When a Class 11 Batamaloo boy became one of the earliest enforced disappearance cases in Srinagar at the stroke of nineties, a silent death spree started in his family. To get the promising cricketer back home, his mother spearheaded a search campaign that continues till today, reports Bilal Handoo
A week after her son was abducted in a night raid, the wailing mother, Raja, was heard crying on bustling Batamaloo streets: Jaan vandyo yaari jaa’na’nay… (O’ beloved, let me sacrifice my life for you!) That was the self-consoling ballad of the mother who had just returned empty-handed from the gates of the dreaded Hariniwas torture centre.
That was twenty six years ago. But till today, a sense of normalcy is far from getting restored in a Batamaloo family.
The torment began during the intervening night of May 22-23, 1990, when a BSF van arrived past 2:00am at their doorsteps and left bundling their son, Mohammad Shafi Dar, an 18-year-old class-XI student. For his nocturnal abduction to subsequent enforced disappearance, the personnel of the 141st Battalion BSF headed by Major Chaun were held responsible.
That night, Shafi’s friend, Aijaz A Bhat, was also picked up with him. A week later, when Bhat was set free, he told everyone that the duo were taken to the Joint Interrogation Centre (JIC), Hariniwas. But while Bhat was released, no news of Dar came, until his mother hit streets like a proverbial whirling dervish to trace him.
Her street stride began when a freshly released Batamaloo youth told her, nearly fifteen days after her son’s abduction, “I saw your son at JIC. They tortured him quite badly.” This made Raja, the distraught mother, to run toward Hariniwas.
While she was pleading a sentry to let her in, a military jeep came out of the notorious torture centre. Inside, the mother saw someone she knew very close. No sooner the vehicle whizzed past, she cried: “Potrou!” Inside the jeep was her son, her Shafi, who was being taken out for a trip of no return.
That was the last time she saw her son, known for his “exceptional” cricketing skills in Batamaloo circles. And with that began the mother’s repeated query, “Shafi ma lobukh?” (Has Shafi, her son, been found?)
Shafi’s disappearance case proved deadly for his family putting up in Batamaloo’s Lachmanpora. Days later, Shafi’s niece ceased to be. Behind the death of an “angel-faced” Maryam (in her early teens) was a heart attack. “She couldn’t withstand her uncle’s sudden separation,” says Nisar, Shafi’s brother. Next dead body taken out from their house was that of Shafi’s father, Ghulam Mohammad Dar.
The twin deaths compounded by her son’s disappearance forced Raja to stay outdoors. She would be seen sitting at length on a shop front outside her home. Shedding helpless tears, she would be craving for her youngest son’s reunion. “Her protracted weeping cost her eyesight,” says Nisar, now fighting his brother’s case.
Amid her worsening plight, Shafi’s case made it to the daily dairy report no.14 of Batamaloo Police Station on June 4, 1990. Shafi’s name subsequently figured in a list of 45 people cleared by state government for grant of relief to next of kins of missing persons on February 21, 2003. But Nisar was informed by one of the officials at Deputy Commissioner, Srinagar’s office that the file has been closed for some unknown reasons.
The denial forced the family to approach State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) on March 26, 2003. The rights body sought a report from the IGP Kashmir who furnished a report on March 11, 2004. The police report confirms Shafi’s abduction by the 141st Battalion BSF on May 22-23, 1990 led by Major Chaun.
But it also states that Shafi was working with the Al-Jehad outfit at the time. The family and the witnesses rebutted the allegations, saying the police added the sentence to save the skin of the accused. Shafi’s cousin and witness Shabir A Dar said that his cousin was not involved in any “subversive activity” nor affiliated with any militant outfit.
“Merely alleging that the subject was working with Al-Jehad will not suffice to establish that the victim was indulging in militancy,” the SHRC stated. “Even if it is assumed that Shafi was working for Al-Jehad outfit… no right has been given to police or army to kill him during the interrogation… This is a gross human rights violation committed by the BSF personnel. It is being done by them because there is no accountability of such forces.”
On November 20, 2007, the SHRC indicted Major Chaun. It directed that a case be registered against him and recommended that relief of Rs 200,000 be paid to Shafi’s family besides an employment under SRO-43. But as state shrugged off the SHRC decision, the family filed a petition before J&K High Court.
Before the High Court, the BSF stated they arrested and handed over both Shafi and Aijaz to JIC. J&K government and police shortly submitted before the High Court that FIR no. 87/2008 u/s 364 [Kidnapping/Abducting to murder] Ranbir Penal Code, 1989 [RPC] was filed in the case at Batamaloo Police Station. (Notably, it took police 18 years to file a FIR in the case. Even then no progress has been made in the case till date.)
Further, despite a SHRC decision, the family is yet to receive any relief/compensation. And based on the FIR filed, BSF and SHRC were deleted as parties from the proceedings, vide an order dated February 11, 2010.
The same year, 2010, Raja, the distraught mother, passed away after putting up 20-long years of grueling search. Till her last breath, she never tired asking: “Shafi ma lobukh?”