Studies in oppression

Print edition : July 29, 2011

Harrowing accounts of the wrongs inflicted on Kashmiris.

ANJUM ZAMARUD HABIB spent five long years of rigorous imprisonment in the Tihar jail on conviction under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, a law that ensured miscarriage of justice. Prisoners called her a traitor, though they did not know her. Unlike them she was forbidden from receiving religious books or visits by a teacher in Islam. Her friend Sahba Husain met her in Srinagar soon after her release and has rendered a service by translating her book into English. She recalled Anjum being paraded in front of the media, her hands held tight by policewomen on either side of her, a ring of policemen surrounding them. I remember her trying to utter a few words to assert her innocence but she was not allowed to say anything; in fact she was slapped in front of the media and her mouth was shut and gagged by a woman police sub-inspector.

Anjum headed the Muslim Khawateen Markaz and did research in the lot of widows and orphans in Kashmir. In this capacity, she was a founding member of the Hurriyat. It elected Prof. Abdul Ghani Bhat as its chairman in 2003 ensuring a split in the body. He reneged on his promise to engage a lawyer for her defence. Even though his own name had appeared in the case, he did not visit the court even once. He told the police that he did not know Anjum and that she was not a member of the Hurriyat. The statement was splashed in the press.

The Intelligence Bureau alleged that she was a courier who had Rs.3 lakh or so on her person, which she received from Pakistan's Deputy High Commissioner Jaleel Abbas Jilani, who was declared persona non grata by, most unjustly, a former Foreign Secretary. He was very popular in New Delhi. He rose to be Director-General for South Asia in which capacity he parleyed with Indian diplomats and became High Commissioner to Australia. One hopes he will head Pakistan's Mission in New Delhi before long. No Foreign Service man resorts to the kind of behaviour alleged against him and Anjum. This was in the aftermath of Operation Parakram.

Sahba Husain writes that when Anjum returned home she could not sleep on a mattress anymore and for weeks she preferred to sleep on the bare floor. She found it difficult to bathe and change into a fresh set of clothes; she did not sit out under the open sky but wished to stay inside the room. She found it difficult to eat what was cooked at home including her favourite dishes. She had got accustomed to her life in jail that the family had to constantly remind her that she was a free person now. As if on cue, Anjum told me my family wants me to be happy, to smile and laugh now that I am free but I don't feel anything. I don't feel either happy or sad. I don't feel hungry, I feel numb. I feel confused. My body hurts; my back is sore and my knees are stiff.' I was terrified when she pulled her kurta down and showed me the deep scar on her chest. We fell silent for a long time as words seemed to have suddenly lost their meaning. I was at a loss, thinking of the brutalisation she had suffered and endured. Anjum had been tortured.

Writing the book brought her relief. This brave woman's harrowing account must be read widely to realise the enormity of the wrongs inflicted on Kashmiris, within and outside the State. She has founded the Association for the Families of Kashmiri Prisoners and is conducting a survey on Kashmiris in jails and their families.

Afsana Rashid, a Srinagar-based journalist, who has won many awards, writes a well-documented case study of extrajudicial arrests and consequent disappearances, leaving behind half-widows, and killings by security forces and their agents, the surrendered militants.

Neither the courts nor the Human Rights Commissions, in Srinagar and in New Delhi, have been of much help, as she demonstrates. The Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) performed nobly. It split into two factions, in good Indian style.

Imagine the furore in India if a Supreme Court advocate is abducted and killed by an Army officer. The abduction and murder of Jaleel Andrabi in Srinagar in 1996 was noticed by few in our media. Major Avtar Singh, the prime suspect, was allowed to flee to California. He acquired note when last February his wife accused him of domestic violence. The ex-Major told Open (July 4, Hartosh Singh Bal) that if his extradition is initiated he will never be allowed to return alive. For he knows too much and will not keep quiet. He need not worry. The Ministry of External Affairs will not act.

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