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Shopian: Where Villagers Can’t Sleep as They Hear People 'Cry'

Arrest of a ‘juvenile’, signs of ‘torture’, fear, retaliation and an eerie silence pervades village after village in this South Kashmir district.
Shopian: Where Villagers

Abandoned Apple Orchards in the Villages of Shopian in Jammu and Kashmir

Shopian: His mother and four sisters were proud of him when Umar Bashir started his own bakery shop two months ago. When his father died, almost a decade ago, Umar was in primary school, but he gave up studies to support the family.

Umar had plans to save some money for his sister’s marriage, so he baked extra for Eid in August. But he was arrested before he could sell any of it.

“The bakery remained inside the shop, rotten…just like our fate,” Umar’s mother sighs.

The family claims Umar is a juvenile but despite that he was arrested and slapped with the Public Safety Act (PSA). The school records, where Umar was enrolled between 2011 to 2014, shows he was born on March 16, 2005. A copy of his admission form at Maktabia Islamia High School, Shopian, also mentions the same date of birth.

Umar is the youngest among six siblings. Tall and broad, with prominent features, he could easily pass off as an adult in the mid-20s, his sister says.

The family is not sure where Umar has been shifted. Somewhere in Uttar Pradesh, Varanasi or Lucknow, they say. “Doesn’t matter, we won’t be able to go see him,” his sister says. The financial condition of the family is not in good shape, especially after his arrest.

Umar’s older brother, Tariq, who was also allegedly summoned by the police, left home soon after their father died and lives separately with his own family. Two of his sisters are married. The remaining family, dependent on Umar, was initially reluctant to speak with media. “The police summoned our brother and informed him that speaking to the media can jeopardise Umar’s release. We don’t want him to get in trouble as he doesn’t live with us,” his sister told NewsClick.

Umar is the only one to be allegedly arrested from South Kashmir’s Meemandar village of Shopian, over 50 km from Srinagar. In other villages, the number as people report is way higher, leaving families devastated and inconsolable since the string of arrests began a month ago.

Shopian is a cluster of hundreds of small villages with dense apple orchards. The best variety of apples in Kashmir are grown here. In 2016, during the mass protests following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen’s Burhan Wani, Shopian was one of the main areas where protests were intense. For months, scores of villages were out of bounds for police and security forces until an area-domination operation was carried with more than 3,000 additional police and paramilitary forces in early 2017.

Today, movement is scarce, the orchards are empty, and an uncanny silence prevails. The villagers avoid eye-contact or conversation. This year, no one is enthusiastic about the apple harvest and almost everyone is staying away from their orchards.

Since the government imposed a clampdown across Jammu and Kashmir and unilaterally revoked Article 370 on August 5, tension has in intensified in the area. Faced with an enormous crisis, the people in Shopian shudder as they recall the situation since the crackdown began.

It’s not just an individual who is at risk when such an incident takes place. His friends, his relatives, his colleagues, his belongings, his orchard, including the rivulet that flows through it, all take a hit. But, it is the family that suffers the most.

For instance, an employee of the Shopian court has been detained instead of his son, an undergraduate student. In his village close to Shopian main town, two more fathers share the same fate.

“We live in fear mainly because of our women. They just beat the men, enter our homes and beat our women, which makes us vulnerable,” locals allege.

Residents of two villages around Chillora army camp say they did not sleep or have any food when they heard cries on a loudspeaker. They allege it was a village boy being tortured, and the loudspeaker was put on to instil fear in the area. “Since then, the screams echo in our ears,” a resident of Turkwangam village says.

Another 21-year-old local from the village says he has never pelted stones in his life but despite that he is afraid. “A few days ago, I tried to remove a few stones near my house and as soon as I picked one up, my heart raced so fast that the stone fell from my hand. I couldn’t hold it,” he says.

In the same village, Abdul Gani Sheikh’s two sons have been arrested. Gani is too old to work, so he and his wife depend on sadka (alms). His sons, Suhail and Sajad, are among five youth arrested from the locality along with Nasir, Ajaz and Asif.

In the main town, all the shops are shut. The police and Army have made several attempts to get the market opened but the shopkeepers insist they do not want to open their shops as they are observing a shutdown. Also, militant groups in the area have enforced a shutdown through message posters. But the Army removes those and puts up posters highlighting the benefits of removal of Article 370. Then some locals tear those up.

For now, shopkeepers in the area have entered into an agreement with the local Army commandant. As many as 21 locals have provided their identity cards as “guarantee”.

“No DC (Deputy Commissioner), or SP (superintendent of police) makes any difference. This area is run by the Army, so we decided to talk to the Army commandant directly asking him to at least allow us move outside our homes,” a village elder told NewsClick.

Fear runs deep in these villages.

Many men show signs of thrashing on their faces, irrespective of age, built or profession. There are many who hide stiches, marks, bruises or skin discoloration, beneath their clothes.

This is not specific to any one village. Be it Turkawangam, HeffSheermal, Trenz, Panjran, Herpora and so on. The stories are apparently the same, only the names change.

Abid, Danish, Showket, Tanveer, Zahid from another village in Shopian are aged 28, 19, 26, 20 years, respectively.

Many boys were released within days after their arrest. Some after weeks. Many other continue to remain incarcerated, while many of them return with signs and tales of “torture”.

“They put you in a dark room with scary dogs. I was not tortured much, I was just beaten up…Bi khol hoas jahazas (they used the aeroplane technique on me),” a boy from one of the villages, 12 km from the main Shopian town, says.

Jahaz is a technique in which a person is suspended in the air with ropes and then his limbs are stretched slowly, excruciatingly. Sometimes, petrol is funneled though the anus.

Many others in one village claimed they were forced to drink wine or urine or both.

The Army and police, however, refute all allegations of human rights abuses, but people in South Kashmir’s villages have a different story to tell, but are afraid to speak.

(The names and locations have not been specified on demand and due to fear of reprisals.)

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