Wronged by the system

A person in a Shopian village fought Panchayat elections to “seek justice” for his family which lost three young men to unnatural deaths. Mir Iqbal reports

Javaid Bhat successfully contested in the recent Panchayat elections in his village. The only surviving son of his old parents, he had grievances against police and civil administration.

“When all our efforts to get justice failed, I thought of contesting Panchayat election and then fight for our rights. I announced clearly that I would not contest panchayat election for ‘Bijli’, ‘pani’ and ‘Sadak’ (basic amenities), but to fight those who have done injustice to our family by distorting the facts,” said Javaid Bhat.

His father, Ismail, had never thought of shouldering the coffin of any of his sons even in his dreaded nightmares, but he had to bury his three sons one after another.

Sixty-year-old Ismail Bhat stands near an orchard where he used to live with his four sons in the Nowgam (Shopian) village, about 60 kilometers from Srinagar. With eyes full of sorrow Bhat points towards a wall, where pictures of his sons covered in dust are hanging.

He says, one of his sons was killed by the Indian army, another was electrocuted and the third son died of shock and depression. Losing his sons, he says, has left a wound that only festers with the passing years.

After the death of their three sons, Ismail and his wife lives with their youngest son and two children of his deceased eldest son- Manzoor.

“The death of (their third son) Hameed has been the most painful,” says Ismail.

The family alleges that Hameed, a truck driver, was killed by troopers at Bemnipora Shopian in year 2001 just eight days before his marriage was scheduled.

“Hameed was caught for search operation by the SOG men accompanying the army. But later was killed. As army and SOG of police suffered heavy casualties in the encounter. So, they killed my brother and then dragged his dead body by tying to their vehicle. They did this because of their frustration and anger,” claims Ismail’s youngest and only surviving son, Javaid Ahmad Bhat. “There were only eight days left for Hameed’s marriage, when he was martyred by Indian Army”.

The family claims that Hameed was unloading his truck at Bemnipora Shopian in 2001. “The army, which had cordoned the village, took Hameed along for search operations. An encounter broke out between militants and army. Most of the villagers had left the village before the encounter,” they said.

Authorities claimed, “Hameed was a militant.”

The only surviving son, Javaid, works as a labourer and is the family’s breadwinner. His parents suffer from various ailments. Javaid says the treatment costs them a lot.

“Apart from expensive medicines, we spent a lot of money over years seeking justice for our brother was wrongly branded a militant,” says Javaid. “We even paid a police constable Rs 20000 to issue us a death certificate of Hameed as a civilian. But no such certificate was issued.”

Ismail claims that Hameed’s body bore torture marks. “His body was swollen, his face was damaged and we could barely recognize Hameed”.

Ismail’s wife adds, “We were preparing for his marriage; we had even distributed invitation cards.”

 “After he died … the army lied and said that he was a militant,” Ismail said. “They even wrote this lie on his death certificate”.

However, the death certificate issued by the police referred to Hameed as a civilian, he claims. For some time the family hoped for justice and compensation from the government. But later he was dubbed as militant. When the family approached Police station Shopian, the police refused to register an FIR against army.

“The then superintendent of police Pulwama said that he can’t register an FIR against a military officer,” Ismail said.

Bhat has lost three sons to the conflict, including one Fayez Bhat who could not recover from the deep sorrow when police declared his brother Hameed as a militant. Fayez died in 2004.

Manzoor was their only married son. After he was electrocuted, his wife didn’t remarry. She and her two children are living with Ismail and his wife.

Ismail Bhat fell ill after the deaths of his sons and has been bedridden for the past eight years. He cannot see or hear well, but he recalls the details of their deaths with clarity. He remembers the date. And even though illness has made him too weak to walk, he never misses a prayer. Gasping for breath, he prostrates himself in prayer five times a day.

A child enters the room we were sitting in.  “He is the Manzoor’s son. He reads in class 4,” says his grandmother, “He wants to become a doctor as he has heard somewhere that if there had been Doctors available, his father could have been saved.”

Before the tragic deaths of Ismail’s three sons, they would work in Punjab’s sugar mills during winters and would return in April, says their neighbor Abdul Bari Malik.

“All his sons were God fearing and obedient. They never hurt anybody in the village, and were also helpful to their neighbors,” he added.

Javaid Bhat the only surviving son of his old parents was not happy with the police and civil administration.

“When all our efforts to get justice failed, I thought of contesting Panchayat election and then fight for our rights. I announced clearly that I would not contest panchayat election for ‘Bijli’, ‘pani’ and ‘Sadak’, but to fight those who have done injustice to our family by distorting the facts,” said Javaid Bhat.

 Javaid won the Panchayat election with a big margin. However, after many months he has not been able to trace his brothers’ record file in the DC office.

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