Dardpora, (Moazum Mohammad): There are two main narratives that attempt to explain the disappearance on November 17 last month of two men from a village in Kupwara which, for its intense involvement in the ongoing insurgency, has earned the title of the Village of Widows.
The first narrative, voiced by their families, says that a local soldier with whom the duo was last seen might have handed them to the army as cannon fodder for “fake gunfights”.
The second narrative, which is unfolding following the ‘deliberately restrained’ police investigation, says that the two men were sent to Pakistan for spying because they had both been working for army, while aiding militants to cross borders.
Inspector general of police (Kashmir range) SJM Gilani said, “They were frequent border crossers and may have gone across (sic).”
A top police official privy to the investigations who requested anonymity said, “These men acted as guides to militants and were also working with army. That’s part of the game. It has been confirmed they were sent to Pakistan because such things are a normal practice in counterinsurgency. Such methods have been used earlier also,” the official told Kashmir Reader.
“Pakistan has militants here who share details with that country. Similarly people were sent from here to get information. It’s a normal practice,” the official said.
The official said the Territorial Army soldier, Manzoor Ahmad Khwaja, is “not responsible because he cannot send someone across the border on his own”.
Defense spokesman Col NN Joshi said he would not comment because his comments might hamper investigations.
Mir Hussain Khatana, 45, a father of seven children, a resident of Satboyan in Dardpora, and Ghulam Jeelani Khatana, 45, a father of 10 children, went missing soon after their meeting with the soldier, Manzoor, on November 17 at their homes in Dardpora village of Kupwara district.
Dardpora has earned the title of the Village of Widows because scores of men who rose in revolt against India in 1990 were killed, leaving behind widowed women. After the revolt was crushed, the overt and covert state interventions stepped in.
Since the area of remote, mountainous with little agricultural activity, the men often work for the army as porters. Many get trapped in the murky counterinsurgency games.
Mir, father of seven children, worked as an army porter for six months last year along the Line of Control, carrying rations to remote army posts and doing small constructions. He earned Rs 12,000 a month. This year he couldn’t make it to the army of porters—1800 are recruited by three army brigades in north Kashmir from among thousands of applicants—and had been feeling dejected. Mir had been a militant in the early 1990s but surrendered before the army shortly before his marriage.
Jeelani, a father of 10 children, two of whom are blind, had been supervising porters till November 11, six days before his disappearance, in Keran sector. The end of the porter contract meant loss of precious income.
Both men got in touch with the soldier, Manzoor, a year ago.
Jeelani’s wife Begum Jan said, Manzoor would come to her home almost every day.
“They had closed-door discussions or they would talk at some distance from our house,” she said.
Mir’s daughter Shabnum Bano echoes Begum Jan.
“Manzoor would take my father along with him every day. Father never told us where they went,” Shabnum told Kashmir Reader.
The association of the missing men gives their families ample reason to suspect his involvement in the whole affair. But they say that he is only a minor player in the bigger game, while dismissing the theory that they were militant guides.
“Would army or police spare him if they knew he was a militants’ guide?” Begum Jan said.
Jeelani’s cousin Khurshid Ahmad Khatana is pursuing the case in the court. He himself has been working as an army porter since his father was killed by suspected militants 15 years ago. He explains why the families suspect army.
“I first went to Manzoor’s place but he was not there. Then I met the second-in-command of 160 Territorial Army at Hari camp (in Trehgam) for which Manzoor works. The officer said he had no idea of where Manzoor was. The officer said Manzoor can’t be reached on phone,” Khurshid said.
“The officer assured that he would get back to me once Manzoor is found but he never contacted us. He later stopped taking my calls which further strengthened our suspicion that army knew about their disappearance,” he added.
The accused soldier has been consistently saying that although he met the two men on November 17, he had “no idea of where they went after we parted”.
Whether the two men went across the border or met some other fate, the families want a word from the officials concerned.
“We have also come across this theory that they went to Pakistan. Let the government confirm it. If they won’t come clear on it we have every reason to believe that this is an easy way out to cover up their crime,” said Begum Jan.
C: K Reader