Injustice and desperation

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It has been more than 12 years since the victims of Pathribal faked encounter were laid to rest. But their charred bodies, identified after they were exhumed, continue to incinerate the lives of the families left behind. ARIFA GANI reports.

Craving for justice the families of victims of Pathribal fake encounter are living with lurking fear. Any slight unusual night time movement around their houses brings bring back the memories of that dark night of March 20, 2000 when soldiers had barged into their houses to take their men away never to return alive.

The recent Supreme Court decision that allowed army to decide that the accused army officers would be tried within the army establishment and away from public scrutiny has almost ended hopes of the victims’ families for justice.

Ghulam Nabi Malik, brother of one of the Pathribal victims, says, “All our hopes are dashed. We haven’t been even asked if we are happy with the decision. We just wanted the case should have been handed over to the civil court. But again after consuming so much time, culprits emerged victorious trampling rights of the victims. It is like playing with our tragedy. ”

Life for these families has been nightmarish after the brutal faked encounter. Though they say that they were never harassed after the victims were identified, a mere mention of those events brings back the horror these families have endured for more than a decade now.

Mirza Noor, the widow of Juma Khan, has all her hair dyed with henna to hide her grief from her children and grandchildren, but wrinkles on her forehead tell a different tale.

Mother of three daughters and a son, she is living the pain of losing her innocent husband. But as a mother to children who lost their father at a tender age (13-18 years) she braved all odds to keep them alive. “I kept myself alive for my children and now am living even for my grand children. After the loss of their father, I never wanted to give them another difficult phase. I lived, worked, earned, fed them and myself and kept on moving to see my children happy”.

“I often witness his burnt body in my dreams and then can’t sleep for the whole night, but I keep it to myself as I don’t want to remind my children of the horror again and again.”

Juma Khan, one of the victims of the pathribal horror, was picked up after he had returned home from Jammu to spend a few days with his wife and children. But a midnight bang on the door changed everything for the family. Soldiers who barged in took Juma Khan away to be killed in a faked encounter.

Life after few days of his taking away wasn’t same for his wife. Noor thinks that “Juma’s beard brought him the horrible death, as it made him look like a foreign militant to his murderes.”

“Every day after that incident has been a struggle. My life passed between burying the memories, seeking justice for my husband and giving my children a hope of survival. I got my daughters and son married off amid great difficulty,” Noor adds.

Roshni Jan, the wife of another Juma Khan who met the same fate at the hands of the same soldiers, doesn’t want to speak. Lost in her own thoughts, she expects nothing from anyone. Even Supreme Court’s recent decision about the case hasn’t stirred her. Within few days of losing her husband, she lost her 20-year-son Rafiq Ahmad Khan to bullets fired by government forces on a protest against the Pathribal faked encounter he had lost his husband.

Roshni may have lost faith in the Indian justice system but Abdul Rashid Khan, brother of Juma Khan has firm belief in God and believes “justice will prevail”.

“I am ashamed of what Indian soldiers do here. They are deployed for our protection but they have never protected us. Rather they have destroyed the democratic set up of their country.”

Rashid believes that living up in the mountains away from media glare was the reason he lost his brother. “Had we been living in the city, they (army) wouldn’t have dared touch my brother. Since they knew that remote villages have least excess to judiciary and the executive, they did what they wanted to.”

Twelve years have passed since Khan was abducted by the army on the pretext of showing them the way, but the women of this family don’t step outside without male company.

Unlike the two Khans, Mohammad Yosouf Malik and his neighbor, Bashir Ahmad Bhat, the other two victims of Pathribal encounter, went missing after they left their homes to collect money from Javid Ahmad Kalnato, a butcher from Anantnag.

Malik is survived by his two sons, Ajaz and Imran and a wife. “Time has been tough for our family since then. Ajaz and Imran were kids at that time, so their mother started to earn herself rather than sending her young sons to earn”.

However, the earning was meager and not sufficient enough to bring the boys a proper education. Until Ajaz, the elder one got a job under SRO 43.

Seventy-year-old Fata Begum, mother of Mohammad Yousuf, looks very frail and tired. With weak eyesight now, she wasn’t allowed to see her son’s face before burial as the body was brought home around midnight and buried immediately.

She says, “I will have to live with this grief. That night, I fought hard with my relatives and my sons but they didn’t allow me because Malik’s body was burnt and mutilated and the police had forced the relatives to bury the body in the dead of the night”.

Yousuf’s widow, Haneefa Bano, says,” I tried to stop him. But he insisted on collecting the payments from traders. We were tense because of Chittisinghpora (massacre) and asked him to delay his visit to the town but he didn’t agree. He said he would return by next morning”.

Yousuf’s family believes that justice didn’t reach them and the recent Supreme Court decision also didn’t bring any respite to what they had to face every single day during these 12 years.

Bashir Ahmad Bhat was, 26, of Halan, Duroo Anantnag, had grown up as an orphan when the soldiers abducted him – another victim of the Pathribal brutality. “We got Bashir engaged to a girl from our village in September 1999, Wedding was about to take place in June 2000, however for him death came before embarking on another phase of his life,” says Ghulam Rasool Bhat, Bashir’s elder brother.

Ghulam Rasool is father now, but whenever he sees his children giggling and playing in the compound of his home, he feels very sad.

“We knew it from the very beginning that culprits will remain free. And same things happened. From time to time, they were left unpunished even after there has been enough proof against them.”

The recent decision by Supreme Court has also not been able to restore the lost faith either. “Rather than lessening the burden of these families, it has created again a distress”, adds Ghulam Rasool.

Zahoor Ahmad Dalal of Mominabad in Anantnag, then 22, was among the five persons killed in Pathribal.

His mother Raja Bano says, “He left for an evening walk never to return. His colleagues told us that while they were walking, a red color van stopped near the CRPF camp outside our house and whisked him away. After running from pillar to post for five days to know his whereabouts a villager in Pathribal handed one of our relatives the torn piece of maroon color sweater he was wearing. Soon we came to know that he too was among the five people killed in a fake encounter by the army in Pathribal.”

Though the previous and present government had assured of bringing the perpetrators to book but all their promises turned to be hollow, said Raja.

The recent Supreme Court decision is no surprise for her, as she like other families did feel that taking so much time when all proof and documents were available was only to favour the criminals.

However, amid all this pain Nazir Ahmad Dalal, visits his sister’s vacant house to keep their house lit to stop her from feeling bad or hurting her and the lights hide the emptiness of their house.

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