Human Shields

After a mobile user recorded a few seconds of footage showing soldiers using a Shawl weaver as a human shield, moments after he cast his vote in the low-polled Lok Sabha by-elections, Kashmir got the first ever evidence of a phenomenon that existed for more than two decades, reports Saima Bhat

“Members of India’s armed forces reached a new low in the long history of alleged human rights abuses in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir when they beat and then tied a 24-year-old shawl weaver named Farooq Ahmad Dar to the front of a jeep on April 9, using him as a human shield against stone-throwing crowds,” New York Times commented last week. The video went viral on social networking sites and shocked the world.

After he cast his vote on April 09, Dar was taken away by army and used as a shield, and drove him 27 kilometers, parading him through 20 different villages. By evening, after intervention by political beings and his family, he was given a final marshalling in a CRPF camp and let go.

He wants to sleep but the shouts of the Army man calling upon the youth that, “apnay banday ko pathar maro, (throw stones at your own man)” still haunt him.

But ten days after that incident Dar is a shattered man. He cries in pain and complains body aches. He is afraid to step outside his house. He says he wants to visit a doctor but fears that the Army might harm him again. He wants to sleep but the shouts of the Army man calling upon the youth that, “apnay banday ko pathar maro, (throw stones at your own man)” still haunt him.

“I thought I will be dead,” he says in broken words. “My hands were tied behind, engine of the jeep was hot, and if I made a slight movement of the body, the Army man would throw a stone from behind.”

Even though the police have registered an FIR in the incident, nobody has taken Dar’s statement.

It was government’s responsibility to punish army for such crimes, Khurram Parvez, a human rights defender, says, such incidents happen because of lawlessness and not because of the draconian laws.

International laws don’t allow use of human shields in any conflict region. Perhaps that is why the video drew widespread criticism and condemnation from different countries. Even Pakistan’s senate discussed the incident.

The mass interest in the video in Kashmir was because it was the first evidence on record, about a phenomen that existed since 90’s.

During early 90’s Rafiq (name changed) was a known militant in southern Kashmir. Due to fear and continuous threats, his family started living at undisclosed addresses. Nobody knew where they were putting up. Then in 1996, a joint team of Army and Ikhwan zeroed in on Rafiq. Based on the inputs they cordoned off a residential house in an Islamabad village.

“Army had bought Rafiq’s two friends and his sister to the encounter site,” said an eyewitness, who wishes to stay anonymous.

All three were ordered to make a line with an army man hiding behind each one of them with an AK47 rifle. “They were used as human shields,” said the eyewitness. From behind their back army started firing bullets towards the house where Rafiq was holed up. “He couldn’t fire even a single bullet back.”.

Later army men dragged Rafiq’s friends out of the encounter site, only his sister was there now. “An army major first touched her in an indecent manner and then pulled her dupatta.

Frustrated, Rafiq started to shout and hurled abuses at army and Ikwanis. When army officer saw that the strategy didn’t work, he made several announcements on a loudspeaker asking Rafiq to surrender. But he didn’t. “They then started beating his friends till both of them fell unconscious,” recalls the eyewitness.

Villagers, who were hiding inside their houses, could sense Rafiq’s desperation, as he cried with each blow on his friend’s body. “But he didn’t surrender.”

Later army men dragged Rafiq’s friends out of the encounter site, only his sister was there now. “An army major first touched her in an indecent manner and then pulled her dupatta.”

It enraged Rafiq and he came out firing at the forces. And when he reached near his sister, “He hugged her.”

This gave army opportunity, and they shot him in the back, killing him on the spot.  “Such incidents were common during 90’s,” said Liyakat Ali Khan, a government gunman turned politician who was active in Islamabad. “Even militants used civilians as human shields.”

In February 2003, Fazil (name changed), a college student then, had gone to his friends house who lived in the same village. Fazil, now a KPS officer, received a call on his friend’s landline.

It was his sister. She shouting and said, “Don’t come home. Our area has been cordoned off. I saw two militants inside neighbour’s house.”

Fazil decided to stay indoors but he was worried about his mother and sister, who were alone at home.

A few minutes later, army made announcements from a local mosque ordering all males to come out and assemble in an open ground. It was a joint operation by BSF and SOG.

After the identification parade was done, an SOG officer singled out Fazil and ordered him to remove his pheran.

After he took off his pheran, the officer ordered him to go inside one of the houses located opposite the ground.

