Right from the time travails began chasing Second Lieutenant Shatrughan Singh Chauhan in 1990, a police station close to Srinagar’s central Lal Chowk filed an FIR against unknown army personnel, accusing them of theft. The complainant, Raja Begum, claimed army men took away two gold rings and Rs 3,000 from her home, after having harassed her daughters during a crackdown at her home in Batamaloo under Shergadi police station area.
Batamaloo, barely two km from the central Lal Chowk, is where Chauhan said the army recovered 147 gold biscuits (weighing 30 kg) in a search operation on April 11, 1990. According to the FIR filed the next day by Begum, wife of Abdul Wahat Matto, the incident took place near the Sufi shrine of Ziyarat Sharief. People of the locality say no such family lives there. Nor does anybody in the area remember a neighbour by the name of Begum’s husband. In the Banpora area of Batamaloo, which is a km from the shrine, a Mattoo family says they have no information about the 26-year-old matter.
Equally curiously, police records are silent on the 1990 incident narrated by Chauhan—more so about any recovery of gold biscuits. (Batamaloo today is a separate police station.) According to senior police personnel, the FIR Begum filed was registered under section 380 of Ranbir Penal Code (Jammu and Kashmir’s equivalent of the IPC). The officials are reluctant to disclose the name of the investigating officer of the case. They say the FIR was closed 14 months later as “untraced”.
“It was a case of simple theft. It was closed on June 8, 1991,” says Deputy Inspector General of Police (Central Kashmir) Ghulam Hassan Bhat. Reason: the army personnel said to be involved in the raid were not found.
A political observer, pleading anonymity, says there was a “strong rumour” in 1990 that the army that year recovered “a good quantity” of gold from Batamaloo, and siphoned it off without ever reporting the recovery to the police. “Those days, it was normal to use cash and gold to fund hawala transactions for militancy,” he adds.
In the early 1990s, when militancy in Kashmir was at its peak, places around Lal Chowk were under the command of Mushtaq-ul-Islam, who led the militant outfit Hizbullah. He recalls that the area would, ahead of any crackdown, reverberate with gunfights between the militants and army-backed paramilitary forces. The militants would challenge the forces and, after a tough battle, retreat—following which the forces would enter the area to conduct house-to-house search operations.
“During these crackdowns, some rogues in the army and other forces would steal money, gold and other jewellery. That was routine,” says Mushtaq. “But I don’t think of any incident in which the army seized 25 kg or more of gold. Had it happened, it would have been in everyone’s knowledge here.”
Police officials say the FIR 96/90 of April 12 had been lodged on the complaints of several people including Raja Begam. “All have alleged that the army personnel indulged in theft and harassment,” says an official. “Even a trader has alleged that money was taken from his shop.”
The official points out to “the only thing that goes to Chauhan’s benefit”: the army had conducted the (pertinent) crackdown on April 11 at Batamaloo and the FIR filed on the behest of locals substantiates it. “The FIR clearly mentions about a crackdown in the area on April 11, 1990 and the army was involved in it,” he says. “All this supports one contention of the army officer that he was part of the crackdown.”
In 1990, when armed rebellion backed by mass uprising broke out in Kashmir, gunfights between militants and security forces used to be regular in the densely-populated Batamaloo. Paramilitary Centre Reserve Police Force personnel would frequently descend onto the area to raid and conduct crackdowns.
By Naseer Ganai in Srinagar