A Kashmiri Wife’s 25-year Struggle for Justice
A distressing, all-to-often repeated story in a distressed land
By: Majid Maqbool
After 25 years of lonely, dogged persistence to obtain justice for her slain husband, Jameela Begum, a resident of Srinagar, the capital of Indian-administered Kashmir, has succeeded in getting a special investigation of the case after a first probe was apparently buried by police in 2006, 10 years after he was killed. The case is unique not only because of Begum’s persistence but because she was able to get the case reopened after such a long period. It now remains to be seen if the second investigation is more successful than the first.
Begum was 33 and a young mother of three when her husband was taken away on the afternoon of May 31, 1996. Since then she has knocked on every door for justice. She got the case reopened in 2006 but the Special Investigation Team (SIT) that was constituted then to reinvestigate the case apparently didn’t follow up. She also approached the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) whose recommendations were again not implemented by the then state government.
Finally, two months ago, on October 28, a Srinagar court directed the Jammu and Kashmir Police to constitute another special investigation into the murder and that of another victim killed at the same time. The court also sought answers on why the earlier team sat on the case for three years.
“It has been alleged in the instant case that both of the deceased were terrorists and were involved in multiple terrorist activities including the killing of three civilians, kidnapping and other various action against security forces. However, no material has been placed on record to substantiate the fact,” the judge said.
“It is important to mention here that the deceased have been shown (allegedly by the police to have been) involved in kidnapping, attacks on security forces and killing of three civilians. However, the outcome of the cases registered in pursuance of those acts has not been placed on record. There is no substantial evidence on record to substantiate the said fact.”
The postmortem dated July 1, 1996, a copy of which the family obtained, also mentions torture marks. The report notes “sustained sharp penetrating injury to the paraspinal region leading to liver laceration” and “profuse hemorrhage –shock–cardio respiratory arrest and death” as the cause of the death.
The court observed that it’s “very unfortunate that 25 years have elapsed since the case was registered in the year 1996, and till date, the case has not been taken to logical conclusion” while terming the police closure report a “botched investigation”. SSP Srinagar has been directed by the court to conclude the investigation in six months.
The police submitted the case closure report within 10 days on March 15, 2021 after the family had petitioned the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) seeking the case status. Jameela then filed a protest petition via advocate Tabassum Rasool which led to the subsequent court orders to investigate the case.
Jameela’s own story
Jameela Begum pursued the case for more than two decades from 1996, visiting every concerned police officials and government offices over the years even as her pleas for justice fell on deaf ears. She raised her three children on her own after her husband’s killing, ensuring that they continued their school and college education while she did labor and fought to seek justice. She tells her story to Majid Maqbool, who reports it verbatim for Asia Sentinel.
My husband Muhammad Ramzan Bhat was a daily wage employee. He also ran a provisional store outside our home in the Miskeen Bagh area of Srinagar. On May 31, 1996, he had returned home late afternoon after being on election duty. We had tea together after which he left home to see his shop which was looked after by his brother during his absence.
Soon after he left for his shop, I heard some noise and police movement in our area. When I looked out from the wall of our house, I saw a Kashmir police gypsy (vehicle) near the shop. People nearby said some policemen barged inside the shop and started beating my husband. We were told to stay aside and not come near the shop. As I tried to raise a hue and cry, they had by then dragged him inside the police vehicle. I and some of our neighbors ran after the vehicle which sped ahead of us.
After somehow following the vehicle, we reached the Rainawari police station. We saw that he was brought out of the police gypsy and taken inside police station Rainawari. When we reached near the main gate, we were not allowed inside. Police also used batons and aerial firing to disperse the crowd. Then after some time he was brought out and taken to a government-run center. We were not told anything. We were all along on the road outside the center till late in the night seeking his release.
At 10 pm in the night, our neighbors and relatives asked us to return home as it was late. After returning home, we came to know that the police had raided our house while we were out demanding the release of Mohammad Ramzan throughout that day. They also took some jewels and valuables from our house. We locked our home and stayed at our neighbor’s home as we felt a threat to our life as well now.
In the morning we again went to the police station Rainawari and begged them to release him as he was an innocent person. He had not done anything wrong. He had no militant links. We even told them we could give them some money or whatever they wanted if they released him. But our pleas fell on deaf ears. We were told to come again in the afternoon.
