Warrior On Crutches

It took a seven-year-long battle in courts for Gulzar Ahmad Mir to secure compensation from the army for his legs lost to a landmine. His triumph brings hope for hundreds of victims like him. Shazia Khan reports.

Gulzar Ahmad Mir

When 45-year-old Gulzar Ahmad Mir of Warsun village in Kupwara lost his legs to a landmine in 2002 in the forested slopes near his village, he struggled to come to terms with life. No one in his village had landed on a landmine before.

Making a living and supporting his family was a hard ask now.  He looked for help, first from his relatives and later from officials, but it was either denied or inadequate.

But as more people lost their limbs and even lives to landmines in the village, and the army instead of helping them out, tried to silence them, Mir found a better goal in life – a battle for justice.

“I was living a worthless life earlier, but the incident provided me an opportunity to fight back against injustices of the state towards unlettered people like me.”

For more than seven years Mir fought a legal battle against the state and army for harming their lives by planting landmines in civilian areas. This month Sessions Court Kupwara directed the Government of India to pay Rs 11.94 lakhs with interest at the rate of seven per cent per annum from the date of filing of the suit as compensation to Mir.

Even though Mir’s Warsun village was 100 km from Line of Control, the army had planted mines around the village during operation Parakaram in 2002, when a troop build-up following the attack on parliament threatened a nuclear standoff.

Just a day before the incident, Mir says, the forested slopes around his village where people would collect firewood, vegetables and grazing cattle were mine free. There was no warning sign or announcement either. “On June 13, 2002, while chasing my cattle on hills I stepped on a mine. At first, I couldn’t make out what had happened. It was like somebody had chopped my legs below the knee,” recalls Mir.

The explosion threw him a few meters away from the spot, but at the same time, his other foot stepped on another mine and injured his other leg.

Hearing the explosion, villagers rushed to the spot and removed Mir to the hospital. He was referred to Srinagar’s Bone and Joint hospital where doctors amputated his legs.

“That was a rough phase of my life,” says Mir. “The incident costs me many lakhs. For about one full year I was confined to bed. Though several doctors in Bone and Joint hospital helped me financially but that amount only helped me in getting the medical treatment.”

His business in Kashmir shawls was hit. He was hurt, physically, financially and physiologically. “I was the sole breadwinner of a large family – aged parents, wife and nine young children – but after that incident, I could not even manage the two-time meals for them. My father started working for my family, my children left their studies. All these things made me restive.”

Distressed, he tried to seek help from his siblings but “they refused to help me.”

Mir approached Deputy Commissioner Kupwara for ex gratia. “They gave me only 75 thousand rupees in the name of relief. The amount was not enough to support me or my family. I approached some influential people of the state but most of them treated me badly. Some refused to talk and threw me out of their houses while others treated me like a beggar. They tossed a 10 rupee note on to my hand and directed me not to approach them further.”

Meanwhile, a 16-year-old boy, Muneer Ahmad Lone from the same village stepped on a mine laid on the same slopes within a month of Mir’s accident.

“He was killed on the spot,” says Mir, “When his uncle Yaseen raised the matter before the army, they tried to offer compensation for Muneer’s death but Yaseen refused to take money.” A few days later, Yaseen was picked up by the same army personnel. Mir says they received his body after 20 days of his arrest. “He was brutally murdered. His eyes were gouged out,” says Mir.

“Although the incident frightened villagers but it made me realize that his death was much better than my despicable life.”

He gathered some villagers and approached Gorkha Rifles posted in their village. “I requested them to remove the mines as it endangered our lives.  But they told us that they don’t know anything about those landmines. They assured us slopes are mine free.”

A few days later, when 35-year-old woman Hajira Bi of a nearby village became another causality of Pangi landmines, Mir says we approached the army again but instead of helping villagers, they warned them not to talk about it.  Quoting an army major Mir says, “He told me if you raise the issue you will be detained in the militancy-related incident but I refused to remain silent. As a result, they started harassing me and my family on one pretext or other, even my passport was denied because of their interference.” However, Mir refused to be silenced.

He assembled several landmine victims from different villages of Kupwara and tried to highlight the issue of landmines in the valley. However, being unlettered, Mir says, they could not succeed in making people aware of their plight.

“Most of the landmine incidents occurred in border areas which are inaccessible to media and other organization and unfortunately our voice went unnoticed,” says Mir.

In November 2002, Mir approached the local human rights group Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS). “With their (JKCCS) help I filed a writ petition in civil court against the state and army but when the army came to know they forced me to take the case back but when I refused they tried to corrupt me by offering one lakh and fifty thousand rupees,” Mir said he declined the offer and carried on his legal battle, which he won after seven years.

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