“Go inside and open all the windows and check if any suspicious person is inside,” recalls Fazil. “And if you lie about it then you will be in trouble.”

The SOG officer didn’t know that the house he was pointing at was in fact Fazil’s. “I didn’t say anything at all.”

File image of encounter site in Chadoora

“They had information that militants are hiding in an agriculture department employee house. But there were two employees, my father and our neighbour,” recalls Fazil. “Militants were hiding in our neighbours house.”

As Fazil entered his house with his arms raised in air, he saw his sister and mother crying in fear. When he found nobody inside, he opened all the windows, and came out.

But the SOG officer didn’t believe him. “They caught me by my collar, put an AK 47 on my shoulder and asked me to move in front of them,” said Fazil.

Then they entered the house again and searched every corner all over again. “My throat was dry out of fear,” recalls Fazil. “When we reached kitchen I put my face inside a bucket full of water and drank.”

As Fazil entered his house with his arms raised in air, he saw his sister and mother crying in fear. When he found nobody inside, he opened all the windows, and came out

Once outside, Fazil feared he will be rounded across the village now. “I knew where militants were hiding but I couldn’t do anything. I stayed quite fearing I will be taking inside the house as human shield,” said Fazil.

However, when forces found nothing inside the house, they formed two groups: one to search upper side of the village and other lower side. “I was taken towards the upper side by the BSF,” said Fazil. “Fifteen minutes later I heard gunshots and I quickly lay down on the ground. So did BSF personnel accompanying me.”

Later I came to know that the SOG group had entered the house and militants opened fire at them.

“Lying there I was just thinking about my mother and sister’s safety,” said Fazil whose mother was equally worried about him.

The encounter ended after 45 minutes of gun-battle. Once it was over, Fazil and his two cousins were taken inside the house as human shield. “They wanted to be sure that all militants are dead,” said Fazil.

Once inside Fazil and his cousins shouted in Kashmiri that don’t fire we are civilians. Then one of his cousins said what if the militants are non-locals! “Then we began shouting in Urdu as well,” said Fazil. “But then we thought what if they are Pashto’s?”

Years later, after Fazil cleared Kashmir Police Services (KPS), he was called to an encounter site in Pulwama village.

Fazil spent following nights awake as nightmares haunted him.

Years later, after Fazil cleared Kashmir Police Services (KPS), he was called to an encounter site in Pulwama village.

“The army major in-charge of the operation brought a young boy and used him as human shield,” recalls Fazil. “I confronted the officer and told him it is unethical and unlawful.”

Fazil couldn’t help but feel pained at the irony as he recalled his ordeal.

In 2009, Shamsuddin, 65, a retired head constable of JKP, was used as a human shield by army in a gun battle with militants.

His son, Muhammad Ashraf, also a cop, later told media that his father was forced by the army and Ikhwanis, to enter the house where militants were holed up.

“After Shamsuddin entered the house, he called militants and asked them to surrender as instructed by the army,” Rising Kashmir reportedBut when he was about to leave the house he was shot in the abdomen and his right hand. He later died of his injuries.  Uttam Chand, then SSP Kupwara had assured investigations into the incident.

In 1991, Alif-u-Din, retired jawan of 12 JAKLI, also from Kupwara, was used as a human shield by personnel of BSF’s 56th battalion during an encounter.

“They put me in the front and let me into thick forest where militants were hiding. A gunshot hit me in my right leg when encounter broke out,” he told media in 1998. “I am handicapped for life.”

In 1994, Ghulam Mohiuddin Shah, Farooq Ahmad Dar and Abdul Hameed Dhobi, were used as human shields during a gunfight with militants in Hatishah locality of Sopore town. After the encounter was over all three were shot dead by the army.

They put me in the front and let me into thick forest where militants were hiding. A gunshot hit me in my right leg when encounter broke out,” he told media in 1998. “I am handicapped for life

Lassa Khan and his wife Nabza Begum have shouldered coffins of their four sons and two nephews. Their three sons and one nephew was killed in militancy related encounters.

In November, 1999, their youngest son Mohammad Abbas, 13, and nephew Fareed Dar, 18, were picked up by army while they were attending the marriage ceremony of their neighbour. “First they were used as human shields and then killed in cold blood,” Nabza Begum told Greater Kashmir.

On March 13, 2000, Ashiq Rasool Bhat, 25, a student from Yar Muquam, Ganderbal, was killed during an encounter when he was used as human shield.

