A decade after Guru Bazaar’s Farooq Dar aka Bita Karate walked out of his seventeen-year-long prison life, the blast from the past continues to resound his life. The man whom many Kashmiri Pandit groups hold responsible for their plight tells Bilal Handoo some best-kept secrets in a free-wheeling interview
Cops inside Srinagar’s Shaheed Gunj Police Station were literally off their chairs upon seeing a wounded boy approaching to lodge a formal complaint on July 19, 1989. A brief introduction revealed that the boy was Basharat A Noori – who was last seen running JKLF camps in Pakistan. Noori told the cops how on the previous day he got badly injured in a squabble with Farooq A Dar aka Bita Karate—the most wanted teenager of his times. That day, on Noori’s insistence, Karate faced the first ‘attempt to murder’ charge of his life. Some 400 days later, Karate was freaking out police rank and file, carrying 19 murder charges on his head.
Fast forward to 2005, and all these charges were dropped. By then, Karate had spent seventeen years of his life behind bars. When police presented his file in the court, the designated judge observed that police built up a weak where even the witnesses had turned hostile.
And then days before the Eid-ul-Fitr, Karate was handed over to his family on October 25, 2006. Some 200 people turned up in his hometown Guru Bazaar for giving him a rousing reception. It was a homecoming of the man whom pandits blame for their migration from valley. In Delhi, the news sounded like a literal bombshell, where one PK (Panun Kashmir) member of KP group, said: “It is a shocking reflection of the state government’s apathy towards serving the needs of justice.” It is shame, spoke another, that the authorities failed to frame charges against a person who “publicly proclaimed having lost count of the Pandits he had killed”. Cutting him short, another agitated PK member blurted out in an apparent cue to state government: “How dare you to release a man who drove around 56,148 KP families from Kashmir.”
Amid this verbal storm, the placid Karate quickly told newsmen that he was made “pawn” in the larger political game-plan.
“My Pandit brothers have misconceptions about me. I have never killed anyone…”
“Then why do they call you a ‘butcher of Pandits’?”
“Look, I don’t blame them. They have been brazenly misled by media. The fact is, I am concerned about Pandits. I have been encouraging them to return…”
“But Pandits argue that post-prison Karate can’t masquerade as peacenik to strike sympathetic vibes in a ‘battered’ community. Perhaps, that’s why, you are the most loathed person in their tribe—or, at least in that group, called Roots in Kashmir, no?”
“Don’t worry about that fringe group called RIK. Everyone knows how Indian agencies run it. They are the one to be blamed for playing a spoilsport in Pandit return. They fear, if Pandits return, their theatrics will perish. They seem to thrive on CC: central packages and conspiracies. And yes, I don’t need to masquerade as peacenik. The fact that I was acquitted by Supreme Court of India is enough to vouch for my innocence. Now, some of them keep ranting that militants had made a religious issue to kill Pandits. I swear, religion was never an issue. The only issue was shady links of certain individuals.”
“Yes, shady links — that made some of us informers. Obviously, such persons did become targets.”
“Just for curiosity’s sake—as many KPs keep raising this: Why were those ‘targeted informers’ only Pandits?”
“What a damn lie! Listen, I believe, it is high time for Pandits to know that more Muslims were killed for their shady links than Pandits. Why isn’t anybody talking about them?”
“But don’t you think that the selective targeting of informers backfired at the infancy of militancy itself?”
“Look, we were fighting for the freedom of Muslims, Pandits, Buddhists and Sikhs of Jammu and Kashmir. So, there was no point to endanger the movement at first go itself by giving leeway to informers, right? It isn’t they were killed straightaway. They were warned beforehand to shun shady ties or face the music. Some of them shrugged off the warning and ended up facing the bullet.”
“So, was it like: anybody who was somebody in Kashmir then – I mean, ‘shady’ – figured in the hit-list?”
