Ghost stories of 90’s were mostly attributed to new military tactics to create fear psychosis in civilian population, however, the claims remained unconfirmed. The recent citing of ghosts in rural Kashmir brought back fear and memories. Suhail A Shah reports
Fifty-five-year old Haseena Begum, a cardiac patient, was preparing to go to bed on the night of 29th September when a volley of stones hit the tin roof of her house, in Nowgam village of South Kashmir’s Islamabad district, some 65 Kilometres from the summer capital Srinagar.
The stones followed by shrieks and screams caused a fatal cardiac arrest to Haseena Begum.
Attributing her death to prolonged illness, the police did not lodge an FIR into the case.
Incidents like this however are not new to Kashmir. It was mid 90’s, the armed insurgency was at its peak, when people in Kashmir were first exposed to the trauma of nocturnal harassment.
There were tales of intruders banging into people’s houses, harassing them and in some cases even beating the households to pulp.
People called the nocturnal intruders ghosts and interestingly demonic powers were often attributed to them.
Many a times people were beaten by their own families, mistaking them to be intruders. Iron claws, springs in their boots and long hair were some of the powers ascribed to the ghosts,
Stories of the ghosts gave people sleepless nights and a new story emerged almost every day. People started keeping vigil in their localities during night time. In some areas even volunteer groups, who were entrusted to keep their localities safe from ghosts, were formed. But in most of the cases these groups ended up beating each other in the darkness. Stories of ghost chasing emerged from almost every locality in Kashmir. But the chases mostly turned out to be “ghost chases” in the literal sense.
Many a times people were beaten by their own families, mistaking them to be intruders. Iron claws, springs in their boots and long hair were some of the powers ascribed to the ghosts, who were widely believed to have been unleashed by the government forces to create fear psychosis.
Nothing was ever proven and the ghosts eventually subsided and people had almost forgotten the demons only to find that they have come to haunt again, more than a decade and a half later.
Like the role of the government forces the veracity of the incidents remained un-probed and un-proven.
The newspapers back then have reported the incidents and the newspapers are archived but not digitised yet.
Veteran Kashmiri journalist, Yousuf Jameel, while talking to Kashmir Life said that he too has reported some incidents at that time.
“There was some basis to the fear psychosis and there were some concrete incidents that happened in those days,” said Jameel, “However extravagant stories and rumour mongering played part and blew the happenings out of proportion.”
“This time around the ghosts have shed their evil demeanour and are on the prowl in a human form,” said, Muhammad Abrar, a resident of Hilar village in Acahabal area of Islamabad.
Abrar was a toddler back in the mid-nineties and his only experience of the ghosts was from the tales he had heard from his elders. But he had his first hand experience with ‘ghosts’ a month back.
“A month back unusual things started to happen in our village,” says Abrar, “Stones were thrown on the houses, the window panes smashed and banging on the doors had become a norm.”
On the evening of 20th of September panic gripped the village when somebody alarmed the people about an intruder.
The intruder was chased by the locals but he, according to them, made a dash into the local CRPF camp.
“When people assembled outside the camp, the forces resorted to aerial firing to disperse the crowd,” said Abrar.
The belief that the government forces are behind the harassment is taking roots among the locals with every incident reported.
Moreover what has changed since the nineties is that the ‘ghosts’ are out on a prowl even during the day time.
On 26th of August the residents of Gujjar Basti in Lower Munda area of Kulgam district, along the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway, blocked the highway for several hours alleging that 3 men wearing black uniforms and masks tried to snatch a 4 year old boy from his mother’s lap.
The woman identified as Zahida said that the men, trying to snatch the toddler, dragged her for a couple of meters while she resisted and raised an alarm.
“The locals chased the masked men; however they took shelter in the Wuzur camp, which belongs to 2 sector of the Rashtriya Rifles (RR),” alleged the protestors.
Terming the allegation as an attempt at maligning their image the Army had back then rubbished the claims saying that the Indian army does not believe in impersonation.
Another incident, during the intervening night of 4th and 5th of October, that reinforced the belief of the people took place in Zalangam village of Kokernag area of Islamabad district.
A 32 year old mother of three was abducted from outside her father’s home in the Zalangam village at around 12:45 AM while she had gone out to use the washroom.
The lady after she was released told her family that she was abducted by two men wearing army fatigues and speaking chaste Hindi.
“She was taken uphill to the nearby forests,” quoting his daughter, the father of the lady, Abdul Aziz Ganai told media men.
He said that his daughter was about to be raped by the abductors; however seeing the scars from her caesarean section, which she had undergone some 15 days back, they changed their mind.
“A neighbour who serves in the Indian Army called the major of the nearby RR camp and asked if they had a party visiting the village,” Ganai said.
The lady later told her parents that she was let go by the abductors after they received a phone call from somebody, but not before beating her mercilessly.
She was later spotted by a local lady crawling out of the forests at the break of the dawn.
The incident sparked off violent protests in the area with people demanding immediate identification of the culprits.
Prior to the incident, nocturnal harassment had been rampant in the area for a month or so.
People alleged that a 13 year old boy was almost taken away by some masked men while he ventured out to attend the nature’s call.
“Most of us have our washrooms located outside and the fear of being taken away by the intruders is taking a heavy toll on us, psychologically,” said Ghulam Muhammad Bhat of the Nowgam village.
The villagers allege that they have been complaining to the police regarding the nocturnal harassment but to no avail.
The Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Anantnag, Ramesh Kumar Jalla however denies any involvement of the forces.
“We have apprehended 7 people regarding the issue,” Jalla said, “They were walnut thieves and were operating in the Kokernag belt.”
He said that the thieves were creating panic among people so that they can carry out their thefts without the fear of getting caught.
While the police claims explain, to some extent, the ghost phenomenon in Kokernag area, many questions are left unanswered regarding the incidents outside Kokernag belt in South Kashmir and some parts of North Kashmir.
The issue meanwhile was also raised by the Minister for Tourism and Congress MLA from Dooru G A Mir, during the zero hour of the State Legislative Assembly on 6th of October.
“Harassment by ‘ghosts’ in some South Kashmir villages is doing rounds these days,” Mir said.
He said that now that the Zalangam abduction of a woman has made clear that the work is of men and not ghosts, “The police should take immediate cognizance of the matter.”