Drowned or killed?
Following the hanging of Muhammad Afzal Guru in Delhi’s Tihar jail, a village in Ganderbal mourns the death of two youth
The boats are docked in rows on the left bank of river Jhelum at Wangipora, Sumbal in north Kashmir. The water level is quite low, hardly reaching up to the knees. The river bed and some little fish can be seen briefly resting on the oval-shaped pebbles. One can walk to the middle of the river and still water will not reach above the knee level. This is where the J&K Government said a boat “capsized” on February 10, “drowning” 24-year-old Tariq Ahmad Bhat and 14-year-old Zameer Ahmad Dar.
“Today a boat which was ferrying people from Batwina to Wangipora, Sumbal over river Jhelum capsized. Six persons sailing in the boat fell in the water. Five persons were rescued; however, one Tariq Ahmad Bhat son of Muhammad Maqbool Bhat resident of Batwina was drowned. The body of deceased was fished out and handed over to his relatives for last rites,” the state government said in a statement. But the eyewitnesses and family members of the deceased say the government statement is completely false and an act of “deceit”.
On February 10, 24-year-old Tariq Ahmad, father of one child, left his home to visit his in-laws in a neighbouring village across the river Jhelum in Sumbal. Just after two hours, his family received his bruised corpse. On the same day, 14-year-old Zameer Ahmad had moved out of his home to visit his aunt at Wangipora, Sumbal, some seven kilometres away from his native village Batwina. Both of them did not reach their destination.
Family members and eye witnesses say the government forces had “punched holes” through their bodies – in their neck, arms and back. “Tariq and Zameer could not move an inch in knee-deep water, though they wanted to. They didn’t drown by accident; they were killed by the forces,” says Tariq’s brother, Farooq Ahmad.
On February 10, a small-time farmer, Tariq Ahmad Bhat, son of Muhammad Maqbool of Batwina, after offering Zuhr prayers, had a bath and wore new clothes and checked his Casio F91 wristwatch. He asked his family that he would pay a visit to his in-laws at Wangipora in Sumbal town. The village of Wangipora in district Bandipora is seven kilometres away from Batwina in district Ganderbal. “I told him there were clashes going on in the neighbourhood but he insisted he would be fine,” says Tariq’s uncle, Shabir Hussain. “As if the sky fell on us when we received his corpse after two hours,” he says.
At about 2: 30 pm, on February 10, Tariq crossed the bridge over Jhelum and was at an arms distance from his in-laws place. “There was a fierce clash going on between youth and paramilitary forces and the Police. The bridge was sealed as the stone pelting crowd reached near it. Some people who were walking along had nowhere to go. Two of them tried to cross over the river by a big boat,” says Shabir Ahmad, an eyewitness of the incident in Sumbal town. “And Tariq was one of them,” he says.
Shabir says the two people trying to cross the river in the boat were not digging the sand, but were trying to flee from police and CRPF personnel. “When the duo tried to row the heavy boat, paramilitary forces and police descended on it. They threw the duo into the water and then pushed them down with gun buts,” says an eye witness. “Both of them were pushed under the boats and that lead to Tariq’s death. Zameer’s body was fished out a day later,” he says, adding that the government version that these two persons were ferrying passengers from Batwina to Sumbal is a lie.
Tariq’s family says the government version that the deceased were sand diggers was bizarre. “What gives us more pain is when they say they were drowned. The truth is that both Tariq and Zameer were killed brutally,” says one of the uncles of Tariq. “How is it possible that a boat overturns when there are just two people in it?” he asks. “And it is bizarre to say that they were ferrying passengers from Batwina to Sumbal. There’s no water transport of such kind present here,” he says.
Following Tariq’s death and Zameer’s disappearance, protests erupted in the area. Locals approached the police stations of both the jurisdictions for lodging an FIR against the “culprits.” Protestors were demanding “stern action” against the cops who “killed” them. “But what we got in turn was teargas canisters and Tariq’s dead body,” says Tariq’s uncle. Zameer’s body was delivered to the family on February 11.
Tariq’s family says the state government is spreading lies about the killing of two innocent youth of Batwina. “None of the government’s argument holds ground. It is just propaganda, nothing else. And the irony is that people were also made to believe in it,” says a relative of Tariq. “When we received his body, there were bruises and scars all over his body. How can he receive scars by drowning?” he asks. “If Tariq had drowned, then why were his SIM cards taken out from his mobile,” he questions. “They killed them brutally.”
Tariq’s parents could not see his face for one last time. They had gone to see their son in Andaman and Nicobar, who works with the Indian Air Force. His father is a broken man. He doesn’t speak. His mother wails in one corner of a tent where some women console her. “Unfortunate they couldn’t see his face,” says one of their relatives. According to his relatives, Tariq would handle every affair of the home. “He was the main breadwinner of the family. His death has created a big void in the family.”
Just a few steps from Tariq’s home, another family is inconsolable. Their 14-year-old son Zameer Ahmad Dar was also “killed” in the incident. Zameer, a 7th standard student, was fished out from Jhelum, exactly at the same location where Tariq’s body was found. He was the second person on the boat trying to cross the river along with Tariq. He also wanted to reach home, but met the same fate as that of Tariq. He died a day later. His family says it was a “custodial killing.”
“He had to go to his aunt’s home at Sumbal but he was brutally killed by the forces,” says his uncle, Abdul Majid Dar. “He was caught alive, killed in custody and then thrown into the river. They fished him out at the same location where Tariq was found,” he alleges. “They were not drowned; they were murdered.”
The village of Batwina is mourning the death of its two sons. “We want an independent probe into the incident. Killers must be brought to justice,” a village elder says. Zameer’s family says the boy had bruises and injuries all over his body. “He had scars all over his body. And if they say my nephew drowned, why was his skull hit? Why were his arms bruised and why was he beaten to death?” questions Zameer’s uncle.
Zameer’s father Abdul Rashid Dar is a heart patient and doesn’t talk much about the incident. “At a tender age, Zameer would earn for the whole family. He was also studying. He was our hope and that hope has now shattered,” he says. When we received his body at the hospital on Monday, he says, we were chased by the forces. “Fearing for the life of my another son, I left Zameer’s body there and wanted to hide my younger son somewhere where no one would harm him,” he says with tears brimming in his eyes.
Except for some dilapidated walls of their home, Zameer’s family has got nothing. Zameer was everything for them. “He was not only a hope for his family, but the whole neighbourhood was proud of him,” says their neighbour, Hilal Ahmad. The family has no sources of income left now. “Zameer would run the home and study as well,” Hilal says. “It seems they have lost everything.”
The maternal grandfather of the deceased says the family has lost its source of income. “Hundreds of people here are ready to give testimony that Zameer was killed,” says the octogenarian Muhammad Abdullah Dar. “We have nowhere to go. We must be compensated, otherwise we will all die,” he says.
Eyewitnesses and local people in Batwina are very angry at how the incident was portrayed in the media and how ‘lies’ were spread about their death. “Does anyone care what the truth is? Do we have to just believe in government propaganda? Zameer and Tariq did not drown; they were killed,” says one of their elderly neighbour. “If we don’t tell the truth, we all deserve death.”
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Lastupdate on : Thu, 14 Feb 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Thu, 14 Feb 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Fri, 15 Feb 2013 00:00:00 IST
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