she was at home in Dhar village of Kastigarh tehsil in Doda with her daughters Mumtaza and Farida, then 19. Her husband Gh Mohammad and two sons Hanif and Bhaktawar had left that morning to graze their herd in a forest.

In the afternoon, the army men came on a routine patrol. The two SPOs were with them. “The SPOs had a dispute with us over a piece of land and they used to harass us frequently,” Gh Mohammad says. “Back the, they ruled over these villages because they had guns and they would do what they wanted.”

As the patrol passed their house, the family’s two dogs that used to guard their cattle started barking. The army men shot them dead. “I remember Mumataza and Farida were crying badly when they saw the dogs being shot,” says Zoona. “I asked them to explain why they had killed our dogs. They said the dogs alerted the militants hiding in the nearby forest about their presence.” The young girls spent the night mourning their dogs.

The next day, the army men again came again. It was late in the evening. “In the villages, we sleep very early,” Zoona recalls. “As soon as we went to bed, the army men came and knocked at our door. We didn’t open it, so they tried to get in through the widow. They got hold of Mumtaza and dragged her out of the window. Farida and I grabbed her legs and tried to pull her in, but there were too many of them. They took her away in the darkness.”

Zoona fainted and Farida was too scared to go outside. She still shrieks when she remembers the cries and sobs of her daughter while she was being taken away.

Gh Mohammad and his sons were still deep inside the forest. A messenger was sent the next morning to him about the alleged abduction. “Those days there were no phone. So my wife sent our son-in-law to get me,” he recalls.

It took the messenger seven days to get there. Gh Mohammad started immediately, trekking down the Pir Panjal mountains to reach the Doda district headquarters and seek the police’s help.

“The moment they came to know I had come to complain against the army, they immediately took me to an army commander inside the Doda police lines,” he says. The officer offered him tea and told his deputy to take Gh Mohammad to the Superintendent of Police.

“The SP was a Sikh and he was fluent in Kashmiri,” he says. “He offered me six lakh rupees and two jobs for my children. But we only wanted our daughter back.”

When Gh Mohammad insisted he only wanted to find his daughter, dead or alive, the SP got angry and asked his guards to throw the old man out of the building.

“They wanted me to take their money and shut my mouth,” he says. “The police officer even threatened that I would regret it if I did not accept their offer.”

Next, he went to the local police station. But instead of launching an investigation, they asked the old man to bring the witnesses. “At the time of the abduction, only my other daughter and her mother were present. They were the witness to the whole event but the police did not accept their disposition.”

A year after Mumtaza’s alleged abduction, Farida died from a cardiac arrest. “She couldn’t bear the separation from her sister,” Zoona says. “She saw her taken away and she couldn’t get off with that memory.”

Mumtaza had just passed her Class 10 when she was allegedly abducted. She was good at studies and wanted to be an English teacher. “She was the youngest of my four daughters and the only one interested in getting a formal education,” says her father.

After the local police turned him away, Gh Mohammad approached the State Human Rights Commission, Srinagar, as well as the Crime Investigation Department, Jammu. There was not a door that he did not knock on for justice.

“At SHRC, the case gained pace and it gave us hope. But it came to sudden halt with the end of the chairman’s term,” he says. “At CID, Jammu, they repeatedly asked us, like the Doda police, to get the witnesses.”

The police even alleged the family of hiding Mumtaza and falsely blaming the army.

The family also made numerous rounds of the army camps in the area, but Mumtaza was nowhere to be found. Months turned into years, years into a decade and then another seven years, but they have not given up the quest for finding out what happened to their daughter.

The only physical memory they have of Mumtaza is a black and white picture in a near-torn Urdu newspaper, a missing person’s advertisement published in April 2003.

His family is still hopeful that Mumtaza is alive somewhere and she will return to them someday, but Gh Mohammad isn’t as optimistic.

“A month after her abduction, some shepherds heard the sound of shots being fired somewhere in the forest. I went there with them and searched. We saw blood but there was no body around,” he recalls. “Those days I used to give myself the assurance that my daughter may be held captive somewhere.”

Now, he fears she may have been killed the same nigh she was taken away.