Life became a living nightmare for Peer’s family after their militant son was killed more than a decade back. Suhail A Shah, travels long distance to Battegund village to meet senior Peer who is desperate to find peace.
Peer however looks older. Way more than a 100 years. A son killed, a son jailed, a son on the run from police and a divorced daughter, Peer has all the reasons to look older.
The Peer family was recently in news after senior Hurriyat leader, Syed Ali Geelani, condemned their arrest, including Peer’s, by the police.
Six members of the family, including two women and Peer himself, were allegedly detained by the police for two days.
Peer’s second son was a militant who got killed three years after he came back from Pakistan, where he had gone to receive arms training.
Ever since, life has been a living nightmare for the family. A militancy related incident anywhere in the area sends chills down the spine of every member of the Peer household.
Reason: the government forces come knocking at their door. Harassment prevails. And the family keeps breaking a little every now and then.
Despite a hunchback Peer looks tall. He sports a flowing white beard and a skull cap. The pitch dark sunglasses look out of place, as he emerges from inside his house; but there is a quick explanation to that, “I had one of my eyes operated upon recently,” he grumbles, barely audible or understandable.
After working for more than 50 years as an Imam in the village mosque, down the hillock from his house, Ghulam Nabi Peer retired just a couple of years back.
The village is Battegund in Dooru constituency of South Kashmir’s Islamabad district, more than 80 Kilometres South East of the summer capital, Srinagar.
A narrow, black topped road runs through the middle of the village. A rather large mosque on one side of the road and small mud houses on the other.
On the left side of the road concrete stairs, in zig zag, lead to the Peer Pora locality of the village. Further up from the concrete stairs, some mud footsteps lead to the stone and brick house of Peer, the last house of the Peer Pora locality.
Soon as Peer is asked about his arrest, he breaks into tears. The almost inaudible mumbling follows. It takes keen listening to understand whatever he is saying.
Peer’s family was a big happy family, once. Like every parent he had dreamt of better futures for his four sons and a daughter.
Things changed in 1994, when the armed resistance, against Indian rule was at its peak. Hordes of people, mostly young men, crossed over to Pakistan to get arms training. Peer’s second son Farooq Ahmad Peer was one of them. Farooq was just 18 when he crossed over to Pakistan.
“He had just finished his 11th class examinations and one day he had gone to Dooru to get an admission form for class 12,” said Peer, “He returned home after 6 long years, dead,”
Farooq stayed in Pakistan for 3 years and was an active militant for 3 more years in Kashmir, before he was killed in an encounter with the government forces in Qazigund area of Kulgam district, on 21st of January 2000.
“Thousands of people attended his funeral and then they forgot him,” says peer, repeatedly breaking into tears.
Soon after Farooq’s death Peer’s lifelong companion, his wife, passed away.
“She could not bear her son’s death and she left me alone,” says Peer.
A middle aged lady, cradling a baby in her arms, hovering around joins the conversation. She introduces herself as Sabreena, Peer’s only daughter.
Sabreena says that the harassment at the hands of the government forces started soon after Farooq’s death.
“An Army camp was established in the local school soon after Farooq was martyred,” said Sabreena.
The irony was, Sabreena says, that every now and then the forces barged into our house asking for Farooq.
“For a couple of years they kept coming back for Farooq and every time they came we showed them his death certificate,” said Sabreena, “They were convinced but the raids and the harassment did not stop.”
The raids got more abusive and frequent, says Sabreena. “The only thing that changed was they started asking for militant hideouts now.”
The camp in the local school housed different agencies of government forces in the course of time; however for the Peer household that made no difference.
“Our woes continued. Nocturnal raids, beatings, abuse it all continued regardless of the agency housed at the camp. Only faces changed,” says, Muhammad Abbas Peer, the oldest of the siblings.
Abbas who is in his mid forties works as a labourer. He is the only source of income right now in the family.
After the camp was removed from the school in 2005, police took over the task of harassing the family, Abbas says.
In 2007 police picked up Peer’s third son, Muhammad Ashraf, now 35 years old disabled with polio.
Abbas says that Ashraf was picked after a bomb blast in Kapran village, some 25 Kilometres from Battegund.
However the family members maintain that their son is a disabled person and he was at home when the blast took place.
They allege that he was framed for the simple reason that his brother had once been a militant.
During last six years Ashraf was slapped with as many as 11 Public Safety Acts (PSA), Abbas said.
“He has been languishing in Kathua jail for 7 years now,” Abbas says, “He has undergone two surgeries in these years of detention.”
Ashraf, according to the family, had appendicitis and another surgery was for an injury caused during torture in custody.
The family, given their limited resources, cannot travel to Kathua to meet Ashraf and the only times they were able to meet him was when he was brought to Islamabad Court for hearing.
However the hearings too have been curtailed now. It has been more than six months now and the jail authorities have not bothered to ferry him to the court.
“He has missed 3 hearings in the six months. We are worried about his well being,” said Abbas, “But there is no way we can get any news from his side.”
The chaos in the family has had far reaching consequences than just harassment and torture.
Sabreena, a mother of two girls, has been divorced by her husband for the militant links of her father’s house hold.
“He says he is fed up of the chaos at my father’s house and no longer wants to live with me or for that matter be associated in any way with my father’s family,” Sabreena says, tears welling up in her eyes. She fights hard to keep her composure.
To take the family out of misery the youngest of the siblings, 22 year old Firdaus Ahmad, had recently approached Red Cross in Srinagar.
The Red Cross had provided him monetary support to establish a poultry farm in his village.
“He was working hard to establish the business but it was not to be,” said Abbas.
Earlier this week, the family says, police came to their house again looking for Firdaus.
“Terrified that he might be beaten again by the police, like he had been beaten on numerous occasions, he fled the village,” said Abbas.
The police however picked up his wife and other family members and demanded that Firdaus be handed over to them, says Abbas.
“His wife was bundled into the police vehicle and had she not called her father in due time she might have been tortured as well,” said Abbas.
Following the alleged arrests, Geelani issued the statement and the family maintains that it was because of that statement they were released.
“But I heard that they have arrested Firdaus from Sopore. We can only pray that he does not meet Ashraf’s fate,” said Abbas.
Firdaus’s wife has also deserted her husband after the recent episode and is now residing at her parent’s house.
The police meanwhile deny any arrests being made from the Peer family. Moreover the police say that Firdaus is a released militant.
“Following the firing in Jangalat Mandi area of Islamabad, wherein a cop was injured, we had orders to look for released militants,” said In-charge Station House Officer (SHO) Dooru, Afrat Hussain.
He said that summon was also sent to Firdaus’s family but he did not turn up.
“We have to keep a tab on the released militants,” said Hussain, “Firdaus fleeing from here means that he was up to something.”
Hussain maintains that the family members of Firdaus came to the police station themselves and assured that they will hand him over.
“Why should we unnecessary harass and detain an old person and women. These are baseless allegations,” said Hussain.