On Dec 13, 2004, Ghulam Qadir Waza lost his arm and suffered multiple injuries when soldiers asked him to dig out an IED planted on the roadside. According to residents the device exploded when Waza was digging the earth. On spot Waza’s arm got served and he suffered multiple wounds due to the impact of the blast.

On November 12, 2005, Aijaz Ahmed Dar and Shabir Ahmed Shah, both students of Class 12, were picked by the personnel of 29 RR after a gun battle broke out in Pattan.

“They were taken to the encounter site and used as human shields. Both the boys got injured but troops didn’t allow us to move them to the hospital till they breathed their last,” eyewitnesses told Kashmir Times.

On January 24, 2010, army personnel from 62 Rashtriya Rifles and SOG killed Mushtaq Ahmad Mir, 35, of Kalampora, Pulwama.

Locals alleged that army used Mushtaq, son of the village headman, as a human shield against a barrage of fire directed at the forces.

Then, Pulwama police Chief had insisted initially that Mushtaq was hit in the firing by the militants. But media reports confirmed that both the militants had escaped during gunfight.

Even the encounter of July 08, 2016,  in which Burhan Wani was killed, there were human shields. Bashir Ahmad Wani, and his brother Javid were beaten and used as human shield.

“When firing started I saw Sartaj’s body lying a few meters away from the house where encounter took place,” Bashir was quoted by Greater Kashmir saying. “They asked us to drag the body along with the pistol and a gun lying next to him.”

A few minutes later Bashir again heard exchange of gunshots.

In Febryary 2004, five of the six people picked by the army from remote Chittibandi village in Bandipora district were found dead

“This time they called me, my brother Sartaj Ahmad, my brother-in-law Javaid Ahmad and a shopkeeper Altaf and asked us to lift two more bodies. They were Burhan and Parvez,” said Bashir a resident of Bemdoora village in Kokernag.

In Febryary 2004, five of the six people picked by the army from remote Chittibandi village in Bandipora district were found dead.

After their bodies were discovered tried to frame them as militants saying they were killed in an encounter.

But army version was contradicted by the eyewitnesses and lone survivor Abdul Majid Malla.

“They (army) took our identity cards and pushed us towards a hideout. They wanted us to make them surrender. When we were close to the caves, bullets rained from different directions and five of us died after sustaining critical injuries,” Malla was quoted saying.

In 2004, then chief minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed announced magisterial probe into these killings.

Following Mufti’s footsteps, Ghulam Nabi Azad too ordered a judicial inquiry in infamous ‘Doodipora’ incident, in which four boys were killed. “Joint interrogation with local police and involvement of local police while conducting searches and anti militancy operations has also been ordered alongwith strict directions to against use of human shield,” a statement issued by the J&K government said on March 1, 2006.

“Deterrents would have been there, if any culprit would have been punished,” said Khurram. “But no probe has lead to any prosecution.”

Khurram feels the absence of accountability encouraged the armed forces in Kashmir to share videos of their brutality. “Impunity is absolute and permanent,” feels Khurram.

Giving example of Masooda Parveen’s husband’s case, who was also used as a human shield and later his body was returned literally in pieces, Khurram says she reached Supreme Court but culprits were bailed out and the justice was not given.

Author Basharat Peer in his book Curfewed Nights has written about a mother, Shameema in Larkipora, Islamabad whose one son Shafi, 17, a class 10th student was used as a human shield which led to his death and then her courage, to take her second son, Bilal out of clutches of forces when he was handed over a mine on May 11, 2001.

This old man was taken out of his house by army for showing them the way. Whole night his family was waiting for his return. “But next day his family received his body in a box.

“She took the mine from her son’s hands and held him in her arms. Three soldiers and an officer circled them, asking her to leave her son. She faced the officer, holding the tiffin-shaped mine, and told him to leave her son and let her take it into the house. ‘I held onto the mine and asked the officer to blow me up.’ He remained silent; she shouted again. ‘Then he ordered the soldiers to let us go. I held Bilal. As we walked away I saw them push an old man towards the house with the mine in his hands.’”

This old man was taken out of his house by army for showing them the way. Whole night his family was waiting for his return. “But next day his family received his body in a box,” said one of his sons, to his employer Muddasir, where he was working as a domestic help. “I didn’t ask him for more details as such incidents were quite common those days.”

(Some of the names have been changed to protect their identity.)

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