With the Jammu and Kashmir police closing the case against Major (Retd) Avtar Singh who attained notoriety in the murder of top human rights activist and lawyer, Jaleel Andrabi, Kashmir Life profiles the other victims of Avtar’s cruelty!

Jaleel Andrabi, a human rights lawyer, had appeared in the 77th session of Human Rights in Geneva in 1995 where he raised voice against the ‘military aggression’ carried out by India in Kashmir to curb the popular political dissent. His speech was so powerful that many people say he was told in Geneva that he ‘won’t be spared’.

Once Jaleel returned home, there were two attempts on his life after which he fled to Delhi. He was returning home with his wife on March 8, 1996 to celebrate Eid with his family when their car was stopped near Saddar police station and he was taken away. “I followed the military vehicle in an auto till the National Highway where I lost their trail,” his wife, Rifat Andrabi, says.

On March 27, Jaleel’s body was found near river Jehlum in Rajbagh area in Jammu and Kashmir’s summer capital, Srinagar. It has been 16 years now but no one has been booked for his murder. Major Avatar Singh of 35 Rashtriya Rifles was identified as the main accused in the case but the state, like in most cases where armed forces have been found involved in cold blooded murders, allegedly deliberately put a brake on filing charges against him.

When Avatar Singh was found guilty and a prime accused by a Special Investigation Team formed in 1997 along with five others, and ordered his arrest, he fled to Canada and then to California, despite the fact that his passport was impounded. Singh was arrested in Canada on charges of domestic violence in 2011 and US police had alerted Central Bureau of Investigation in New Delhi that they had their man but he was never extradited.

Jaleel, however, was not the only victim of Avtar’s cruelty. Kashmir Life profiles four other persons who were allegedly abducted by Avtar at the peak of militancy in Kashmir valley. While their tortured corpses were found abandoned, like Jaleel’s, many of them have vanished into thin air, and justice is still a far cry!

BUDGAM

On April 5, 1996, Sikander Ganai, a pro-government gunman was found dead in a private taxi near Pampore on Srinagar-Jammu highway along with four other men. Three of them were his close associates who alleged helped Avtar Singh eliminate Jaleel Andrabi. The fifth man killed that day along with Sikandar and his associates was later identified as Mohammad Afzal Malik, the driver of the Ambassador car.

On June 10, 2012, Kashmir woke up to the news of Avtar Singh allegedly killing his entire family in Selma California before turning the gun on himself. Singh was investigated for the murder of nine other people including Sikandar and his associates, and Malik. We set out to find out the family of Malik and after two days of futile efforts finally met Malik’s father, Ghulam Mohiddin Malik, who lives a detached life on the outskirts of Budgam in central Kashmir.

Ghulam Mohiddin Malik, 65, looks much older than his age. It was hard to convince him to talk about his son and when he finally agreed, sadness overcame his face and he began to sob like a child. “He was a taxi driver. He had nothing to do with Sikandar,” said a barely audible Mohiddin Malik.

“Three days before his body was found, he was picked up by Sikander near our house. Sikander and his men forcefully took him along as they needed a ride,” he said in between consistent sobs. Mohiddin’s neighbour who was sitting beside him told us that he saw Afzal plead with Sikandar and his men to let him go as his wife was expecting a baby.

“But he did not listen. Too much resistance would have put Afzal in instant danger as Sikander was known to be ruthless in the area,” added Mohiddin. For the next three days, Afzal was untraceable. “We filed an FIR with the local police station when he did not return that day,” Mohiddin recalls.

After three days, a man from the local police station told them that they had found some dead bodies near Pampore and took Mohiddin along with him for identification. “I kept praying for odds to be in my favour. I kept praying all along. But it was all in vain. My son was there soaked in blood along with four other people.”

Hours after Afzal’s body reached home, his wife gave birth to a baby girl. “Life plays games with us and we can’t help but accept His will,” said Mohiddin. Three years later, Afzal’s wife remarried and left forever with her daughter. “She was our only hope after Malik left. But we could not stop her from marrying again as she was young,” said Mohiddin.

After Malik’s death, his wife was offered a job by the government. “They also gave us a compensation of Rs 1 lakh. But can money bring back our son?” Mohiddin asks. —

Jawahar Nagar

Abdul Majid Shah, 40, was killed in the winter of 1996, some weeks before Jaleel Andrabi was killed in a similar manner. It was snowing, his friends and family say, when Majid was picked up from his rented residence at Jawahar Nagar. “Days later, his body was found miles away from his home in Pampore, Farooq Ahmed Shah,” Majid’s younger brother says.

Majid’s mother kept staring at us for a long time when we visited her house. She does not move often and needs a support to walk, “What should I tell you? He was killed and that is all I know,” was the only response that she gave.

Majid’s body was found in river Jhelum. Since no one had come forward to claim it, the body was buried by the police in Pampore who had taken its pictures which helped the family in identifying him. Majid was later exhumed and handed over to his family.

“We had never imagined he will die like this,” says his friend, Mohammed Yousuf, “One of our friends, Ghulam Mohammed Bhat, used to tell Majid, ‘If you ever leave me alone, I will take you out from your grave’.”

And it was indeed Bhat who took Majid out of the grave in Pampore, Yousuf recalls. “Torture marks were visible all over his body. It later came out in media that he was tortured and hanged to death,” he says.

Majid, who was associated with a mainstream political party, was one of the victims of Major Avtar Singh. The family did not investigate or follow up Majid’s killings. “Though we had good contacts and connection with police but the time was the hardest. There was no way to raise our voice against our brother’s killings. So we did nothing more than mourning,” says Farooq.

