Monday, August 29, 2011

Justice buried for fake encounter victim

Mufti IslahMufti Islah, CNN-IBN
Updated May 25, 2008 at 12:53am IST
Srinagar: Near the Line of Control in Kashmir, security forces are everywhere, a check post is always around the corner, a barbed wire fence never too far away. In a state where people are always looking over their shoulders, it can be fatal to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In her 56 years, Jana Begum has seen tragedy over and over again. She says 10 years ago two of her sons were picked up near Kupwara by the State Task Force and the Border Security Force.
After a painful search, a policeman told Jana that her sons had been shot dead, and buried in a graveyard in Regipora.
The shock killed her husband. Another of Jana's sons went missing from Deoband in 2002. She says that he too may lie in an unmarked grave, and every visit to the Regipora cemetery stirs up old fears.
"Nobody gave me any answers. I went everywhere, but nobody would tell me anything," Jana Begum says.
A few maize orchards away from Jana's house in Lolab, Wali Mohammad still mourns the loss of his son Farooq, killed in August 2003.
Farooq was allegedly taken from a bakery in Srinagar by the Army, and then shot dead, and passed off as a militant. When Wali learnt that his son was buried in a grave in Srinagar, he went to court and won an order of exhumation. It's been five years, but the tears still come easily.
"Why was my innocent son killed? There are so many cases like this here," Wali Mohammad says.
Jana and Wali say their battle with the government isn't over yet. Once a month, they assemble at a park in Srinagar with some of the other families of those who've disappeared - to remember, to grieve, and to protest, against a government they say is not doing enough.
Like Wali, many relatives dig up bodies from unmarked graves themselves, looking for clues, hoping their loved ones are alive, or hoping for proof they're dead.
For Sudesh Kumari, though, closure came through an anonymous letter written by an Indian soldier.
When Kumari's husband Bhushan Lal was picked up with three other men by army men in Srinagar in April 2004, the family didn't know where to look. But a week later, they received a letter that confirmed their fears.
"My daughter keeps on saying when will daddy come. When I ask her what are you going to do to daddy she says everyone's daddy calls them and I too want to speak to him over phone and tell him to give me school fee and uniform," Sudesh Kumari says.
The family is pained and furious. Furious that their slain loved ones did not get decent last rites according to Hindu customs rather than cremating, they were buried somewhere in the foothills of Lolab valley.
Sudesh Kumari's neighbour Bali Ram has also seen tragedy firsthand. He says his brother Ram Lal was picked up by the Army as well, leaving him to care for his young nephews.
"I have been taking care of the children. The government should think of his children. We are starving," he says
Like Jana Begum, Wali Mohammed, Sudesh Kumari and Bali Ram, many of the families whose relatives have gone missing are desperately poor.
And the loss of a young working family member often pushes them further into poverty. But what they want more than anything else, they say, is the truth to be told - that their sons and husbands were not militants. And until then, justice for them will also lie buried.
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