The noise outside their home in north Kashmir’s Kunan-Poshpora hamlet interrupted the night of a family. Their door was stared upon by an army contingent surrounding the village.
Within no time, the entire village returned, from darkness to life hearing the announcements dictating the men of the village to come out, identity cards visible in their hands.
This was February 1991. A group of Indian army personnel from 4 Rajputana Rifles stormed the twin villages of Kunan and Poshpora ‘in search of militants’. Soon, the raid turned into one of the most horrific nights in Kashmir’s three-decade-old conflict, which is marred by enforced disappearances, torture, and other human rights violations. Men were tortured and women were mass-raped, according to multiple accounts and an extensive book ‘Do you remember Kunan Poshpora?’.
Khera Begum was one of the twenty-three women who was raped that night in Kunan.
Three decades later, the lightning struck Begum again when the army personnel interrupted the family’s dinner with sharp knocks on 15 December. They inquired about Begum’s 27-year-old son, Abdul Rashid Dar.
The police in the statement said that Rashid was taken away for questioning. However, 11 days have passed but there is no sign of him.
The Dar family said that they were serving dinner when the army personnel barged into their house for searching the place and looking for Rashid. “The army took him (Rashid) outside and said they needed him for questioning,” said Shameema, Rashid’s sister.
The family was asked to visit the Trehgam army camp the next day, she added. Khera still hasn’t recovered from that night. Shameema said that she keeps crying and praying for the return of her son.
The darkness that descended upon the family kept them awake the whole night. “Bhaya (Dar’s elder brother, Hilal) called the local police station and they said they will look into the matter,” she said.
In the morning, the family was told that Rashid escaped from the army’s custody “when he was taken to a militant hideout” in the forests of the Zurhama area which is nearly five kilometers away from the Trehgam army camp.
Today, Rashid’s brother Hilal Ahmad Dar along with his relatives and neighbors went to the forests to look for his brother. “We had around five policemen in civil also. We checked the entire forest which is covered with snow but found nothing,” he said.
The Dar family refuses to buy the army version. “It is a lie,” said Hilal. “We were told at the army camp that he was also beaten. He (Rashid) was too weak to escape from custody.”
Rashid’s father, who has been bedridden for years, has been asking for his son ever since he was taken by the army. “He asks us to check the backyard of our house,” said Hilal. “Khabar aaw ma, atet ma chu (he might have returned, might be there),” Rashid’s father tells his family.
Khursheed Ahmad Dar, Sarpanch Kunan village, told Maktoob that the army said they need Rashid for investigation.
On 21 December, the family staged a protest in Srinagar’s Press Enclave where his mother was seen with a bandaged nose. Khera had broken her nose after she fainted when the army picked up Rashid on 15 December. “She is yet to heal. And the condition is only worsening,” said Shameema. “She is in pain.”
During the protest, the family urged Lieutenant Governor (LG) Manoj Sinha-led administration to intervene in the matter.
As the news of Rashid’s ‘disappearance’ came to light, the army issued a look-out circular against him with contact details of SHO Trehgam and Town commander in the case of any information on the missing person.
However, this is not the first time that Kashmir witnessed such a disappearance. As per a Srinagar-based Non-Profit Organisation (NGO), the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), over 8,000 men disappeared in Valley between the late 1980s and the early 2000s.
The APDP provided assistance to families of disappeared persons in Kashmir for years before its work came under the crackdown by the J-K administration post-2019 episode. Its office was raided by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in October 2020. During the raid, the agency seized an extensive database that was archived by the APDP.
The APDP had released a statement after the raid nothing: “There is a grave apprehension that the same may be accessed by other agencies, and/or lead to adverse consequences and reprisal against victims and families who have testified and are pursuing justice.”
The Srinagar-based defense spokesperson Emron Mosavi said that “the army is helping the police in investigating the matter”.
Last week, Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Kupwara Yougal Manhas told the reporters that Rashid gave slip to the forces after he revealed the location of a militant hideout during his detention in a militancy case.
Sameer Wani, Station House Officer Trehgam said that the police are investigating the matter. “We all are trying to find him,” he added.
It has been over a week and Dar, who drives a mini-load carrier to earn a livelihood, is yet to return. The family frequently visits local police stations to seek his whereabouts.
“They (army and police) are not responding properly, They keep saying that they are investigating,” he said.