Waiting For Justice

People heard the killer preside over the mourning but would talk in whispers till the judiciary took over. Papa Kishtwari, the erstwhile villain who killed civilians like ants, is now facing a series of murder cases. Shams Irfan reports the judicial process that has encouraged his victims to speak for the first time since his rise from the saffron fields in early nineties.

Ghulam Mohammad Lone alias Papa Kishtwari

It was during the early 90’s, at the peak of armed militancy, that government-sponsored gunmen known as counterinsurgents or Ikwanis became active across Kashmir.  Backed by the government with an aim to “clear the mess”, they ruled their respective areas with full impunity and wreaked havoc on common masses.

Seventeen-years have passed but the mere mention of Shab-e-Barat (Night of Blessings) in 1996 makes people shiver with fear in Frestabal, a small colony in saffron town Pampore. It was the time when Ghulam Mohammad Lone alias Papa Kishtwari, a government-backed counter-insurgent was literally ruling this part of conflict-ridden Kashmir.

It had become necessary for people to seek Papa’s permission before celebrating any religious festival after dark. Late-night marriages were out of the question and unheard of in Pampore during his reign.

A day before Shab-e-Barat (5th January 1996) Ghulam Hassan Mir, a landlord from Frestabal, assured Abdul Qayoom Qazi, a local imam, that Papa Kishtwari has given permission for praying in mosques till late hours this year.

But Qazi, who preaches at Masjid Umar in Frestabal was not convinced. “I sensed something bad was about to happen,” recalls Qazi. “But I had to give in as people were really excited to pray in the mosques after a long break.”

Next day (6th January 1996) Qazi, an engineer by profession reached home late in the evening. People had already assembled in the mosque. It was cold outside as Qazi walked towards the mosque with heavy steps.

At the same time Ghulam Hassan Mir, who was assured by Papa Kishtwari that his men won’t trouble anybody going for prayers, left his house for Masjid Umar with his two sons.

Zahoor (name changed) a student who lives adjacent to Masjid Umar, was happy to be out of his house after dark. “It was like freedom for youngsters,” says Zahoor. He rushed towards the mosque and joined his friends who were already there waiting for him. Zahoor and his friends sat near the window that opened on the road outside.

Within no time Masjid Umar was packed with devotees.  Qazi led the prayers. After the prayers, at around 10:15 PM, Qazi started reciting verses from the holy Quran when three gunshots rang through the darkness of the night. Everybody in the mosque fell silent. There was no movement among devotes. Nobody knew what had happened. Qazi turned off the loudspeaker and remained silent for a while.

Brave: Abdul Qayoom Qazi still cannot forget 6th January 1996 when Papa Kishtwari killed two of his neighbours. .
Brave: Abdul Qayoom Qazi still cannot forget 6th January 1996 when Papa Kishtwari killed two of his neighbours.

Suddenly people heard somebody wailing outside. Zahoor and his friend, who were sitting near the window jumped outside the mosque to check what had happened. “I saw somebody lying on the road. It was dark outside. He was lying on his stomach with his face down,” recalls Zahoor.

As Zahoor turned over the unidentified person he felt something wet on his hands. “I instantly recognized his face. He was my friend’s father Ghulam Hussan Mir. We used to call him Kaka,” recalls Zahoor. Mir was bleeding profusely but he was still alive.

Before Zahoor could have helped Mir he heard people rushing towards the mosque. “They were firing in the air. It was like old movies where goons used to come screaming and at the same time firing,” remembers Zahoor.

Zahoor after wiping blood from his hands-on Mir’s clothes rushed back inside the mosque. But Mir’s son Nisar, who had jumped out of the mosque window with Zahoor screamed after he saw his father in a pool of blood.

Inside the mosque, people were talking in whispers. Nobody dared to go out and check why Nisar is crying hysterically. “It was the kind of fear that Papa Kishtwari had evoked in people that made them stay quiet,” says Qazi.

Government gunman Ghulam Mohammad Lone alias Papa Kishtwari patrolling with his men in Pampore in a file picture.
Government gunman Ghulam Mohammad Lone alias Papa Kishtwari patrolling with his men in Pampore in a file picture.                 Photo: Amin War

When the word spread in the mosque that it is their neighbour Mir who is lying outside in a pool of blood crying for help, Qazi could not resist and rushed outside. As Qazi and others rushed out, Papa Kishtwari and his men had already reached where Mir was lying on road. “He was furious and started asking everybody who shot Mir? I tried to pacify him but he was in no mood to listen,” recalls Qazi. “Then he asked everybody, ‘tell me who was the last person to enter the mosque’” remembers Zahoor who was standing next to Nisar that time.

