(By Shuja Rashid)
On May 12, 2007, a group of Indian Army’s counterinsurgency Kilo forces laid a siege around Tarzoo village on the outskirts of north Kashmir’s Sopore town. The Army had specific inputs that two heavily armed militants were hiding in the locality.
When the unit closed in on the village, they came under a rain of gunfire, triggering a fierce exchange between Army and militants in which Ishtiyaq Ahmed Peer, a resident of Sopore’s Haigam village, was killed.
Ishtiyaq, alias Ghazi Baba, was associated with pro-Pakistan militant outfit, Hizbul Mujahideen. Army claimed that he had carried out at least three daring attacks on forces in north Kashmir in which two Border Security Forces personnel were killed.
At the time of firing, Ishtiyaq was accompanied by his associate, an over-ground worker of Hizb, who too died in the gun-battle.
Some 80 miles away in south Kashmir, few days after the killing of Ghazi Baba, Abdul Aziz Ganai, a seventy year old, frail man who is suffering from severe cardiac problems, grabbed his walking stick and walked towards the main road. A resident of Zalangam village, Mr Ganai had to catch a bus to appear in a court.
Mr Ganai has been visiting the court since 2006 when he was first picked up by the counter-insurgency unit of Kashmir police near Deputy Commissioner’s office in Islamabad. Police didn’t file any case against him. Instead, he was kept him under detention for three months during which he was allegedly subjected to ‘worst kind of torture’.
“I was whisked into the vehicle by police in broad daylight outside deputy commissioner’s office in Islamabad. They took me to an interrogation centre at Khanabal. The police wanted me to say that I was Ghazi Baba, a Hizb commander involved in several attacks on armed forces. But I kept denying it. I told them they were mistaking me for someone else. But who would have listened to me in jail,” he says.
Ganai’s family was unaware of his whereabouts for nearly three weeks after his abduction. They went from the local police station in Islamabad to Army camps and government offices across south Kashmir, seeking help wherever possible to search Ganai.
“It was only after the intervention of the then deputy commissioner and the then senior superintendent of police, Abdul Gani Mir that the SOG men admitted to my family that I was in their custody and later set me free,” says Ganai.
A year after Ganai was set free, Army claimed to have killed Ishtiyaq Ahmad alias Ghazi Baba in an encounter on the outskirts of Sopore. But it didn’t end the agonies of Ganai as he was repeatedly picked by forces on charges of being Hizb militant Ghazi Baba.
“I have been pleading my innocence in the court since Ghazi Baba’s death. But no one listens to me,” Ganai says.
He claims that the police booked him under frivolous charges and lodged a case of Unlawful Activities and Arms Act against him.
“All these years, police kept lying in the court. No one listened to me. It has been seven years now and I still am pleading that I am not Ghazi Baba, the dead militant, but an aged man, Aziz Ganai of Zalangam, who needs a walking stick to move around. In these dark times, who will listen to an ordinary man,” he says.
Ganai’s tryst with conflict in Kashmir began in mid-nineties when his aged father was killed by the government-sponsored private militia. He recalls the incident with vivid clarity. It was a fine sunny afternoon during the apple harvesting season in Kashmir. A group of Ikhwanis (government sponsored private militia) came to Zalangam to harass villagers who were sympathizers of Jamaat-e-Islami.
Ikhwanis used the patronage of state government to stamp out any sign of resistance against Indian rule within the local population of Kashmir. Formed in mid-nineties, the Ikhwanis had unleashed a reign of terror, mostly in south Kashmir, killing ordinary men, women and even children. They used to extort money from hapless people caught between two, radical forces of violence at the peak of armed conflict in Kashmir.
“My father was about 85 then,” Ganai says while recounting his tragedies, “he saw four Ikhwanis arguing with a young boy and went up to them. I could see him arguing with them. One of the Ikhwanis suddenty pointed his gun at him and instantly fired. The others joined him as my aged father faced a volley of bullets. He died on spot.”
But this was not all. The Ikhwanis blamed his father for being a Jamaat-e-Islami sympathizer to justify their action and didn’t allow the villagers to lift his dead body for hours after the shooting.
“The killing of my father haunted my only son who was 23 years old at that time. He decided to avenge his grandfather’s murder and joined militancy,” Ganai says.
Ganai’s son was associated with Pakistan-based Harkat-ul-Mujahideen outfit. He was later killed in a gun fight with armed forces in a village near his Zalangam residence in 1999.
“They both died a martyr’s death and I am proud of it,” he says.
Ganai lives in a single-stories mud-and-brick house which, he rues, was not expanded due to financial problems. While he is suffering from cardiac problems, his wife is a patient of stress and hypertension.
“I am on medication and the doctors have advised me to undergo a surgery. My wife too has to visit her doctor weekly so that she can live a normal life,” says Ganai.
The ailing couple have asked their elder son-in-law to live with them at their Zalangam house.
“He has behaved like our own son. He takes care of us now,” Ganai says.
While Ganai is battling for his life with severe cardiac problem, there seems to be no end to his agonies.
Last month, a married woman was abducted by men wearing Army fatigues near her parents’ house in middle of the night. She had ventured into the compound of her house to answer nature’s call when the bespectacled, masked men gagged her and took her away.
The men took her to nearby forests where they attempted rape her. But she had delivered a baby boy only 15 days back after undergoing a caesarean surgery and told her abductors about it. The men, who have not been unidentified by police so far, checked the stiches on her lower abdomen and let her go.
The abducted woman was Ganai’s daughter.
“Police has been reluctant to investigate the matter,” Ganai claims, “The forest uphill where my daughter was taken is near to the Army camp of Kokernag. Police is aware of it but they won’t take any action.”
“I have lodged a complaint at State Human Rights Commission but I don’t have any hopeof justice,” says Ganai.
First published in Authint mail.