Kashmir Diaries: Torturous life of a former Kashmiri militant

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November 28, 2011 23:23
former kashmiri militant

Gulzar Ahmad Dar used to be a member of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). He has suffered from mental illness since allegedly being tortured by Indian forces while in captivity.

In 1990, he crossed the ‘Line of Control’ for arms training with an aim to liberate Kashmir. But little did he know that he would not be recognised as a militant but a drug addict. As he sits in a corner of a dimly-lit room, the ashes of smoke swirl in open air. A feeble looking Gulzar in loose blue jeans and a hand-woven baggie sweater gives his character a clumsy appearance. But, he doesn’t give any impression of suffering from any kind of disorder.

Gulzar Ahmad Dar alias Khan, 34, a resident of Gow Kadal area in Shaheed gunj locality of Srinagar is presently suffering from psychosis. Doctors say his condition is a direct consequence of the alleged torture by Indian forces while in captivity during the strife in Kashmir. “I am feeling a lot better now. My health has improved a lot. But I have lost weight,” mutters Gulzar while rubbing his hair with left hand and flanking a cigarette.

At a tender-age of 11, he crossed the Line of Control (LOC), de-facto India-Pakistan border, to acquire weapons training. On his return after three months, he had remained an active cadre of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), until his arrest from Gunz Khod, part of the Ali Kadal locality in Srinagar by Indian army in August 1990. He was detained at Harinawas (Joint Interrogation Centre) for a fortnight and thereafter booked under the Public Safety Act (PSA) for two years. Afterwards, he was moved to Kot Bhalwal Jail in Jammu and remained there for year and a half. He then got released in 1992, after being in detention for couple of years.

Raja Begum, 53, is Gulzar’s mother. She laments the fateful day when her son crossed the LoC. “At that time people used to welcome armed youth with garlands. It was very hard for me to see my son singing the songs of resistance without any fear,” she recalls.

She also added the torment her family went after the young insurgent was arrested by the occupation Indian forces. “We were allowed to meet him only once during his 18 months sentence in Kot Bhalwal Jail and that too through prison bars. Nothing was allowed for the inmates. Not even a toothpaste or soap.”

While revealing the circumstances of her ill-fated son which led to his insanity, Raja says: “The inmates told us that he was hit with a gun butt on the back of his head by the then S.P. Sahai. Since then, he started to complain about severe headaches and doing strange acts like talking to himself,” says his frail mother. “Whenever he recalls any past incident, his condition gets aggravated and loses his control.”

Gulzar was often released, only to be re-arrested and put back in makeshift military centres and camps, where he was subject to ruthless torture. But, as his health started deteriorating he was released by the officers after issuing his release order and other papers.

Seeing his young and heroic son shrink to the corner of a small room, Gulzar’s father, Ghulam Qadir Dar who initially showed signs of depression has followed the footprints of his son. He is also mentally-unfit. “He had turned irritating. His behaviour of scolding everyone without any reason was becoming unbearable. It was difficult for me to manage both of them at that time. So, I moved to my maternal home along with my children for some time,” Raja Begum says.

Gulzar’s sister also shared her tormenting memories. “When we were lost in the worry of our brother’s condition, our step grandmother and other paternal relatives took advantage of our misfortune. They took hold of our whole property including our home,” says Shehnaz. “Our grandmother made an issue out of our agony by saying that she cannot always bear the chaos at our home. They took control of my ill father and forced us out of our home,” the young girl added while claiming that no compensation was provided to their family or any other group by the government. The family was left at the mercy of God. Qadir is presently living with his mother at Gaw Kadal, Srinagar.

According to the family, at that point in time they found it quite hard to fight for their rights. Shehnaz had to move to her maternal home along with her mother and ill-brother. Since then, they are living at their maternal home where their uncle, Farooq Ahmed, is looking after them.

The young victim of torture has two sisters and two brothers. Due to the impoverished condition at home, his elder sister was married only after his maternal family took care of the expenses as her younger brothers sat idle with no source of income.

Shehnaz, 30, Gulzar’s younger sister is still unmarried due to the various problems at her home. No one has come forward to help them monetarily. “Whenever there used to be a crackdown in our locality, the ‘CATS’ (spies) used to identify him and make him to stand out of the queue. He was always been seen with an eye of suspicion by the police. Everyone used to talk about his past association with the JKLF,” she recalls.

Whenever Gulzar used get released, he always used to get harassed at the hands of men in uniform, making his life more miserable even after his short releases and re-arrests. “He was always asked by the then superintendent police (SP) to report each day to the DIG office Srinagar. In a routine visit to the camp, he was once arrested and tortured for three continuous days in Kothi Bagh police station in Srinagar,” says Shehnaz. “These inhumane acts became a routine and led to the deterioration of his condition.”