The last person to enter the mosque was Abdul Rehman Mir, caretaker of the mosque, who when called told Papa Kishtwari that two men met him outside the mosque and told him to call Ghulam Hassan Mir. He told him plainly that he could not see their faces as they were wearing masks.

Then without giving a second thought Papa Kishtwari grabbed Abdul Rehman Mir and started beating him. He said it’s Abdul Rehman Mir who actually shot Ghulam Hassan Mir. “Everybody watched like spectators. We could do nothing,” recalls Zahoor.  While Papa Kishtwari’s men were beating Abdul Rehman Mir, Qazi mustered courage and asked him to at least let people take Ghulam Hassan Mir to doctor.

“My father who was lying on the road dying in front of my eyes was trying to say something but Papa Kishtwari didn’t allow me to go near him,” says Nisar. “Whenever I tried to reach for my father Papa Kishtwari would flash a long sword and push me back,” recalls Nisar.

Ghulam Hassan Mir

In order to save himself Abdul Rehman Mir who was being beaten by Papa Kishtwari’s men continuously held Qazi by his clothes and pleaded him to save his life. “It was one of the most difficult times of my life. I knew if I don’t act fast they will kill him,” recalls Qazi. “I told Papa that let us ask the dying man himself who really shot him.”

Then Qazi reached for Ghulam Hassan Mir and asked him did Abdul Rehman Mir shot him? “He could barely understand anything as he was bleeding badly. But I asked him again and this time he said he didn’t see them as their faces were hidden,” says Qazi.

Qazi then pleaded with Papa Kishtwari to let Abdul Rehman Mir go as he is innocent. “He gestured his men to let him go and said that he knows who has shot Mir,” says Qazi.

Then Papa Kishtwari said in a commanding voice that you have five minutes to rush back to your houses. Anybody found outside after that will be killed. “I remember grabbing my nephew who was barely 10 at that time and rushing towards my house as fast as I can,” says Zahoor.

But before everybody could reach home Papa Kishtwari’s men started firing in the air. “They were screaming and cursing at the same time,” remembers Zahoor.

Nailing A Demon

The Second Killing

Abdul Samad Dar, a saffron grower by profession who lived at a five minutes’ walk from Masjid Umar, heard three gunshots when he was preparing to leave for the mosque with his sons Bashir and Nisar.

Abdul Samad Dar

He was not aware that Ghulam Hassan Mir was shot by some ‘mysterious men’ and Papa Kishtwari and his men had arrived near the scene. But he knew something was wrong and decided to stay indoors. His son Bashir had already left for the mosque. “Our mosque was a few meters away from Masjid Umar,” says Bashir.

After Qazi’s intervention when Ghulam Hassan Mir was finally taken to hospital (he died before he could reach the hospital because of blood loss), Papa Kishtwari vowed to avenge Mir’s killing.

Papa Kishtwari and his men left in a fit of anger and rushed straight towards Dar’s residence.  Ghulam Qadir Bhat, who is in his late sixties worked with Power Development Corporation as a clerk in ’90s, lived across the street. “I saw armed men outside Dar’s residence. Within no time they were inside the house. Then I heard women screaming while Papa Kishtwari’s men were abusing in high pitch,” recalls Bhat.

Papa Kishtwari and his men kicked the door and grabbed Dar by his neck and dragged him out.

“When I heard cries coming from my house I rushed back to my house. But when I reached near the main door one of Papa Kishtwari’s men saw me and fired a few shots in my direction,” remembers  Bashir.  “I remained hidden in the dark for a while. But when I heard my father screaming for help I could not control myself and climbed inside through the back wall.”

Bashir standing in his courtyard where his father Abdul Samad Dar was tied to an almond tree and killed by Papa Kishtwari.

As Bashir reached in he saw Papa Kishtwari dragging his father through the lawn while his men bought his mother, brothers and sisters out of the house. “They had big kerosene cans with them,” remembers Bashir.

Within minutes Papa Kishtwari’s men assembled every valuable item in Dar’s house including expensive carpets, clothes, bedding etc. in two rooms and sprinkled them with kerosene oil. “They set everything on fire. Suddenly my mother remembered that her mother-in-law was sleeping in one of the rooms set on fire by Papa Kishtwari’s men,” recalls Bashir.