“No. Listen. All I am saying is, the informers got killed in an overwhelming situation of valley. Besides, let’s stop blaming militants for everything. I mean it doesn’t leave much for imagination when the ex-divisional commissioner Wajahat Habibullah tells you in his book that an intellectual like Dr Guru was killed by police…”
Back in late eighties, the street gossip among boys in Guru Bazaar had turned highly anti-India. Behind that politically-loaded pep talk was the hanging of Maqbool Bhat and frequent curbs on Peoples League leaders. Many of them faced Public Safety Act for peaceful demonstrations. These happenings were shaping the mindset of 14-year-old, Bita Karate, who shortly had a rendezvous with his mentor – Ashfaq Majeed Wani.
Karate first met Wani during one those of secret street meetings somewhere in Srinagar’s downtown in 1987. Before becoming his launching pad, Wani simply fascinated Karate. “There was something about that person that made me his fan from our first meeting itself,” says Karate, sitting inside his Guru Bazaar home. “Those who met Wani would become his fans. His vision and charisma were infectious.” Years later, when the incarcerated Karate was being interrogated in Joint Interrogation Centre Jammu, the police officer Makhan Lal Sharma told him how once Dr Guru during his detention in JIC told Lal: “I never came across of a man of Ashfaq Wani’s calibre.”
So naturally, continues Karate, Jagmohan’s ‘triumphant’ reaction over Wani’s killing was quite understandable: “Now when Ashfaq is dead, Kashmir is safe!” In other words, Karate says, “Jagmohan knew that his forces killed the one man army.” The same Ashfaq Majeed Wani had send Karate for month-long training to Muzaffarabad in 1988.
“After your return, what was your first action?”
“It was an attack on CRPF party at Zaina Kadal.”
“Then, countless actions against Indian occupation followed.”
“Did that also include, what many call, a killing of a 16-year-old Muslim girl, Dolly?”
“Who Dolly? I don’t know any such girl.”
“Okay, but pandits say, you mainly targeted unarmed persons.”
“What, rubbish! I never killed any unarmed Muslim or non-Muslim. It is just plain propaganda to malign my image. As a mujahid fighting for Kashmir’s liberation, I never attacked civilians.”
“But the former DGP JN Saxena is on record to state, ‘Bita Karate wasn’t a dreaded terrorist but was a compulsive killer…’ ”
“Well, that’s a revelation to me [laughs]. But on a serious note—even, Bhagat Singh was a killer for British. And we all know how Indians perceived him. On a flip side, how shall one describe Indian forces—responsible for killing, torturing thousands in Kashmir?”
After evading arrest for long, Karate was finally caught by BSF on June 22, 1990 at Chattabal while travelling in an auto with two other comrades, Idrees and Tanveer. He was taken blindfolded to Airport before shifted to torture centres, including Papa II, JIC and Gogoland. “For over a year,” he says, “my life was made hell inside torture centres. Some unspeakable brutalities were inflicted on me.” A year later, he was shifted to Jammu’s Amphalla jail before sent to Agra and Jodhpur.
In Agra jail, besides pumping up his body and reading books and journals, he would read court judgements of inmates. He noticed a pattern in those judicial verdicts. Most of those repatriation orders for Muzaffarabad-based inmates had a Jammu address. One day, one such order also came for his fellow inmate-turned-friend from Muzaffarbad, Basharat Rajpur. Once he knew that senior Supreme Court advocate Bhim Singh was pleading these cases, he wrote him a letter from his solitary cell:
“I came to know that you are handling the cases of inmates. Being from the same state, I request you to kindly look into my case, too. I was acquitted by Supreme Court—and yet, I have been kept in illegal detention under PSA, repeatedly. Please, plead my case. It seems, the door of justice has been closed on me…”
But the jailer wouldn’t let the letter to come out of the prison. Later as Karate protested, the letter reached Jammu in 1999, where Bhim Singh read it, and hurriedly filed a writ petition on it in Supreme Court. Subsequently, three release orders were issued. Two orders were brushed aside, but as Supreme Court issued a third stern order, the presiding officer of the Terrorist and Disruption Activities (Prevention act) [TADA] judge ND Wani observed while releasing Karate on bail in 2006, “The court is aware of the fact that the allegations against the accused are of serious nature and carry a punishment of death sentence or life imprisonment but the fact is that the prosecution has shown total disinterest in arguing the case.” The order apparently set the Pandit community into frenzy.
