Yawar Ahmad Bhat, a class 10 student, from Pulwama's Chandgam hamlet, stepped out on September 16 to fetch some tubes. The villagers allege that his identity card was seized during a routine checking by the security forces before he was taken to an army camp. Bhat was released after some time, but he was allegedly beaten up and tortured by the security personnel at the camp. When Bhat returned home, he looked "lost", refused meals and spoke only to one of his five sisters, says his family.
Bhat had confided in his sister -- requesting her not to tell any other member of the family -- that he had been "tortured" and "beaten up" by the army. Abdul Hamid, Bhat's father, said that he hadn't stepped out of his room the entire next day and met his mother in her room, only in the evening. While Hamid prepared a glass of milk for his son, Bhat's sister, horrified, raised an alarm when she noticed his deteriorating health. Bhat might have consumed poison, she said.
Panic gripped the family and Hamid screamed, leading to neighbours congregating at his house. One of his relatives took Bhat to the district hospital, Pulwama, where he was administered treatment for the consumption of "rat poison". A day later, on September 17, he was shifted to SMHS hospital, Srinagar. One of the doctors at the hospital asked Hamid to have a word with his son before he puts him on life-support.
"My son said he had given his life for Kashmir," Hamid said. Bhat died soon after he was put on the ventilator. Hamid, too, alleges that Bhat's identity card was not with him when he checked last. Fearing reprisal, Hamid and his family are reticent about giving statements to media, but villagers say Bhat had been tortured and asked to come back to the camp to take his identity card, forcing him to commit suicide.
The Army, however, says, the allegations were baseless, and the boy was never tortured. The police say the boy had died by suicide, and an inquest had been initiated. The police say they have spoken to the army and it has denied the involvement.
To carry or not to carry an identity card has become a question of utmost significance in the Valley, say villagers. They allege youngsters face trouble both ways. "If a youth, carrying a card, produces the same before the security forces during the day-to-day raids and frisking, he is at the risk of getting his card seized by the army," says a villager, adding he is then asked to collect it from the camp. There, the villagers allege, the youngsters are tortured, beaten up and given electric shocks. They are even forced to work as bonded labourers, villagers allege further.
Some 300 yards from Bhat's house, the villagers insist reporters visit Fayaz Ahmad Ganai, 19, who works in a factory at Lasipora industrial Estate in Pulwama. The Army took his identity card on September 18 during routine checking and asked him to report to the camp. Once he went to the camp, he was tortured. “I was tied to a chair and beaten. A needle was inserted in my upper lips and holes were made in it,” says Ganai, showing his lips. At least eight other boys of the village were tortured with Yawar.
Towards the hilly side of the village are vast apple orchards, the village’s government high school and an Islamic seminary Dar-ul-Uloom, which is affiliated to Nadwatul Uloom Lucknow. The seminary and the government high school are separated by a brick wall. The seminary has 50 students -- 20 locals and 30 residential students from different parts of the valley. On Sunday morning, the seminary was closed after stones were thrown at the building in the night. The teachers of the village alleged the Army had previously asked them to close the seminary. “They said when all the other schools are closed, why do you keep your seminary open,” a teacher of the seminary, said.
In neighbouring Panjran village, every house is numbered by the army. The villagers say the army recognizes houses by the numbers. “You tell the army a house number, and they will tell you everything about it, even the number of sheep we rare,” the villagers allege. At times, some houses have been numbered twice. “The army does its census here. They give numbers to our houses and we just ignore these numbers as if they don’t exist,” the villagers say.
The villagers here say whenever the Army comes to the village, they run away. “They (the army) come anytime in the day, and if they take your identity card, you are gone. You will have to go to the camp to collect it and there, they can do anything to you,” said a villager. The recent example in the village is of Asif Ahmad Itoo, the son of the village numberdar (the village head) Abdul Rehman Itoo. The villagers say his identity card was taken and he was called to the camp of 44 RR SIDCO Lasipora.
The village head, on September 16, at about 5 p.m. took his son to the camp presuming he would be allowed to leave after a few questions. “I know my sons. They remain busy with their work. They have no affiliation to anything or anyone. I thought they wouldn't do any harm to him. I sat with the officer and I was talking to him and in the meanwhile, my son was taken inside. He is M.A in Arabic from Kerala. After an hour and a half, he came out. That time he didn’t tell me anything. But when he reached home he just dragged himself to the room and fell there. He had torture marks all over his body,” Itoo alleged. “His underwear was soaked in blood,” Itoo said and broke down on the road while talking to reporters.
“He is not able to even take his meals.” He says the Army has asked him to bring another son to the camp. “I don’t know what will happen to him. And I don’t know what will happen to me and my family after talking to you,” Itoo told reporters. Itoo has sent his son to another village for treatment.
A villager stepped in and said the sun should never set in our villages. “We fear darkness here. Night brings Army raids and very thought of it terrifies us,” the villager said.
When Outlook tried reaching out to the police spokesperson, he refused to comment on the matter. The Srinagar-based army spokesperson couldn't be contacted since his landline was regularly busy.