‘Murder by Torture’

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Last week, a young man, son of a retired police officer was murdered in the custody of State Police’s Special Operations Group in Sopore. It shocked the  administration as much as it spread horror among the people and revealed a disturbing continuity in entrenched ‘lawlessness’ in Kashmir. Majid Maqbool meets the family of the deceased and takes another look at the unchanging reality. 

RELATIVES, friends and neighbors of 28-year-old Nazim Rashid are endlessly grieving inside the under construction second storey of his home in Kranskshiven locality of Sopore.  There’re no windows in this floor, turned into a mourning place since a retired police officer’s son was returned home killed after his arrest by government forces.

Nazim had taken upon himself the responsibility of completing the construction of the house. The family was also looking forward to their daughter’s marriage scheduled in November. But all those plans were suspended when he was arrested on July 30 by Special Operation Group (SOG) of state police in connection with the killing of a local businessman by unknown gunmen.

Tortured in custody, Nazim died in a SOG camp in town hall, Sopore.

A day after being taken away Nazim’s dead body was handled over to the family by the police. His father could not bear looking at his son’s dead body.

“There were torture marks all over his body. His right leg was dislocated and his left shoulder bulged out,” says his cousin who saw the torture marks on Nazim’s body.  “On his back torture marks by iron rods were visible. His testicles and abdomen was swollen. He was given electric shocks in his feet and ears,” he says.

NAZIM’S cousins and six of his relatives were severely thrashed by the SOG personnel while they accompanied his father back to home from the SOG camp where his son’s body was handed over to them.

The autopsy report by the doctors has confirmed torture marks on his body. Meanwhile, the National Human Rights Commission, taking cognizance of the killings, has asked for an explanation from the state government regarding the death of Nazim Rashid. The Commission has asked Director General of the state police to collect the requisite reports from the concerned authorities within eight weeks, along with an explanation from DGP, Kuldeep Khoda as to why the intimation about the death in custody was not communicated within 24 hours to the Commission, as its guidelines necessitate.

Nazm’s father, Abdul Rashid Shalla, looks distraught and finds it hard to accept that his only son is no more. Struggling to fight back tears, he kisses his son’s picture repeatedly.  Nazim is smiling in the picture. “akoi tchoung gouvm tchaete  (The only light of my life is extinguished),” he whispers in pain. He remembers him as an obedient son who always wore a smile and never had a bad word for anyone. Besides successfully running his shop, he would attend to all the daily chores at home.

“He had the innocence of a 9-year-old kid, but he had a big heart and always stayed cheerful,” says his father. A few days before he was arrested, Nazim had stocked up his shop for the coming Eid. The shop is shut now.

Nazim’s Silenced MusicNazim’s Silenced MusicAfter his son’s arrest, Rashid had gone to the SOG camp in Sopore to meet his son. However, he was denied entry and stopped miles away from the SOG camp housed in the town hall, Sopore. After a lot of pleading with the policemen guarding the camp, he was allowed to talk to his son briefly over a mobile phone. Nazim told his father that he is being ill treated in custody, and that he is not feeling well. He asked his father to bring some medicine for pain that was inflicted on him during questioning or interrogation. Those were Nazim’s last words to his father.

Some people who live in the vicinity of the SOG camp in town hall Sopore later told the family that they heard screams coming from the camp well after midnight. At around one O’clock in the night, they said, the screams suddenly stopped.  The family believes Nazim died of torture around that time.

Nazim was the lone son of Abdul Rashid. His mother died just five days after giving him birth. He was then looked after by his aunt, but she too passed away when Nazim was 14. Nazim’s father, a retired policeman, was posted at different places during his service and would mostly be away from home. Now, he regrets not being able to spend enough time with his son while he was growing up. After passing his 12th standard, Nazim started a shop outside his home with the help of his father.

His father and uncles were now thinking of helping him set up a small juice plant. They were also looking for a suitable match for him.

Nazim’s room is neat and carefully maintained. All his things are in place, just as he liked to keep them. His guitar hangs on a wall. His trophies and medals, won in different sports competitions, adorn a shelf in his room. His father opens Nazim’s cupboard, revealing his new and trendy clothes he liked to wear. His clothes are properly ironed as he would always keep them. Nazim would often give his new clothes to the needy people.

Nazim’s only sister is inconsolable. She enters Nazim’s room and stares at his belongings. Shivering with grief, she is unable to bring herself to talk about her brother.

A day earlier, the family says, few young school girls visited their house to offer their condolences. All of them wept and wailed in front of his father and sister. Nazim was like a father figure for them, they would tell the family.

“These girls told us that Nazim would often help them monetarily after their father died of kidney failure,” says Abdul Rashid. Nazim, however, never talked about these kind gestures at home.

ABDUL RASHID says they refused to meet any of the politicians and returned anyone from the government who came to offer them compensation. The PDP legislators, who came to visit the family, were booed away by the people of their locality. “They only want to do political business on our blood,” he says.
Rashid has little hope of justice from the system responsible for the death of his son.

“They have killed so many innocent people in custody in the past, but which family got justice?” he asks.  He says those who killed his son are roaming free. “Even after the government and police officials admitted that it is a clear custodial murder, the culprits are still free,” he says Rashid, having been a police official himself may not be too off mark making the assertions about numerous custodial murders in the past. There is a long list of allegations made by people in Kashmir regularly since the onset of the armed rebellion here in 1989 and the state’s military response to that.

LAST YEAR confidential cables released by Wikileaks had revealed widespread torture by the government forces in Kashmir. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had sent evidence to US diplomats about widespread torture by government forces in Kashmir. Visits to detention centres by ICRC in the region (from 2002-04) revealed cases of beatings, electric shocks, sexual abuse and other types of ill-treatment.