On one side Papa Kishtwari was tying Dar with an almond tree with an intention to kill him, and on the other side, his 106 year-old-mother was inside in one of the rooms on fire. “My mother had to make a quick choice. She could have saved only one of them. She pleaded with Papa Kishtwari to at least let her save her mother-in-law,” says Bashir while clearing his voice.

Papa Kishtwari holding Dar’s neck with one hand and a long sword in the other hand stopped and thought for a while. “Those were the longest 20 seconds of my life. He finally nodded and allowed us to save our grandmother,” says Bashir.

Bashir and his brother Nisar rushed inside and brought the old lady out of the room most of which was by now consumed by flames. In the meantime, Kishtwari’s men had tied Dar with the almond tree that he had planted himself in the court and shot him dead.

“They did not leave immediately. After he shot my father his men fired in the air for some time and then warned everybody in a loud voice not to come near his body,” remembers Bashir.

“We could do nothing to save Dar as Papa Kishtwari’s men had held us on gunpoint,” says Dar’s neighbour Bhat.

For the next two hours nobody dared to come out of their houses to help Bashir and his brother, who were in their teens then, to carry their father’s body inside or douse the flames.  “Me and my mother cut him loose and literally dragged my father’s body to the garden,” says Bashir.

After two hours when the firing stopped and people were sure that Papa Kishtwari and his men are gone, our neighbours came to our house. “I don’t blame anybody as they were all afraid,” says Bashir.

Bashir and his family were not aware of Ghulam Hassan Mir’s death. They came to know about Mir’s death only the next morning. “The next morning when we were preparing for our father’s funeral Papa Kishtwari’s men came to our house and said, ‘don’t bury your father until Mir is buried,’” recalls Bashir. “It was not a request but an order. So we had no option but to wait.”

Ironically Papa Kishtwari presided over both Mir and Dar’s funerals the next morning and told people that he will do his best to bring the killers to justice. “He asked my brother not to be afraid as he will soon find our father’s killers and would punish them,” says Bashir.

“Everybody knew who killed these men but who would have dared to say anything as Papa Kishtwari was ruling this area like an unchallenged king,” says Qazi.

Bashir’s brother Nisar wanted to lodge an FIR the next morning against Papa Kishtwari and his men but was stopped by neighbours as they feared that he will kill him too. “Papa Kishtwari came to our house on several occasions after my father’s killing. He wanted to make sure that we don’t fight for justice,” says Bashir.

WITNESS: Ghulam Qadir Bhat faced Papa Kishtwari bravely during his testimony in Pulwama court room.
WITNESS: Ghulam Qadir Bhat faced Papa Kishtwari bravely during his testimony in Pulwama courtroom.

Finally, in April 2007, police filed a case against Papa Kishtawari when locals protested outside his highly guarded resident against the encroachment of a graveyard. “That was the beginning of an end of his reign of terror,” says Qazi.

Encouraged by the events, elders approached Dar’s son Bashir and Mir’s son Nisar to seek fresh investigation in their fathers’ murder.

Both Bashir and Nisar filed a case against Papa Kishtwari in district court Pulwama and deposed before the judge as eyewitnesses.

“During the trial, I faced Papa Kishtwari bravely. I am not afraid of him anymore,” said Bashir’s neighbour Ghulam Qadir Bhat who is one of the eyewitnesses of Abdul Samad Dar’s murder.

Papa Kishtwari is currently lodged in Central Jail Srinagar and facing trial for killing Ghulam Hassan Mir and Abdul Samad Dar.

10 COMMENTS

  1. Such a heart wrenching and cruel account of Papa Kishtwari’s atrocities that cannot be forgotten or forgiven. Thanks to the writer for recording it for gen next.

  2. This is just one incident of this bloody murderer, there are so many other murders in his account, Hope the writer publishes the complete story.

  3. The irony is that the judicial process dilutes the action even if there are vivid evidences of atrocities committed by the criminal…..None of the criminals can remain at large without the support of government/police.

  4. Papa kistwari has done a lot more such horrifying and heart wretching Killings which one can’t imagine.What is the more irony,is that govt is trying to shield him for their pitty gains.
    And My salute to Kashmir Life and its team for providing us knowledge about past happenings as new generation has no idea about such incidents.
    I appeal you Plz make a facebook page of your newspaper so that world will come to know about these atrocities.I hope you will think over it.

  5. Those days every locality was having Papa Kishtawari and some of them had been conferred upon with Padma Vibhushan (example Muma Kana) by Govt. of India for their criminal acts. In my opinion every such person should be brought to book and justice done to thousands of people who had suffered through these Govt. Goons

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here