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Home / Books / Excerpt: Garrisoned Minds, a book on militarization’s impact on women. This essay looks at Kashmiri counter-insurgents

Excerpt: Garrisoned Minds, a book on militarization’s impact on women. This essay looks at Kashmiri counter-insurgents

Garrisoned Minds, a collection of essays by 12 journalists explores the impact of militarization on the lives of women in conflict zones in South Asia. This excerpt from Shazia Yousuf’s essay, Widowhood of Shame, looks at the widows of counter-insurgents in Kashmir

books Updated: Sep 03, 2016 00:37 IST
Shazia Yousuf
Shazia Yousuf
Hindustan Times
Former militant leader Kuka Parrey filling his nomination papers from the Sonawari Assembly Segment of North Kashmir on 22 August 1996
Former militant leader Kuka Parrey filling his nomination papers from the Sonawari Assembly Segment of North Kashmir on 22 August 1996(Agencies)

The room is awkwardly clean. There is a walnut wood bed, a few embroidered curtains and deep silence. The sliding glass door of the almirah screeches a little, as Dilshada takes out the only adornment in the lifeless room. It is a neatly framed picture of a young couple, hand-in-hand, shyly posing in front of the Taj Mahal — the monument of eternal love. With the bright sun above and her husband’s protective hand on her shoulder, Dilshada shines in her moon-white silk shalwar kameez. It is an old picture, taken more than a decade ago when Dilshada was cheerful and her husband, Mohammad Yousuf Dar, was an ordinary shopkeeper with an extraordinary passion for family outings and photography…

Today Dilshada, 55, is a sick and sad woman… ‘I am a widow of a renegade. It is a shameful widowhood,’ Dilshada says. Dilshada is one of the hundreds of widows of the Ikhwanis, ironically the Arabic word for brethren — a term used for renegades who were paid by Indian security agencies to counter militant operations in Indian-administered Kashmir. The Ikhwanis were mostly militants who had surrendered and switched sides, helping to break the backbone of militancy in Kashmir. Their widows feel dumped by the Indian agencies and are ostracised by the rest of society for the terror their dead husbands once unleashed.

Until the mid-’90s, Dilshada lived a peaceful life with her husband and their four children… Dar ran a grocery store, close to their home in the main market of Pulwama, about 40 kilometres from the capital, Srinagar. The small house that Dilshada got as a gift from her father when she married had only a few rooms, and the family of six was held close. But one day everything changed. During an ordinary afternoon’s conversation Dar broke the bad news: ‘I have joined Ikhwan.’ Ikhwan-ul-Muslimeen, or Ikhwan in short, was a progovernment militia counter-insurgency group formed in the early ’90s as part of a strategy to aid Indian forces fighting escalating militancy in the Valley. The group was formed by the infamous counter-insurgent Mohammad Yousuf Parray alias ‘Kuka Parray’, after he surrendered to the Indian government. Prior to joining hands with Indian government forces, Parray was an active militant who had received arms training from Pakistan. Ikhwanis, under the supervision of Parray, acted as informers, leading soldiers to militant hideouts and revealing details of their activities and movements… Besides receiving a monthly stipend ranging from 3,000 to 10,000 Indian rupees, they were also allowed to keep the weapons that they had possessed as militants. This meant that several thousand armed men were let loose to unleash terror on unarmed civilians under the guise of crushing militancy, supported by the Indian Army, which never took responsibility for their misdeeds. Soon, Dar began spending most of his time away from home. Though physically away, he was ever-present in the hush-hush conversations of local people; present in the form of terror that he and other Ikhwanis unleashed.

