Srinagar: A young man from north Kashmir’s Kupwara district, who was detained by the Army on December 15, has gone missing, prompting his family to stage a protest in Srinagar to demand his whereabouts. The Army has, however, said that the missing person “fled” from their custody.
Abdul Rashid Dar, who drives a mini load-carrier to make a living and also runs a family-owned tent shop, was having dinner at around 8:30 pm last Thursday when a team of Army soldiers from 41 Rashtriya Rifles unit posted in Trehgam knocked at the door of his house in Kunan village of the frontier district of Kupwara.
Shabir Ahmad Dar, Rashid’s elder brother, said that he opened the door to find six to seven dozen soldiers in the courtyard. “One of the soldiers told me that they were looking for Rashid. When I asked what it was about, he replied that it was in connection with some investigation,” Shabir said.
Shabir, who works as a Special Police Officer in J&K Police, told The Wire that the soldiers seemed in a hurry and shouted at him to act fast before barging into the house, “I asked them to remain calm as we were hosting some guests for dinner, but they didn’t listen and repeatedly asked for Rashid,” he said.
Family members tried to pull back Rashid as he was dragged out from one of the rooms in the house by a group of soldiers while the remaining soldiers searched other rooms. “I again asked the soldiers to tell us what he was accused of, but they repeated that it was related to some investigation, and said that he would be home the next morning,” Shabir said.
Unable to convince the soldiers, Shabir, who has firsthand knowledge of the laws involved in search operations by security forces given the nature of his job, told the Army that they will have to inform the local police and the village sarpanch before taking his brother into their custody. The sarpanch was intimated over phone, and arrived at the house soon afterwards.
“I asked the unit commander where they were taking him. He said that he was required for some investigation. They promised to release him in the morning. We could not say no to them,” Khursheed, the sarpanch of Kunan village, told The Wire over phone.
On the morning of December 16, when the family went to the Army camp in Trehgam village, some 1.5 kilometres from their house, Shabir said that the sentry told them that the unit commander was on a field visit. “They didn’t allow us inside,” he said. In the meantime, Shabir filed a missing person complaint at Trehgam police station.
In the evening, the family was told by local officials that the Army has intimated the police that Rashid fled from their custody when he was being taken to Marhama. Sources said that the Army has been carrying out searches in the area for some days.
‘No bird can fly without permission’
“The news came as a shock,” Shabir said amid sobs, “A bird can’t fly in the area without the permission of security agencies here, and Rashid is alleged to have disappeared? There were close to a hundred Army soldiers when they took him. How can he vanish just like that?”
The news of Rashid’s disappearance led to Khera Begum, his mother, losing consciousness. As she collapsed, her nose suffered a severe injury. She said that she had embraced her son before he was whisked by Army soldiers into their vehicle.
“I told the soldiers that they will have to return him in the same condition in which they were taking him. He has gone through two surgeries already but they didn’t even let him finish his dinner,” she said.
Khera and her ailing husband, Abdul Fariq Dar, their two daughters and son, Shabir, were accompanied by more than two dozen men and women from Kunan village when they reached Srinagar’s Press Enclave on Wednesday, December 21, where they staged a protest demanding knowledge on Rashid’s whereabouts.
As the atmosphere in the Press Enclave got charged up amid sloganeering and wails, one of Rashid’s sisters, who could not be immediately identified, fainted. “Return my beloved son. Return my innocent son. I want to see his face. If they don’t return him, I will go to the Army camp and set myself on fire,” Khera Begum screamed. Her nose was in a plaster.
Over the past more than three decades of turmoil in Kashmir, hundreds of civilians have gone missing in the custody of security forces. Although the bodies of some were found, most remain untraced. According to human rights activists, more than 8000 persons have gone missing in Kashmir since 1989. Their families used to stage a protest demanding their whereabouts in Srinagar’s Press Colony every month but the practice was stopped after the Union government read down Article 370 in 2019.
The Wire spoke with the Srinagar-based defence spokesperson Emran Mosavi who said that he was out of the station, “I am trying to get more details about the incident. As soon as we have details, they will be shared with media,” he said.
According to sources, the local Army unit told the police that during the questioning, Rashid claimed have knowledge of a militant hideout in Marhama, a forested area in the upper reaches of Kupwara, “The Army said that he fled while leading the soldiers towards the hideout,” sources said.
A senior police officer, who didn’t want to be named, said that the security forces have faced similar situations in the past where suspects have escaped from custody during search operations, “It is not unusual for suspects to escape from custody. There is no doubt that the Army picked him up and they informed the local police station on the very next morning,” he said.
But the aggrieved family refuses to buy the Army’s version.
Rashid’s family, in fact, fears the worst. “The Army should tell us clearly what they did to my brother. He has never been caught on the wrong side of law. I want justice for him. I appeal the administration to order a probe into his disappearance,” said Shabir, his brother.
Senior Superintendent of Kupwara, Yougal Manhas, told The Wire that Rashid’s family has filed a missing person complaint at Trehgam police station in Kupwara district, “We are investigating the case rigorously from all the angles. A probe is underway to find out the circumstances under which Rashid is reported to have escaped from the Army custody. Once the investigation is completed, there will be more clarity,” he said.