Since Majid’s siblings had no role in following up his case, the details of Majid’s death vanished with his father’s death. The family does not even remember the FIR number that was lodged in the Pampore police station where his body was found.

One of the Majid’s close associates and his relatives says that before Majid was picked up, some Hizbul Mujahideen militants had resided in his apartment for a night. One of them was Harwinder Kaur alias Vinny, who lived in the same vicinity in Jawahar Nagar. Kaur was then in a relationship with Avtar and later both got married. “This could possibly be the only reason for Majid’s killing,” Majid’s cousin says.

Batamaloo

Mehbooba Jan has been bed-ridden since her husband, Ghulam Qadir Kanni, Ghulam Qadir Kannia chef, was abducted on Feb 18, 1996, allegedly by Major Avtar Singh, two days before Eid-ul-Fitr near his Batmaloo residence on the outskirts of Srinagar. On the fateful day, the government forces knocked at Kanni’s door at around 9:45 pm to carry out a search operation. After they could not find anything, Avtar asked the family who the eldest person in the family was. Kanni presented himself before the officer and he was taken out.

“Avtar took him out of the room, held a pistol to my chest and threatened to kill me,” Mehbooba recalls in a chocked voice. Three months after the abduction, a corpse was brought to the house and Kanni’s daughter, Subeena, was asked to identify it. It turned out that the body was not of her father.

Sixteen years have passed but the fear still pervades the family. The family wants to conduct the last rites of Kanni. Mehbooba, who has tacitly placed her bed near the window, still hopes to see her husband walk into the house again. “Writing about it is like rubbing salt on our wounds,” she says, “Do you have any way that would help me in finding my husband?” Mehbooba asks.

The family had filed a complaint with the J&K police and visited different jails, interrogation centers and police stations. One day, an Army brigadier from Badam Bagh cantonment summoned Mehbooba to identify her husband’s abductors. “I saw Avtar Singh and told the Brigader that was the abductor. Instead, Avtar refused my claims and the Brigader told me to go to court,” Mehbooba says. —

The government had offered a job for the kin of Kanni and Rs 1 lakh as compensation but the family rejected the offer, “The only want we want is our father. We don’t need money or any government job,” Subeena says while kissing her father’s photograph.

Many of the victims of Avtar Singh were dumbed in River Jehlum from where their bodies were recovered later

Many of the victims of Avtar Singh were dumbed in River Jehlum from where their bodies were recovered later

The news of Major Avtar’s suicide had brought some relief to the family, “Justice may get delayed but it can’t be denied, especially when Allah’s mercy reaches its zenith,” says Mehbooba. The family believes that the alleged suicide of Singh was God’s verdict in the case.

Jawahar Nagar

Imtiyaz Ahmed Wani was picked up by uniformed men from his residence at Ikhrajpora on the intervening night of May 15-16, 1996 at 9.45 pm when he was barely 17. He had left school due to financial problems at home, since his father, Ghulam Mohammed Wani alias Gulla Wani, often complained of ill-health, and joined as a gardener in the state’s forest department.

“They dragged Imtiyaz by his collar and warned us not to shout or cry. They threatened to kill us. They said they have to get some information from him and that they will set him free the next day,” his sister, Mehbooba says

Gulla Wani had tried to follow the Army vehicle but, he says, it just disappeared. Mehbooba was alone at the house when we went there. She points out towards the window through which Gulla Wani had jumped to follow the government forces who took away his son, Imtiyaz, the sole bread-earner of the family.

The J&K police had investigated the case and created a list of accused which was sent to Home Ministry in 2000 for taking its sanction to take action against the accused. Till now, the ministry has not responded, says Bari Andrabi, Chief Prosecuting officer of the case in Srinagar. “Six army personnel – Major Avtar Singh, Sobadar Balbeer Singh, Naib Sobadar Sukinder Singh, Hawaldar Ved Kumar, Hawaldar Vijay Krishnan and Suman Singh alias Doctor, and four civilians including Satvant Kaur, wife of Hakeeqat Singh, Gursharan Kaur alias Dimple and Harvinder Kaur alias Vinny were accused in the case,” Andrabi says. Harvinder Kaur alias Vinny, who was then residing at a rented apartment in Jawahar Nagar, later married Avtar. She is presently living in Delhi. Avtar had divorced her some years back.

Riyaz Ahmed, SHO Rajbagh, where the case was registered, says, “I haven’t investigated the case myself. I have heard that Imtiyaz was either in a relationship with Gursharan Kaur [Avtar’s sister-in-law] or must have teased her at some time. This is the only possible reason for murdering Imtiyaz.”

After his wife died, Gulla Wani spends most of his time outside his home, “She died of heart attack some two years back. They found a photograph of Imtiyaz under her pillow. The family has been waiting for him,” Mehbooba’s cousin says. The family is still living with a hope that Imtiyaz will come back since his body was not found. They approached a few local human right defenders and participated in their monthly sit-in protests but it didn’t bear any fruit.

After her brother disappeared, Mehbooba has decided not to marry. “First it was Imtiyaz. Now it is my father. I never got time to think about my marriage. When Imtiyaz comes back, he will sort out the things himself,” she says.

Police records show Imtiyaz is dead but his body has not been found yet. An FIR no 4/97 under section 302, 364, 201 was lodged in Rajbagh police station but no investigations were carried out.

“How can I say he is not alive? How can I even believe that?” Mehbooba asks. “I am told he is alive and I would like to believe so. I have spent many sleepless nights to look for him on television and have actually seen him, alive!”

Compiled from dispatches by Shams Irfan, Syed Asma, Saima Bhat and Junaid Nabi Bazaz.

Original source- http://kashmirlife.net/

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