SRINAGAR: For the past several days army soldiers have been snatching I-cards of youths in Ashmuji village of Kulgam and then summoning them to their camp where they are beaten up and forced to do labour jobs, local residents allege.
“My I card was snatched by army and later asked to report to their camp. As I went there next morning I was beaten up on the allegations that I am a stone pelter. I was then made to work as a bonded labourer. I was allowed to go home in the evening but told that I should report to the camp again,” said Muhamad Amir Sheikh, a final year student at the Government Degree College Kulgam.
He said the soldiers forced him to haul construction material, oil barrels and other materials besides breaking stones and cutting grass at the camp.
A class 11 student, Umar Rehman Dar, who also was forced to work at the camp:
“I was forced to carry big iron rods and boulders. They let me go in the evening but they did not return my I-card. They told me to bring my other friends along the next time. Though my father went there to fetch my card, he was told to tell me to come myself,” says Umar.
“My entire body is aching. I am not even able to sleep properly. I feel scared that the army might come home any time and beat me up for not coming to the camp,” Umar said.
Local residents said the army has been dialling their numbers and summoning them to their camp.
“I too was summoned and made to do all sort odd works by army men from morning till evening and then told to come again along with my friends. I have switched off my phone because they army used to make calls too frequently,” said another student, Ubaid Abdullah Dar.
Suhail Ahmad Dar, a final-year student from Boys Degree College Anantnag, said his I-card was snatched by soldiers who also asked him to report to the camp.
“I didn’t go after I heard from other what they make you do there,” he said.
The villagers alleged that not only the students but middle aged men also are being subjected to similar harassment and forced labour.
Forty-year-old Muhamd Altaf Khanday, a shopkeeper, was also called to the camp.
“The army even calls us on our phone numbers asking us to report to their camps. They threaten us of dire consequences if we don’t,” said a group villagers on the condition of anonymity because they fear reprisals.
However, army denied that it is forcing students into doing labour jobs.
“The allegations are baseless. The locals are lying. Army is not involved in any such act,” army’s Srinagar-based defence spokesperson told Greater Kashmir.
The practice of forced labour by the army was common throughout the nineties in the Valley, especially in Kupwara district.
Incumbent legislator from Langate assembly segment of Kupwara has said that he too was taken as a “bonded labourer”.
“The people in north Kashmir areas of Handwara and Langate used to be quite frequently taken for bonded labour and forced to clear the road for the army right from 1989 to 2004. We fought against it despite facing wrath of army,” Rashid said.
He said: “That time the army had termed it as propaganda to malign their image. Now when similar incidents have come to the fore in southern Kashmir this validates the truth of our ordeal.”
Rashid recalls how the killing of a man triggered mass movement after which there was an agreement between locals and army ending the practice then.
“The people of south Kashmir need to start a similar movement before this thing becomes normal,” Rashid said.
The legislator has approached the State Human Rights Commission seeking compensation for the “bonded labour” he claims to have been forced to do in the past.
COURTESY: gk/Khalid Gull
The pic in the post is representational.