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‘They ruled the state. It was the most dangerous group because they followed no rules and had no identified enemies or friends. Brutal men were let loose to kill and terrorise people, no matter who they were. Everybody was equally vulnerable,’ says Khurram Parvez, Programme Coordinator of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS). With the sentiment of azadi (freedom) and resistance in the air, Ikhwanis were intensely hated. ..The Ikhwanis were vicious not only to militants but to unarmed civilians as well. It was during this counter-insurgency operation that some of the worst human rights violations occurred in Kashmir. The weapons they were allowed to keep were not only used on militants but also on locals to settle personal scores. Ikhwanis reportedly raped women, maimed children and killed men. Loot, extortion, kidnapping and killing were carried out in a grand exhibition of their power. ‘There are no authentic statistics about Ikhwanis available. We are preparing a report but it is still in its infancy and most of the stories we learn from Ikhwanis and their victims cannot be disclosed due to the risk involved. Many of those who carried out brutalities are alive and holding powerful positions in the government. Revealing their stories of cruelty can bring more harm than good to their victims. Thus, very few victims dare to speak out against them,’ adds Parvez…

Pro-India government militants known as Ikhwanis rest after a nightlong gun battle inside a police camp in Shopian on June 12, 2001. (REUTERS)

Whenever Dar visited home, Dilshada argued with him about his wrongdoings and how they caused suffering to his whole family. She told him about the loneliness that had engulfed his house and family. …Dar did not listen; he liked what his association with Ikhwan offered him — money, power and security… From a man who loved family outings and photography, Dar became a killer. He spilled blood and talked about death. Dilshada resisted and tried hard to keep her distance. But one day she became a part of it. Willy-nilly. It was a sunny morning in the late ’90s. The children were at school. Dilshada had a lot of time to kill... A neighbour came running towards her. Militants, he gasped, had murdered a relative in revenge for Dar killing one of their associates. The relative was eighteen-year-old Bashir Ahmad Wani, Dilshada’s youngest brother.

Dilshada ran barefoot to her father’s house... At her father’s house, Dilshada was not received as Bashir’s sister but as the wife of his killer. Some cursed her, some spat and some held her by the arm and forced her to leave. Dilshada at first tried to explain and prove her innocence, but when she saw her elderly parents tightly hugging their son’s dead body, she froze. ‘I was too ashamed to explain anything.’… A few months after their son’s killing, Dilshada’s parents died of grief, one after the other. Her elder brother, too scared to live alone in the house, locked it up and fled to safety. Dilshada too wanted to run away from her husband, her father’s empty house and the guilt about her brother’s death that lay heavy on her chest. ‘Everyone blames me for what happened to my father’s house; and I blame him. I will not forgive him for this,’ she said. Dar was always apologetic for Dilshada’s loss… Dilshada couldn’t forgive, because she couldn’t forget. ‘Only my death can wash away that memory.’

After the birth of counter-insurgency operations, militancy showed a sharp decline. New Delhi was able to hold the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly elections in 1996. This was also when Kuka Parray formed his own political party, the Awami League, and contested the elections. He won and became a legislator in the state assembly. Dar too joined the Awami League after working for Ikhwan for eight years. He contested elections twice — in 2002 and 2005 — only to lose both times. Dilshada did not cast her vote. An unofficial figure quoted by Kuka Parray’s son, Imtiyaz Parray, puts the total number of Ikhwanis at 4,000, of which more than 1,500 were killed by militants in retaliatory attacks. But Khurram Parvez rejects these statistics: ‘There have been no studies conducted on them. Even journalists have left this topic unreported. Counter insurgency, we may argue, has died. But Ikhwanis have not. They are here and many of them are more powerful than before.’ …

