By: Khursheed Wani
In February last week, Budagam’s notorious faith healer Gulzar Ahmad Bhat alias Gulzar Peer walked free almost four years after he was arrested by police for exploiting teenage girls. A High Court division bench rejected the prosecution plea to continue his detention as it found loopholes in the manner the evidences were sealed by the police following the godman’s surrender in the court on May 22, 2013.
Interestingly, Gulzar Bhat was released a day after a subordinate court concluded arguments and recorded eyewitness statements in another sensational case involving Imam of a mosque in Srinagar. The accused Imam had three years ago killed a simpleton after developing illicit relationship with his wife. Ironically, the person was faithful to the Imam and followed his commandments even to the extent of falling into the death trap. The modern gadgetry helped police to track down the killer when they traced his frequent night-long calls to the slain’s wife.
There have been innumerable cases of heinous crimes in Kashmir involving fake spiritual leaders. During past 27 years of uncertainty and turmoil, such cases have increased a great deal. Though faith has remained primary resource of getting solace and preventing a large section of the population from abject stress, it has proved otherwise in certain exceptions. The likes of Gulzar Bhat sprouted in many areas of the Valley and exploited the gullible people marred by uncertainty, violence, heightened stress levels and despair. Though there have been several initiatives by doctors, psychiatrists and pragmatic religious leaders to offset the onslaught of these fake godmen but their outreach has not remained all encompassing.
I recall going to Gulzar’s Shamasabad village in Budgam district a week after he gave in. I spoke to a senior police officer who had no doubt in Bhat’s involvement in sexually abusing unmarried girls. What happened later is an open secret. The police officer was transferred from the area immediately. We now know that the evidences were not preserved in a professional manner. The process to let him go had started much earlier. That time, police told me they have clinching evidence that this man misused religion to sexually exploit young village girls, mostly naïve and unmarried on pretext of purifying them.
Bhat was 42 when he was put behind bars. Before that four prominent newspapers in Srinagar were publishing quarter-page ads on his schedule of spiritual meetings and sermons routine. The list of his disciples included some top businessmen and bureaucrats in Srinagar. Salutations of Hazrat and Reshi were affixed with his name.
Nine girls who initially deposed before the court had narrated horrifying details of the sex maniac. The common thread in the victim statements was that Gulzar entranced them before they fell on knees. He made them to believe that involving in sexual activity was a religious obligation to purify their bodies and souls. He would take pledge in the name of God and His Prophet while individually holding each girls’ hand in his own hand, asking them not to reveal the details to anyone. He told them that he has received divine commandment to marry with 72 women. A group of his trusted maids, known as madams, did the reassuring and congratulated the girls on losing their virginity. They made them to believe that the sexual act, referred to as yeksaan (unification) in the cult, purified them and graduated their souls to exalted realms of spirituality. The girls were mostly enrolled in an unregistered residential institution, run in the premises of Gulzar’s ancestral home. The school, Idara-e-Noor-e-ain Syedatun Nissa Hazrat Fatimatuzzuhra, was offering short-term religious crash courses based on vague syllabi set up by illiterate Gulzar and his sidekicks.
Gulzar’s highly kept secrets began leaking in December 2012 when some girls began to question his sexual escapades. “Islam does not allow any woman to have sexual relationship with a person who is not formally married to her. This man (Gulzar) is exploiting us”, murmured a south Kashmir girl to a batch-mate. The girls only whispered but had no courage to herald a rebellion because Gulzar was usually swarmed by contingents of girls and his male followers. They were overawed by his influence over the entranced followers.
The police seized a mattress from his secret chamber, which he referred to as Hujra-e-khas or special room where no male except him had access. The police officer told me at Khansahib police station that the mattress was full with deep traces of dried seminal fluid. The police recovered medicines, possibly aphrodisiacs, and several garments from this room. One garment, a pheran (long flowing cloak) was splashed with edible oil. The officer quoted a girl having told her that she once resisted Gulzar and during the scuffle an oil-filled container turned upside down on the pheran.
Gulzar had told the girls that they stand chosen by the heavens to secretly marry him. He told them that his mere touch would absolve their bodies from the hellfire in the hereafter. “I am God’s chosen one. My body is noor (divine light) and whichever body part I touch, will not be affected by naar (fire)”, a tenth standard dropout quoted him as saying.
Gulzar has fallen from grace but the infrastructure he developed at his native place is still intact. Following his arrest, one of his disciples told me that it is azmaish for him and he would come out triumphantly. Abdul Hameed Kumar, a diehard disciple said that they have spent Rs 72 lac to raise the 4-story building adjacent to his ancestral mud-house and insisted that the money was collected through donations. I saw the peculiarly built basement of the building with small cells. I was told these cells were for the girls engaged in meditation.
In a strange place like Kashmir where life is abysmally abnormal, I would be very curious to watch how Gulzar Peer would be received and treated by the people.