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The dance of death

In Kashmir, death has many faces. It’s not just agitated, unarmed protesters who are shot in the streets, or schoolchildren who fall prey to tear gas cans fired by the security forces trying to control crowds. Some have also lost their lives to what doctors record as death due to ‘alleged beatings’ and ‘drowning’.

The dance of death began on 13 April, when 17-year-old Zubair Ahmed Bhat, a student from Sopore, North Kashmir, who worked in Srinagar city as a part-time labourer, was near the river Jhelum with friends. Newspaper reports state that eyewitnesses spotted a group of paramilitary personnel approach the boys and force them to jump into the river.

While most of the boys could save themselves, Zubair struggled. Some boatmen passing by attempted to rescue him, but the troops fired teargas shells at them and Zubair drowned. The police closed the file, calling it ‘an accident’, ignoring the eyewitness accounts.

As the number of deaths in the next few days soared, so did the number of protesters who poured on the streets in different parts of the Valley.

As protests over the killing of teenager Tufail Ahmed Mattoo turned violent, Rafiq Ahmed Bangroo (24), a carpet-weaver from Srinagar, sustained serious head injuries and was in a coma until his death on 19 June. Doctors confirmed he died due to ‘alleged beating’ during the protests.

Muzafar Bhat (17) was picked up from his home in Srinagar by the CRPF and was later found ‘drowned to death’ on 5 July, newspapers stated.

Impunity for the security forces has been the norm in the Valley and also other states in North-East India like Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland & Tripura for several years.

Emergency acts like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which are ideally meant to be reviewed every six months, have been enforced continuously for two decades in Jammu and Kashmir.

‘Not only is this unconstitutional, but it is also responsible for the scores of human rights violations. Once impunity is strongly ingrained in the psyche of the troops, restrain refuses to stay on their agenda,’ explained a human rights lawyer.

Many more deaths took place during the unrest which have received a little more than a line’s mention in locals newspapers, as journalists were unable to travel to distant villages due to the curfew.

Mostly teenagers who died mysteriously were the ones who were captured and beaten or drowned during this phase of violence, statistics revealed.

On 17 July, Faizan Ahmed Buhroo, a seventh grade student, ‘drowned after being beaten by the Special Operations Group (SOG) personnel of the police,’ villagers in North Kashmir’s Varmul town of Baramulla said.

After his body was recovered from the river Jehlum, thousands of people took to streets, demanding action against the SOG personnel, whom they blamed for Faizan’s ‘drowning’ during the clashes between protesters and the police.

Another teenager, Arshid Ahmed, of Awantipora in South Kashmir, was killed mysteriously in Sangam. Eyewitnesses told newspapers, ‘Arshid’s body bore torture marks’. The authorities did not probe the matter any further.

Even children as young as nine lost their lives in this turmoil. On 2 August, in Sheikh Dawood Colony, in Batmaloo, Sameer Ahmad Rah (9), was ‘allegedly beaten’ to death by the forces. The police said that Rah died in a stampede, but locals allege that the security forces shoved a cane in his mouth, broke his teeth then assaulted him until he died. Rah’s photograph after the police released his body revealed that he had torture marks all over and that he had no teeth.

Then there were those who suffered injuries to their vital organs during the clashes. On 3 August Reyaz Ahmed Bhat (25), from Khrew in South Kashmir, succumbed to his injuries at a city hospital after he was ‘critically injured’ during clashes with the police and the CRPF.

On 10 August, thousands of people took to the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad highway, near Kreeri in north Kashmir’s Baramulla district, after Farak Bukhari’s (17) body was found near the police station in Chooru. The teenager had gone missing on 28 July during a protest in the area.

Bukhari, a student of Mass Communications, was ‘found with torture marks on his body and a severed hand,’ his father stated, showing photographs of the corpse.  Four months later, the family was still waiting for the post-mortem report.

Ali Muhammad Khanday, a 65-year-old man injured during the clashes in North Kashmir’s Pattan, and Mohammad Abaas Dhobi (35) from the Mattan area of South Kashmir ‘succumbed to their injuries’ on 13 and 17 August respectively.

Doctors said, Dhobi had ‘an alleged history of beating’ and was brought to the hospital on 13 August. According to Dr Syed Amin Tabish, ‘he had a spinal cord injury and his limbs were paralyzed’.

The police, in a statement issued after his death, said, ‘On 13 August, a mob of about 300 people pelted stones and bricks on security forces in Mattan, Islamabad. The security forces and police used cane charge and chased away the mob. There was a stampede where Dhobi was injured. The doctors tried their best to save his life. However, he passed away.’

On 25 August, Umar Bhat (17) who was ‘allegedly beaten by the police and the CRPF’ in Soura, on the outskirts of Srinagar city two days earlier, also succumbed to his injuries.

On 22 September, Bilal Ahmed Bhat (35), who was allegedly beaten up during clashes in Islamabad district on 17 September, died.

On 10 October, as the authorities tried to control the clashes in Islamabad, a protester lost his life while fleeing from the security forces, sources said. Bashir Ahmed Chicken (50), resident of Kadipora in Islamabad, a district of South Kashmir died on the spot.

An eyewitness revealed: ‘The CRPF was chasing him and he fell down and died.’ Chief Medical Officer Mohamed Shafi Mir of Islamabad’s Sub-district Hospital stated that Bashir was ‘brought dead to the hospital around 6 pm’.

On 14 October, Ghulam Nabi Mir (52), a protester from Pampore in South Kashmir, who was injured in clashes between the locals and the police and the CRPF and admitted on 7 October with ‘polytrauma due to assault or head injury’ also passed away, said Dr Tabish.

Sources said that Mir was ‘allegedly assaulted’ and there had been no stone-throwing in the area, as had been alleged by the police. The family has lodged a complaint for the ‘alleged assault’.

After over a 100 deaths due to gunfire and tear gas shells, it becomes difficult for local journalists to follow up cases such as these because of restrictions in movement in the Valley.

Unfortunately, even mainstream Indian media never reports these cases, and justice continues to elude the families of the victims. At times, a meagre compensation is dished out, and a public apology is offered unofficially, but no-one is taken to task as the men in uniform continue to be shielded by unconstitutional laws such as AFSPA.

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