On a sunny morning in the summer of 2006, Dilshada’s husband left home for Baramulla town for an official meeting with his party members. Since she too had to meet a relative in the same town, they decided to go together. Dar drove the car with Dilshada sitting by his side. The two security guards sat in the back. Barely a kilometre away from their house, a group of boys waved for help. Dar ignored them but Dilshada asked him to stop. ‘They have notebooks in their hands,’ she told him, ‘and it is exam time. They seem to be getting late for exams.’ The vehicle reversed and stopped right in front of the boys. The youngest of them showered a rain of bullets. Dar received countless shots in his chest, fell on to Dilshada’s lap and died on the spot. The two security guards survived. So did Dilshada. Of the four bullets that hit her, three were successfully extracted. The fourth one wasn’t. The bullet was embedded between her ribs and if removed surgically might have paralysed or even killed her. ‘I tell my children to let it stay in my chest. There is no balm for the wound. Bullet or no bullet, the discomfort in my chest will not go,’ Dilshada says. More than the wedged bullet, what pains Dilshada is her strained relationship with relatives and friends and the bad name that Dar has left for the family. Sometimes, when she is alone, Dilshada imagines being a militant’s widow.

Mufti Mohammad Sayeed addressing an election rally in Ganderbal in Kashmir on 19 September 1996 (Sanjay Sharma/HT)

Like Dilshada, hundreds of widows of slain Ikhwanis were ostracised and became victims of social boycott. The rest of their lives offer nothing but loneliness and the life-long taint of being a renegade’s widow. ‘As soon as dusk falls, I ask my children to draw the curtains and sit quiet. I think I don’t want to see anyone. I don’t want anyone to see us.’ Dilshada’s story of loneliness and melancholy, shared by hundreds of widows of slain Ikhwanis, is a harsh but hidden social reality in Kashmir. The public response to the deaths of Ikhwanis at the hands of militants was not unexpected. However, the response of the Indian state for which the counter-insurgents worked took everyone— especially their families—by surprise. The worth of Ikhwanis for Indian forces proved to be no more than that of disposable cutlery, to be trashed once the grand feast is over. ‘Indian forces lured them with promises of jobs, money and security for their families after their death. Leave aside these monetary promises, none of them even came to see us. They knew how society looked down upon us. It was their responsibility to help us morally and financially,’ says Sajad Ahmad Dar, Dilshada’s elder son. Twenty-six-year-old Sajad is angry. All his father’s claims have been proved painfully wrong. None of the people for whom his father worked visited his home. …

‘Those days, dozens of Ikhwanis would be killed on a daily basis. I was scared to lose my father. One day I asked him what would happen to us if militants killed him, and he replied that the Indian government was there to take care of us,’ recalls Sajad. ‘How wrong he was!’ he sighs. ..

Mehbooba Mufti, Daughter of Former Union Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed flashing a victory sign after being elected to the assembly in Srinagar on 03 October, 1996.

When the counterinsurgency operations began, the Indian state promised jobs to the surrendered militants who joined Ikhwan and contributed to the decline of militancy. However, only 250 Ikhwanis were accommodated in the Territorial Army and a few more in the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). A small number work as SPOs (Special Police Officers) in the Jammu and Kashmir Police. Sajad too works as an SPO posted in Jammu. He earns a monthly salary of 5,000 Indian rupees. ‘This job was secured by my father when he was alive. I was not even eligible for it at that time. Thankfully, had he not done that, I wouldn’t have even this little security.’ While the sons of renegades struggle with perpetual anger and frustration, daughters face difficulties in finding proper marriage partners. Dilshada’s two daughters are ‘thankfully’ married now. It was extremely difficult to find a match for her elder daughter. Nobody was ready to initiate a relationship with a traitor’s family. Then, one day a cousin came to Dilshada with a marriage proposal for her son. Dilshada thanked God and went ahead with the wedding. Her second daughter is married to Imtiyaz Parray, Kuka Parray’s son. ‘It is not only us, many renegade families have married into other such families to avoid taunts and torture. My daughters have suffered a lot in this house. I wanted their new lives to remain untouched by their past.’…

…Speaking of the fate of Ikhwanis, Khurram Parvez says, ‘Many of them were later killed by the Indian soldiers for whom they worked. We are following a case where more than fifteen Ikhwanis got disappeared at the hands of the Indian Army who used them for an anti-militant operation and disposed them off once their job was done”.

ht epaper

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