“My heart has turned into stone. I no longer cry,” says Ghulam Qadir Dar as he enters his two-storey house in Saderkoot Bala, a village in north Kashmir. Here, 23 years ago, he had seen the bullet-riddled bodies of his family members. They were allegedly shot dead by around 20 gunmen of the infamous Ikhwan, a Kashmiri counter-insurgency group established by former militants. On May 7, the police arrested one of the accused.
The assassins were mostly from Ikhwan-ul-Muslimoon, a faction which broke away from the separatist group Ikhwan-ul-Muslimeen, and surrendered. The former sided with the security forces to fight against Pakistan-backed Hizbul-Mujahideen militants in 1994. They were notorious for loot, plunder and murders of Jamaat-e-Islami J&K workers, which was seen as the political force behind Hizb in the early 1990s.
“Bullets pierced my wife Hajira and my son Abdul Salam’s heart. My daughter, Jawharia, was shot in the chest and nephew, Abdul Rashid Dar, had bullets lodged in his abdomen. I stepped out and saw more relatives wounded and lying on the ground,” Dar says as he walks out of the house and points to the spot where he found his dear ones soaked in blood. The gunmen also shot Dar’s neighbour, Saif-ud-Din. They then rushed to the house of Ghulam Rasool Dar, who lived nearby, and killed him too. Both were stone masons.
“People asked me to drop charges. My family was killed. How can I give up the case?” says Ghulam Dar.
“Ikhwanis had come to kill me, but when my wife told them I was not at home, they became angry and murdered my family,” says Dar. “This happened because we voted the National Conference. When NC’s Akbar Lone stood against Ikhwan commander Mohammad Yousuf Parray alias Kuka Parray in the 1996 assembly elections, we supported Lone in spite of the threat from Ikhwan. Parray won. The day of the results, those who voted for the NC were massacred. That was Ikhwan’s way of celebrating their victory.”
The police registered an FIR and named nine Ikhwan gunmen. For decades, there was no progress in the case. In 2015, human rights lawyer Parvez Imroz filed a petition in the J&K HC seeking investigation into the FIR. After the court passed several directions, the police responded that of the nine suspects, only three were alive—Abdul Rashid Parray alias Rashid Billa, Wali Mohammad Dar and Mohammad Ayub Dar—and others had been killed in militancy-related cases. Their report mentions that while Wali and Billa had gone into hiding, Ayub Dar was working with the army’s 161 TA battalion.
In April 2017, militants killed Billa. Last month, the police swung into action as the court demanded arrest of the other two. At the police station in Sumbal, sub-divisional police officer Saqib Gani says, “We got inputs that Wali Mohammad is making hamams (a room with a subterranean heated chamber). He was not using a phone. We kept an eye on all people who built hamams in the area and finally found one of his co-workers. From him, we got information about Wali. We traced him and arrested him.” As for Ayub, the army allowed him to retire in April 2016 in spite of communications from the police. “We will trace him also,” declares Gani.
Four months after the carnage, Ghulam Qadir Dar’s daughter-in-law gave birth to a baby boy. Dar named him Aqib. He is today pursuing graduation in the sciences. “After the killings, I brought up my orphaned grandchildren and pursued the case alongside,” reminisces Dar.
Despite the hardships, he remains stoic about his protracted struggle for justice. “Soon after the massacre, the army picked me up. And many of the accused approached me through different people to withdraw the charges. The case is my life. How can I give it up?”
By Naseer Ganai in Bandipora