What happened in Kashmir during 90s has left lasting scar on peoples’ lives. The events happened so quickly that most of suffering remained unrecorded. Nayeem Rather profiles one such sleepy hamlet where painful past memories lay bare among new edifices of change
Ghulam Qadir Wani from Mochu village in central Kashmir’s Budgam district vividly remembers a night in November, 1996. The very remembrance sets him restless.
On that night, at around 8 PM, when Wani was inside his house, loudspeakers of local mosques came to life all of a sudden. It didn’t took Wani long to understand that his village, Mochu has been cordoned off by army and it was crackdown.
They (army) were ordering people to come out of their houses and assemble in a large field located just outside the village. Within no time, the vast field got filled with frightened souls.
“Some of them were dragged from their dinner tables,” recalls Wani. “As the process of crackdown began, army randomly picked up men. There seemed to be no criterion for rounding up young men.”
Wani says army was picking them at will. As the number of youngsters singled out from others swelled, one of the army officers ordered Wani to help his men convert one of his rooms into a makeshift torture chamber. Wani could not protest, for arguing would have out his life in jeopardy. He did exactly what he was ordered to. He was ordered to arrange sticks as well.
In the night, he climbed the trees and assembled ten to twelve sticks. “My whole family was out, and was carrying water to fill the buckets to be used to dip the heads of men,” he says.
Wani recalls watching his fellow villagers getting tortured. “The shrieks of men tortured that night still echo in my ears,” he recalls.
During the night, Wani continues, around fifteen villagers were tortured on the suspicion that they were giving food and shelter to the militants.
Later the house of Wani was “haunted” and the family was tormented. “I washed the house and read the Holy Quran to ward off the evil.”
On November 9, 1997, Bashir Ahmed, a local from Mochu was awoken from sleep when the army from Chadoora camp barged in his house and began to smash the things. “I was pulled out of bed and the officer hurled expletives at me,” Bashir recalls. Soon the village was out into the fields and the army picked a dozen people and led them to the house for torture.
Bashir was ordered to prepare the torture room. “They needed red chilly and I went to four to six houses to empty the chilly bottles from the kitchens,” he says. “That was the first time I stole something.”
Instances are galore just 7km away from the summer capital in Mochu on Srinagar-Chadoora road when the houses were converted into torture centres.
As the situation turned volatile in the valley in early nineties, Mochu became the worst hit. The signs are palpable. On the roadside, near Jamia Masjid Mochu around 30 tombstones of the graves gaze by the road. “Don’t be mislead, there are more graves than you see lying there” informs a passerby. And upon concentrating, the ground revealed more. “These are the graves of the men no one knew, especially of outsider militants,” he says.
Being active on militancy front during nineties, the village figured on the radars of government forces, as per locals. “Maqbool Ilahi, one of the first militants who received arms training in PaK was from Mochu,” says an elderly Ghulam Mohammad. “In last two and a half decades of ongoing situation in the valley, this village is left with more than a dozen widows and about 40 orphans.”
On October 5, 1994, Mohammad Ismail Bhat, 65, a local private teacher was inside a school building of Darul Falah at Chakpora, Kanipora along with two colleagues. They were formatting the syllabus of the school.
They were startled when they heard the knocking on the window and doors. Bhat rose to feet and looked outside. He saw army outside who had cordoned the school. As Bhat stepped outside, army fired at him. The bullets hit his belly and head. He fell dead to the ground.
And soon army barged into the room, smashed the things around, beat one of the colleagues of Bhat, while other was picked up. He was released after a month, tortured. “Army never gave explanation of his death. He was only a teacher. As usual, AFSPA shielded them,” says Bhat’s son, Mohammad Farooq. “What was my father’s crime?”
During his college days, Farooq’s slain father was influenced by Jamat Islami and became its member. Later he was chosen the Ameer (head) of Budgam district.
Soon after his death, Bhat’s son Mushtaq Ahmed joined militancy. He was killed in an encounter at Bagi-e-Mehtab near Mochu in 1996. The Bhat family was yet to recover from the grief when the STF began to harass the family. “They (STF) used to come in the night and beat my family. My uncle Mohammad Bhat was also beaten which badly affected him,” says Farooq.
It was during one of these raids that Mohammad Bhat was picked up by the STF. “They had shredded his body with blades,” claims Farooq. This forced Farooq’s two cousins to join militancy and later both of them were killed.
With five family members dead, Mohammad Farooq took it on himself to shoulder the responsibility of his family. “Conflict devoured my family,” says Farooq flashing sad expressions on his face. Apart from the pains of survival, Farooq had to face the blows of the forces.
“Forces didn’t stop to harass us,” he says. “I was picked and incarcerated in Gogoland army camp for two months. I was badly tortured. Theybeat me with cans and rolled a heavy roller on my back. I am fortunate to survive.”
But not everyone was fortunate like Farooq. On March 1, 1994, the Sikh regiment from Chadoora camp imposed a crackdown in Mochu. That day, Ghulam Nabi, 40, a local private teacher was picked.
Late in the evening, he emerged from the room with the support of two men. “His head was bludgeoned. His belly was wounded and his ribs were fractured,” remembers her widow Moglee.
He was taken to SKIMS and was brought home after two days, dead. The died of brain hemorrhage and kidney failure. He left behind seven children, including four daughters. “I had nowhere to go. Had it not been my brothers help, I would have committed suicide,” says Moglee.
On the road, Kashmir Life met five middle aged men, smoking. Fayaz Ahmed (name changed), one among them, was a teenager when he was taken into interrogation centre. “I was in cargo for two months,” he recalls. “They electrocuted my private parts and tortured me very badly.”
Soon after his release, he was devastated by learning that his reproductive power was over.
Later when he married much to the insistence of his relatives, he soon faced the reality. After five years of marriage he has no children. “I feel guilty of ruining my wife’s life. I don’t know how long our marriage will last.”
Another local Abdul Qayoom with squint eyes was lodged at a torture center for six months. “I was kept in the cell in bright light that damaged my eyes,” says Qayoom who now wears spectacles to support his vision.
Now when the state authorities are claiming that militancy is at its lowest ebb in the valley, Mochu is also staggering towards normalcy. But trauma left behind by yester years is still palpable on the locals.
“I wake up in the middle of the night and open the door. I hear knocking. I hallucinate my son knocking at the door,” says an elderly woman, Raja who lost her son in late 90s. She consults a Psychiatrist and uses anti-depressants.
With forty men dead, the village has come a long way. They have not forgotten their beloved. Villagers have formed a charitable trust and are supporting the widows.
“We can’t reverse the time and bring the dead back but we can help the devastated families they left behind,” says one local.