The Missing Shepherd Of Kupwara  

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Aadil Sadiq

Kupwara: In Diver, one of the remote villages of north Kashmir, surrounded by Kail and pine forests, two youths were allegedly picked up by the soldiers of 27 Rashtriya Rifles last week. While one of them, Nasurallah, was left on the road severely injured, the other, 20 years old Manzoor Ahmad Khan, a shepherd by occupation, is still missing.

The army officials have flatly denied having any knowledge about Manzoor’s whereabouts. His relatives, however are contemplating the worst. They feel it could be a case of custodial death. Custodial killing is not a new phenomena in Kashmir.

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Since the advent of militancy in 1989, thousands have gone missing and there have been hundreds of accusations against the security forces for using third degree torture and causing subsequent deaths. Month after month, the Association of Parents of the Disappeared Persons (APDP) assembles at Srinagar’s Municipal Park hoping to be heard.

However, in the bygone years, there have been a handful of cases where security forces have been questioned for orchestrating the abduction and killing of Kashmiri youth in custody.

Last week, when Manzoor Ahmad and Nasurallah were stopped by the 27 Rashtriya Rifles near the Army camp in Diver village, over two dozen villagers who witnessed this. Since the camp is located right in front of the forest, every villager wanting to reach the forest has to pass through the camp.

On the fateful day, the villagers claimed that the soldiers manning the front post asked the two youth to accompany them inside the camp as the company commander, who holds the rank of Major wanted to meet them.

The Next day, Nasurullah was found lying on the road, badly wounded. The villagers who saw him in that condition shared that he was dumped on the road, squirming in pain. The young man told the villagers that after taking them inside the camp, the army men had beaten them mercilessly.

They were falsely blamed for helping militants, which both of them denied. Nasrullah needed immediate medical attention and was first taken to the Primary Health Centre, Sogam, where the doctor referred him to Srinagar. Nasrullah is traumatized and is unable to speak properly due to the torture inflicted upon him.

When Manzoor’s family, along with scores of villagers went to the company commander to seek information about Manzoor, the army officer feigned ignorance about the incident. He even denied having detained Manzoor. The outright denial by army has raised apprehensions about the fate of young Manzoor, with many of his relatives convinced that he might have been killed in custody and now army is hiding his body. “In the past also, army has killed many innocent civilians in custody.

They took my cousin inside the camp and people are witness to that and now the army claims that they have no information about him. This is a proof that something bad has happened to him and army is responsible for this.’’ said Manzoor’s cousin.

Top Army, Police and other officials visited the village to pacify the aggrieved villagers. Even J&K’s Law Minister, Abdul Haq Khan who hails from the same area and is related to the missing youth promised stern action against the guilty. He, however, asked villagers not to take law into their hands and allow the government agencies to investigate the incident in a free and fair manner.

 The police, on its part, have filed separate cases against the 27 RR unit, especially against its company commander and slapped cases of abduction, wrongful confinement and murder. These are very grave allegations against the army and has put a question mark on the credibility of the unit deployed in the area that is located close to the LoC. Army has already ordered probe into the incident and promised to take action against the guilty.

 “We are investigating this case and anyone found guilty will be punished. Our senior officers have visited the village and assured people of every type of help. Even our men are helping villagers to scan the forests to trace the missing youth.’’shared the army spokesperson.

Though dozens of villagers are looking for the missing youth in the nearby forest, however, majority of them have no hopes of finding the missing youth. “We pray to almighty for his well bring. With every passing day, the chances of his survival look bleak. We have not lost hope and are searching every place in the forest.’’expressed one of his close relatives.

In the past three weeks, this is the second incident in North Kashmir’s Kupwara district, where the role of army has come under scanner. Earlier at Daril village in Handwara, the army had claimed to have killed a militant in the forests of Hafarada. However, later, the person killed turned out to be an innocent civilian, a college student. The family members of the 24 year old student are still waiting for justice.

Both these incidents are concerning and are sufficient to flare up tension in the border region that has seen regular episodes of violence in the past. Even a small incident could trigger massive uprising again and then it will be difficult for the army and police to control the situation.

These two incidents have even raised question marks over the personnel deployed by the army on the ground. History has it that under the garb of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), the officers who are involved in the killings of innocent civilians have been granted impunity. Very recently, the army officers who were awarded life imprisonment by the Army Courts were set free, thanks again to the draconian law.

 

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