History of custodial killings in Kashmir
The first reported custodial killing dates back to 1865
Srinagar: Kashmiris have been offering resistance to external aggression for more than four centuries. Thousands were arrested and subjected to extra-judicial execution. Unfortunately, there is no record of the people who were ruthlessly killed in torture chambers. The first reported custodial killings, however, date back to 1865.
In 1856 Ranbir Singh ascended the throne. He strictly followed his father and imposed severe tax on the shawl weavers. Raw material, import of wool from Ladakh was also taxed. Besides custom duty, tax was also imposed on the finished products. According to some historians around 300% tax was imposed on the shawls which broke the back of shawl industry. At that time around 125 thousand were involved in the industry. These included weavers, washer men, skilled laborers having know how of printing. The industry generated more than Rs 50 lakhs annually. In 1865 shawls worth 254 thousand British Pounds were exported from Kashmir. However, the weavers got peanuts. Most of them made around Rs 5 to 7 every month that too after working 16-18 hours a day. They had to pay tax to the tune of Rs 5 monthly.
Faced with starvation, the shawl weavers of Srinagar chose to fight. On April 29, 1865 they organized a procession. The protesters assembled in a ground near Zal Dagar. Effigies of the authorities were torched. They called on the then Governor Kripa Ram who sent the soldiers led by Col Bijoy Singh to teach the shawl weavers a lesson. The soldiers stormed the protesters and herded them towards a narrow bridge on Kut-e-Kul. The bridge, Hajj Rather Sum, collapsed. Twenty-eight protesters were drowned and scores injured.
Scores of weavers including their leaders were taken into custody. Sheikh Rasool and Abli Baba were tortured to death in a dungeon in Shergarhi palace. This is where the phenomenon started.
The July 13 massacre outside Srinagar Central Jail evoked massive reaction from major cities of Punjab and UP. The leaders including Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah were taken into custody. Mirwaiz Yusuf Shah called for jihad on September 24, 1931.
Noted historian, Shabnum Qayoom says in his Kashmir Ka Siyasi Inqilaab, Vol I, that the Maharaja responded with brute force. According to him, a massive military parade was held in Srinagar on September 25. “People were arrested and flogged in four flogging centres established at Central Jail, Exhibition grounds, Police Station Maharaj Gunj and Police Station Kothibagh. People were forced to say: `Maharaja Bahadur Ki Jai.’ The courageous people chanted the words but behaved as if it had caused nausea. Angered, the soldiers arrested hundreds of persons and flogged them. Three persons died as a result of flogging. The most notable among them was Molvi Ahmadullah of Baramulla. One Ghulam Bhat of Srinagar died in Kothibagh Police station. Similarly Ahmad Bhat of Srinagar died in Central Jail.”
There is no record of custodial deaths for 1947-1975. In 1975, a Peoples League activist Ghulam Muhammad Kar (Bulla) was arrested on February 11, while pasting posters urging people to make Pakistan Prime Minister, Zulifkar Ali Bhutto’s strike call a success.
In 1975, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah signed the infamous Indra-Abdullah accord. The Plebiscite Front was sacrificed and Sheikh Abdullah became the Chief Minister of the state. The accord evoked massive protests across the Valley.
Bulla’s associate Ghulam Hassan alias Krantoi was also arrested. He told the police that Bulla was an epilepsy patient and must be given medicine. The police ignored him and tortured Bulla. He was immediately shifted to Srinagar Central jail. Bulla’s woes did not end in the jail as well. The torture continued and Bulla fell seriously ill. Instead of providing medicare to him, the jail authorities perpetually tortured him.
Finally, the incessant torture proved fatal and Bulla succumbed on February 15. The police, on the same night, knocked at the door of Ghulam Rasool Kar. The scared family members were taken out and forced to board a vehicle in which Bulla’s body had been kept. The police did not allow them to have a look at Bulla’s body. The body had been washed in the Srinagar Central Jail itself and was wrapped in a shroud.
The police allowed eleven members of the family to take the body to a graveyard near the Sopore Degree College where a grave had been dug in advance. When the family members sought permission to bury Bulla in their ancestral graveyard, the police silenced them by rifle butts. The Nowhamam people protested but the authorities imposed curfew in the area and thus prevented people from coming out. Bulla was laid to rest.
Besides a large number of policemen, eleven members of the family participated in his funeral. In the morning, the shocking news spread like wild fire in the town. The entire Sopore town came out in protest and sought an impartial probe. The government was forced to appoint Mohan Singh, the then SDM Srinagar as enquiry officer, but the police prevented people from appearing before the commission. The findings of the commission have not been made public to this day.
The custodial killings became a routine in 90s. According to human rights defenders around 12000 custodial killings have been reported during the past twenty-six years.