“Though you are out on indefinite bail, but many KPs refuse to give you a clean chit in pandit killings, migration?”
“I don’t understand the madness behind their method. A veteran Hindu writer, Balraj Puri in his book Kashmir Towards Insurgency clearly terms Jagmohan as the man behind the migration. Farooq Abdullah also voiced it repeatedly: ‘Jagmohan told Pandits go on tour, I have to carry an operation in valley.’ Even Karan Singh termed the Pandit migration controversial. Now, Congress leader Digvijay Singh also made the migration secret public. Actually, Delhi demonised me to portray Kashmir’s freedom struggle as communal uprising than legitimate peoples’ movement.”
“But, pandits say you killed over 20 persons in their clan, including Habba Kadal’s Satish Tickoo.”
“See, I had strict orders only to attack the occupational forces without hurting civilians…”
“So are you saying, you didn’t kill any Pandit?”
“Of course, yes!”
“But in that controversial NewsTrack interview ran as your ‘confessional statement’ by the official media soon after your arrest, you accepted your role in the killings. You did confess that you used to get orders from higher-ups and that you never used to kill anybody on your own. You also said you killed around 20 KPs and that your first kill was Satish Tickoo, whom you called a probable RSS recruit.”
“Look, that controversial television interview was taken under duress. I was only 17 then and was languished inside a torture centre. I was forced to admit killings which I never did. In fact, I was forced for the interview after subjected to third degree torture.”
“But Satish Tickoo’s family still holds you responsible for their son’s killing.”
“I don’t blame the poor family. They were also swayed by media-created myth. For a second, let’s assume, I did kill their son—then, what prevented them to try me in the court of law all these years? It is just hearsay they seem to believe in.”
“Jagmohan who visited Tickoo family soon after appointed as J&K’s governor in 1990 writes in his book, ‘My Frozen Turbulence in Kashmir’ that you were behind their son’s killing.”
“I don’t buy that absurd account of that atrocious governor!”
“Alright, but any idea: who killed judge Neelkanth Ganjoo, nurse Sarla Bhat and other prominent pandits?”
“I don’t know.”
“Okay. If you had nothing to do with controversial events of nineties, as you just said, then why only your name was linked with pandit killings?”
“Simple. They needed a dog for a bad name to hang him – so they had me. Bita Karate was dogged only to project how communal was our freedom struggle. I was made a scapegoat. But my fair trail and acquittal by the highest Indian court itself shamed all charges slapped on me.”
Five years after his acquittal, Karate married with a bureaucrat Assbah Khan after overcoming family obstacles. The marriage saw the participation of who’s who in pro-freedom camp. But Karate who resigned from JKLF in 1995 over some difference with Yasin Malik joined JKLF (R) faction headed by Abdul Majeed Trumboo after his release.
But amid trail and twist in his life, one question always fascinated many: How Guru Bazaar’s Farooq A Dar became Bita Karate?
“There is very interesting story behind it. When some of my friends returned from Muzaffarabad after training in 1989, they asked JKLF’s first commander-in-chief Ashfaq Majeed Wani about the course of action they were supposed to take. The commander told them, ‘Go, and contact Bita Karate.’
Nobody had heard that name before. Bewildered, my friends asked me, ‘Who is this Bita Karate?’ Later, I could only smile over the realisation as how my mentor had baptised me based on my game of interest—Karate.”