After some hours, as we waited to know his fate, some neighborhood kids came running saying that they’d seen two dead bodies nearby in Miskeen Bagh. I told my sisters-in-law that they should not come back to tell me if they found the dead body of Muhammad Ramzan. Meanwhile, one of our neighbors came and told me that he had been found dead and his body was lying in Miskeen Bagh Nallah. I was in shock and trembling.
I couldn’t stop myself and rushed to the spot with (the neighbor) on his scooter where a lot of people had assembled by then. When people started hugging me near the spot, I realized it was him. I can’t describe what happened to me when I was told his dead body had been found. It was as if my whole world collapsed in front of my eyes. I couldn’t stand still.
People who had seen the bodies later told me that the body of my husband was dumped into a water body. Then some policemen from the Khanyar police station reached the spot and brought out his dead body. I couldn’t gather the courage to see my husband’s dead body. There were torture marks on his body. According to eyewitnesses and those who had seen his body there were burnt torture marks on his body and an injury mark on his right eye which was swollen. Some of our relatives and neighbors managed to capture some photos of the dead body in the police control room which clearly shows torture marks. We have preserved those photos all these years.
Muhammad Ramzan’s dead body was spotted on June 1, 1996, and that of another man from the area, who also went missing on the same day, was found the next day, on June 2. On May 31, 1996, we had registered an FIR in the local police station. The police station didn’t give us a copy for our records. Somehow I got another copy of the FIR which the police station had received overnight from another police station. I came home and showed it to our grieving family and neighbors.
Right from that day, I have been fighting a lonely battle for justice. I wanted answers. Why was my husband killed, and what was his fault? I have knocked on every door for justice. I have visited all top police officers and government officials over the years, but no one had any answers. Earlier my brother-in-law would accompany me to police stations and other offices and later my sister started accompanying me. I couldn’t rest at home. I didn’t want to give up till I got some justice. My husband had no involvement with anything. Why was he tortured and killed?
We were a small and happy family of five including our three young sons. My elder son was in 5th standard (10 yr-old), another son was in 1st standard (6yr-old) and my younger son was still a toddler when their father was snatched from them. I would drop kids at our relative’s place and then leave home to meet police and government officials seeking justice. I have gone to every concerned police station and government office to follow up on this case. Some police and government officials would give me something in writing but the case was never seriously pursued. We didn’t get any compensation either for all these years.
Then in 2003, I approached the State Human Rights commission. They listened to me and made a case file. I was told to get some eyewitnesses to further strengthen my case. I was able to get three eyewitnesses on three different dates whose accounts were recorded by the commission. Then the judge wrote that Muhammad Ramzan was an innocent citizen and he sought investigation in the case so that justice is done. Every time I would make sure to photocopy the documents and keep copies of documents with me at home.
While I was fighting for justice, I made sure that our kids got good education and ensured they continued their schooling. My late husband would have wanted the same. I worked hard and did some part-time embroidery work and other labor so that the education of my kids didn’t suffer.
My husband was a hardworking man. He had a monthly salary of 800 rupees as a daily wage worker. The earnings from our well-known provisional store, where he also sold rice, bread, and milk every day, would supplement the income. After his killing, the shop remained shut for almost a year as we didn’t stay at our home. When we returned home, the shop was reopened after about a year.
Now recently the court has rendered a judgment asking the concerned SSP to investigate the killing in six months. It was also possible due to the efforts of advocate Tabassum Rasool. She had the courage to take up this case and file a petition when many lawyers would be afraid in the current situation. What I want now is the same I wanted that day almost 25 years ago – to give us justice and punish those who tortured and killed my husband.
There is no proof of his involvement in any militancy-related activities. Otherwise, the police would have proved it by now. The police had also claimed then that there was some firing on them from this area but there is no proof of that either.
All that our family wants now is justice which has been denied to us for more than 20 years now. The sooner the culprits are booked, the better it is. Then only my husband’s soul will rest in peace. And we can live in some peace only when his killers are punished.
Majid Maqbool has been writing periodic stories on the situation in the disputed Jammu & Kashmir region for Asia Sentinel since August 5, 2019, when the Indian government suddenly ended the area’s autonomy without warning.