Nineteen years have passed but the memory of losing her unborn child during interrogation still haunts Shameema. Nuzhat Mushtaq revisits the tragic events that left scars on a mother’s heart
What happened on that winter afternoon in 1995 in Waara Sangam, a small village in Budgam district, with Shameema, 30, a mother of two then, and her husband remained etched in their memory. It refuses to fade! It was the day that killed her unborn baby in her womb and shattered Shameema forever.
It was a perfect November afternoon when Shameema, who was expecting her third child, was busy in household chores, and waiting for her husband to come home. Her husband, a carpet weaver by profession, who lived in a joint family with his two brothers, had gone to nearby Khansahab village.
During 90’s Waara was frequented by militants and raids and checking’s was the order of day.
It had become part of villager’s lives to have armoured vehicles move around dirty roads at odd hours.
Nineteen years later villagers still recalls the events of that day vividly.
“There was a rumour in the village that some militants are staying in our neighbourhood,” recalls Shameema’s neighbour who wishes not to be named.
Within no time the entire area was cordoned off by STF men. There was chaos all around as STF men started beating anybody who came in to their way till they reached Muhammad Ashraf Bhat’s house. “People talked in whispers that militants had stayed at Bhat’s house last night,” said Shameema’s neighbour.
There was nobody except Bhat’s wife Shameema in the house at the time of STF raid. “They barged inside without warning and started looking for something. I panicked, and asked them why they are here and what they are looking for?” recalls Shameema.
One of the STF men told her that they are looking for weapons hidden by the militants, who were here last night. “They found nothing in our house and before they left they told me that they have already taken both my brother-in-laws into custody,” recalls Shameema. “I was shocked. They told me to bring my husband along to Humhama police station the following morning if we wanted my brother-in-laws back,” says Shameema.
It didn’t take long before the news of STF raid reached Shameema’s husband’s ears. “I was told that something bad has happened back home and I should return immediately. First I thought my mother must have passed away as she was not feeling well,” says Ashraf. “But things became clear after I reached home.”
Nobody in Bhat’s household could sleep properly that night. Next morning husband wife duo left early for Humhama police station to seek release of Ashraf’s brothers. “As we reached Humhama police station they (STF men) made us to sit in a room. From that room’s window I saw both my brother-in-laws getting released and leaving the police station,” says Shameema.
Then began the questioning regards militants stay and arms and ammunitions that STF alleged are still hidden somewhere in Bhat’s house. “When we denied all the allegations it infuriated them. They began abusing my husband in front of me. Then, in order to harass us, they took us inside a makeshift torture chamber,” says Shameema.
Shameema remembers that when she and her husband refused to buy STF’s version of events, a senior police officer named Gupta ordered his men to torture Ashraf.
“They tied my hands on my back and then suspended me from the ceiling. Then two men started beating me with bamboo sticks and copper wires in front of my wife. They called it helicopter style torture,” recalls Ashraf, who is now in his late 40’s.
When Shameema saw her husband in such a state she started beating her chest and wailing loudly. “She begged them to stop, but nobody listened. She told them that we will sell our land and house and raise money if you can provide us with arms and ammunition, which we will then handover to you. She was desperate to get me out of the hell,” says Ashraf.
But instead they ordered a car battery and tied some wires to it and started giving electric shocks to Ashraf, recalls Shameema. “I could see he was in great pain because of the positing he was hanging in. And then electric shocks, it was too much for him,” says Shameema.
All of a sudden there was dead silence inside the torture chamber. A lady police officer, who was wearing blue jeans, black t-shirt and a small waist coat, came towards Shameema and placed a gun on her head and said, tell me the truth or you are dead. “She was officer Rani as I came to know later. When I said I know nothing about militants or ammunition, she ordered two lady constables to torture me,” says Shameema.
Shameema pleaded with Rani not to torture her as she was six months pregnant with her third child. “But she didn’t listen and attached one end of electric wire to my fingers and toes and other to the car battery. Then they poured water over my legs and started giving me electric shocks. With every shock they poured more water on my legs,” says Shameema. “Within no time blood started coming out of my body and I felt as if my child has died due to electric shocks,” says Shameema while wiping her tears with her scarf.
As Rani and others saw blood coming out of Shammema, they panicked. It was sure now that the child has aborted due to shocks. Panic gripped inside the police station as they shifted Shameema to another room quickly.
“They informed me about what happened to Shammema and quickly brought me down from the ceiling,” says Ashraf. “Take her to the hospital, said officer Gupta in a concerned voice while handing me Rs 100. But I refused to take the money as I had Rs 60 in my pocked,” says Ashraf. “But officer Gupta insisted and said, will take it (Rs 100) back as you have to visit again after she is better.”
Then officer Gupta went outside with Ashraf and his wife and stopped a truck and ordered him to take the husband wife to Budgam. “But when the truck driver saw my wife’s condition he dropped us at our house,” says Ashraf.
Shameema spent that night in pain at her house as it was not safe to visit hospital in Srinagar after sunset during those days. Next morning she was shifted to LD maternity hospital in Srinagar. But that was not the end of nightmare for Shameema and her family as hospital authorities allegedly didn’t attend her properly after they came to know the circumstances of her miscarriage.
“When villagers came to know about mistreatment at the hospital, they staged a protest forcing the then district commissioner to personally intervene,” says Ashraf.
Shameema’s life changed completed after the torture as she stayed aloof for most of the times. “Earlier I used to indulge and socialise but things have changed now since that day,” says Shameema.
While for Ashraf, he left carpet weaving completely, as his back ached constantly after that day. He now runs a small general store near his house. His eldest son Irshad Ahmad, 27, left his studies to help the family financially.
Shameema and Ashraf have four children: Irshad Ahmad (27) Reehana Akther (23) Shahista Ashraf (15) Mehak Ashraf (6).
“We did not lodge an FIR or pursue our case as it would have put us in great peril. And against whom we would have lodged an FIR? They were the culprits themselves!” says Ashraf.