According to the cables, ICRC interviewed 1,296 detainees in Kashmir, of whom more than half said they had been tortured. Out of 681 detainees, 498 claimed to have been electrocuted, 381 said they were suspended from the ceiling, and 304 cases were described as “sexual.”  A total of 294 described a procedure in which guards crushed their legs by putting a bar across their thighs and sitting on it, while 181 said their legs had been pulled apart into the splits.

In the latest case of his son’s murder, Rashid is helplessly watching attempts for obfuscating the facts of the case. He rubbishes the talk of his son’s involvement in the killing of a local businessman. “Even if my son was witness to his killing, does it mean that he was involved in the killing?” he asks. “It’s all drama staged by them.”

Custodial killings and extra judicial executions has been a recurring feature of all governments in Kashmir, more so after 1989. Despite claims of normalcy by the ruling NC led coalition government, there have been eight custodial killings so far since it took over the reigns on Jan 5, 2009.

Nazim’s cousin who brought him up after his mother’s death.The record of PDP government is not different either. According to the data compiled by the Coalition of Civil Society (CCS), there have been a total of 51 custodial killings during the PDP’s 3 year rule from November 2, 2002 to November 2005. Similarly during the Congress led coalition, 15 custodial deaths at the hands of government forces took place.

Nazim’s cousin who brought him up after his mother’s death.THE SAGA continues. As late as last year, on July 25 Tariq Ahmad Dar of Fidarpora, Rafiabad in Baramulla was reportedly tortured to death in police custody in Panzala police station. The locals told the media that Tariq was detained by the police of the local police station. “Police held him on baseless charges of being a Lashkar (LeT) operative and did not allow the family to meet him in custody. We were shocked to see his dead body the next morning. Police said that Tariq ended his life by committing suicide in the lockup,” residents claimed police officials having said. “But Tariq has been tortured to death as his body had visible torture marks. He was innocent and not involved in any militant activity,” the locals were quoted in the media as saying.

A doctor had told media on condition of anonymity that there were “visible torture marks” on Tariq’s body. The government had ordered a magisterial inquiry into the incident. On July 25 two selection grade constables – Munshi Ghulam Rasool and Surinder Singh –were suspended by the government. On July 26, police attached the concerned SHO and disarmed a cop, while the initial medical report has revealed that the body bore some injury marks and a mark on neck. But even in August 2010, it was reported that the investigation officer was yet to record the statement of a single witness or a policeman involved in the case.

Nazim’s case eerily looks like following the same pattern despite tall promises of justice by chief minister Omar Abdullah and his interior minister.

DURING  PDP’s  rule, Abdul Hamid Wani, a mason, was reportedly tortured in custody. He later died at SKIMS. Wani was picked up by Nowgam police on November 28, 2002 during a roadside search operation of a passenger vehicle he was travelling in. On the morning of December 2, 2002, after five days of torture, Wani was dropped in SKIMS by an assistant sub-inspector of police. Medical records in SKIMS suggested that the victim was tortured in custody, and mention a history of a case of “alleged hanging brought to SKIMS by ASI Abdul Khaliq.”

The District Magistrate Budgam had ordered an enquiry into the incident and appointed Assistant Commissioner Revenue Budgam as enquiry officer. The Assistant Commissioner was directed to submit its report within 10 days. On December 21, the Assistant Commissioner, who conducted the enquiry, concluded, “Wani’s death could have been a suicide by hanging as claimed by the police.” Besides minor retribution of attaching him, no action was taken against the responsible SHO of the Nowgam police station at that time.

“CUSTODIAL KILLINGS are made into a public law and order issue here,” says human rights lawyer and CCS head Parvez Imroz. “After public demonstrations, it has become a ritual to order administrative probes which are soon forgotten as there’s diversion to another incident which helps the government,” he says.

Angry protesters hackle PDP lawmakers in Sopore Citing the recent Kulgam alleged rape incident, Imroz says it became a big issue but soon there was diversion to the Sopore custodial killing which helped the government. “It’s a continuous process and there will be another diversion as soon as there’s another incident of custodial killing,” he fears.

Angry protesters hackle PDP lawmakers in Sopore Imroz says there’s no credibility of probes ordered by the government. “The history of probes by all the governments here is a history of hoodwinking people,” he says.  “It’s a lawless state. In one or two percent of the cases where they order probes, nobody knows whether they will punish the culprits,” he says. “Even in the probes ordered last year (2010), how many FIRs have they filed against the accused.”

Imroz says after a certain stage the relatives of victims also lose interest to purse the cases since they are not organized and civil society is busy in “non-issues”.  He says the only concern of the ruling government is to contain the public demonstrations and prevent them from spilling over to other areas of the valley. “The government also tries to lure the families to drop the cases by offering compensation and ex-gratia relief,” he says.

Given the seemingly unending saga of widespread torture and custodial murders routinely alleged on government forces, Nazim’s is only an indicator that despite surface calm, celebrated by the government, not much has changed on the ground in Kashmir.

And, the biggest insult brought upon the people is when their supposed protectors in power politics find an opportunity in a family’s irreparable loss. Both the ruling NC led coalition and the opposition PDP tried to score political points and trivialize brutality. For some there is catharsis in tweeting a tragedy.

P.S: Two cops, Nisar Ahmad (Belt No. 203/Sopore) and Muhammad Abass (Belt No. 243/ Sopore), were arrested on August 6 by Special Investigation Team of the Jammu and Kashmir Police probing the custodial killing of Nazim Rashid. The duo has been sent to five days police custody by the Mobile Magistrate Sopore for further questioning.  SIT is investigating the role of three more personnel of SOG of Sopore police in the case.

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