As soon as the family moved to their maternal home, Gulzar was still not spared. Whenever he used to go out from his house, police or paramilitary forces stopped and frisked him at security bunkers all around the city for questioning.

Soon after Gulzar’s condition started deteriorating, he was then examined by late Dr. Beigh, a renowned psychiatrist in Srinagar, and was under his supervision. In 1993, due to his aggressive and abnormal behaviour he was admitted to the mental hospital for six months at a stretch.

When Gulzar was moved to the mental asylum due to worsening of his mental condition, his family could not bear his permanent absence from home and requested doctors to discharge him on humanitarian grounds. “I couldn’t see my son in the asylum. I am ready to suffer and look after his mental illness till I am alive,” Raja Begum protested while Gulzar stayed at the mental asylum.

However, instead of showing signs of improvement, Gulzar turned more violent and became a drug addict. “When he was under the supervision of Dr. Hamidullah Shah, we used to admit him temporarily in psychiatric hospital whenever he use to turn violent and uncontrollable. But now we are used to the swings,” declares Raja.

With each passing day, as Gulzar’s dependency on steroids increased cost approximately Rs. 3,000 per month, his family failed to look after his health. He remained untreated for a long time.

During 2008 Amarnath land row, Gulzar became so anxious about the situation that once he went out of the home, entered a CRPF bunker and tried to fight with personnel in the middle of the night. “He tried to snatch a cop’s gun and screamed that he had come to kill them. When we didn’t saw him in the home, we rushed out and begged before the police to spare him citing his poor condition. He had a narrow escape that day otherwise he would have been dead,” she explained with tears in her eyes.

She says that since then they’ve kept a vigil on him and do not allow him to leave the home alone. At present, Gulzar is suffering from anxiety and depression as his family prefers him to stay indoors.

Dr. Arshad Hussain, a psychiatric consultant, is currently diagnosing Gulzar. “Due to Gulzar’s past history of torture, when he didn’t find any means of coping with abuse, he turned to cannabis and got predisposed to develop psychosis,” says Dr. Hussain. “He is an untreated patient with co-morbid substance abuse and we had to keep him on second line drugs as there was no impact of first line drugs.”

His condition is completely dependent on medication as he loses his control whenever his dose is decreased. “He is a neurobiological schizophrenic patient. If his condition seems normal at times, that is purely due to the effect of medicines. When I reduced his medicine level by 2.5mg, he became violent and started harming others,” Dr. Hussain revealed.

Gulzar is a classical example of a conflict’s collateral damage. The scars of torture are still afresh on his mind. The agonised memories of torture still haunt him and have robbed his most basic modes of relating to reality which are similar to cognitive death. His condition has not only splintered him but his family as well.

In one such episode, his sister had to face the wrath of his illness to the extent that she landed in the hospital. “He once asked me for kangri (earthen pot) to lit his cigarette and I was busy with some work. When I asked him to wait, he gave a strong blow and wounded my eye,” she says, while smearing some ointment on her right eye.

In shocking revelations by WikiLeaks cables, US officials had evidence of widespread torture by Indian police and security forces and were secretly briefed by Red Cross staff about the systematic abuse of detainees in Kashmir.

As per the obtained dispatches, US diplomats in New Delhi were briefed in 2005 by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) about the use of electrocution, beatings and sexual humiliation against hundreds of detainees. The outbreak of insurgency in 1990 claimed tens of thousands of lives, including large numbers of civilians who were targeted by both militants and security forces.

The ICRC staff told the US diplomats they made 177 visits to detention centres in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere in India between 2002 and 2004, and met 1,491 detainees. They were able to interview 1,296 privately.

ICRC report says the detainees reported ill-treatment in 852 cases. A total of 171 described being beaten and 681 said they had been subjected to one or more forms of torture.

These include 498 persons on which electricity was used, 381 who had been suspended from ceiling, 294 who had their leg muscles crushed by prison personnel by placing bars on their thighs, 181 whose legs had been stretched open to 180 degrees, 234 tortured with water and 302 sexually tortured, the detailed ICRC report disclosed which was presented to the Americans. “Numbers add up to more than 681, as many detainees were subjected to more than one form of IT [ill-treatment],” the cable said.

Aliya Bashir, is an investigative journalist with a post-graduate degree in mass communications and journalism from University of Kashmir in Srinagar, Indian-controlled Kashmir. She reports on issues covering human rights, women’s rights and civil society in the disputed territory. Her work has been published on The Guardian, Women News Network, World Pulse, Hindustan Times and Kashmir Life, and several other publications.

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