There are several cases of murder against Rashid Khan, but he has never been tried in court. He lives a secure, respectable life in Kupwara and runs a successful business as a construction contractor. There is little about him that suggests the dreaded man he is, and much more dreadfully was, in the ’90s when he stopped being a militant of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and became, instead, a commander of the pro-government militia called Ikhwan.
In 1994, the surrendered insurgent was chosen as the Group Commander of the counter-insurgency Ikhwan unit in Kupwara. The terror Rashid Khan unleashed in the area is still alive in the memories of Kupwara’s people. Killings, loot, extortions, Rashid Khan’s name is synonymous with them all. There are nine cases of murder registered against him, of civilians, but he has never been called to court.
It is the families of the victims who still believe that one day the murderer will be punished for his crimes. They are ready and quick to tell the stories of the horror of years ago that continues to visit them in nightmares.
Ahmad Khan has this to narrate: In September 1995, his 25-year-old nephew Bashir Ahmad and his brother Ghulam Mohammad Khan, residents of Gond Sana, Hyhama, Kupwara, were summoned by Rashid Khan. For the whole day Rashid Khan kept them at a nearby ground, forcing them to join the Ikhwan. “When they refused, he became aggressive and took both of them into a cowshed. There, on Rashid Khan’s order, Ikhwanis beat them severely with sticks. In this cowshed they were kept all night and tortured. On the third day, at around 4pm, they were taken out and led towards the Mirwayan forests. There, Ikhwanis Bashir Khan, Rehmatullah, and Sarwar fired upon them. Ghulam Mohammad was shot first and Bashir next,” Ahmad Khan said.
Their bodies were never found. The family knew that Rashid Khan had dumped them somewhere in the forest.
The family went to police station Kupwara and had an FIR registered against Rashid Khan and his associates. There was no investigation. There was no action taken against the killers.
Altaf Ali Khan, 29, a government teacher, resident of Baba Pora, Hyhama, Kupwara, became another victim of Rashid Khan after he refused to join the Ikhwan. “In the intervening night of 28-29 January 1996, at about midnight, some Ikhwanis knocked at our door. My father woke up and opened the door. My mother also accompanied him. Two armed Ikhwanis entered our house with their faces covered. There were so many Ikhwanis outside we could not tell how many they were. One of the men who entered the house told my father to accompany the group as they had to talk to him. After my father left with them, my mother Saleema went to my uncle’s house nearby and informed them. We all went out to search in the village. The next morning, at the time of prayers, the dead body of my father was found outside the Jamia Masjid of Halmatpora, 3 km from our village. He had multiple bullet wounds on the right of his abdomen,” said Altaf Ali Khan’s son Tawseef Altaf.
The police came to the house and took notes. Then, without autopsy of the body, Altaf Ali was buried in his native graveyard.
“After a few days, an army major visited our house and said that he would bring 60 Ikhwanis for identification. I said I could not identify anyone in the dark of the night. The police never visited our house after that first time,” said Saleema, wife of the victim.
During the ’90s, Rashid Khan was working closely with the army to eliminate militancy. According to the people of the area, he murdered many more civilians of whom there is no record. Rashid Khan was also making money from extortion. People say he developed a “habit” of it.
Mufti Jamaluddin Malik, 43, was the Imam in Dragmulla. On 25 April 1995, he was invited by a person unknown to him for lunch. His wife Fatima Begum was at the time pregnant with her seventh child. “I was bedridden and told him to not accept the invitation. But he went along with that person to Nagri. We did not know where he was going. Mufti Sahib just said that he was going to Nagri village. He did not return home in the night. Next day, at about 4pm, I became anxious and went outside to enquire from the students of his religious schools. On the morning of the third day, his dead body was seen on the roadside in Khanpora.
The police station Handwara took the body into their custody. His body bore bullet marks on the chest, abdomen, left arm, and knee. The coat that he was wearing bore visible bullet marks and we have preserved it. The deputy commissioner Kupwara and SSP Kupwara visited our house during the period of mourning. No investigation was done in the case and eventually we were given ex-gratia relief of Rupees 1 lakh in 1995 and under the SRO scheme, Rs 4.34 lakh in 2014,” said Fatima Begum.
Rashid Khan’s victims included Abdul Aziz Sofi, 38, a tailor. On 28 January 1996, some unidentified gunmen came to his house at about 11pm. “My husband told me to stay inside. He went down and opened the door. The gunmen took him away. We went out to look for him but as soon as we stepped out we heard gunshots about a hundred metres from our house. We returned home in fear. The gunmen had shot him dead. They fired a burst of bullets into his chest,” said his wife Shahmal.
The Kupwara police came to their house the next morning. An FIR was filed but no investigation was done. The family was later given Rs 1 lakh.
Abdul Aziz Peer was killed in cold blood. He had done an MA from Aligarh Muslim University in 1968 and thereafter joined the education department, from which he retired in 1992. After retirement, he was associated with the Falaah-e-Aam school run by the Jamat-e-Islami.
Being a known social worker and philanthropist, Abdul Aziz was asked by Ikhwanis for Rs 5 lakh as extortion money. Abdul Aziz refused to pay a penny. On 29 January 1995, at 11:30pm on the tenth day of the holy month of Ramzan, 10-15 pheran-clad armed gunmen knocked on the door of his house. Aziz was hidden inside by his family. The Ikhwanis stormed inside the home and as Abdul Aziz was coming out of the bathroom, he was shot dead. One of his daughters, Sakina Begum, was injured by a bullet. An FIR was filed under Section 3/25 of the Arms Act and IPC Section 302 for murder in police station Kupwara. The police stated in the FIR that unidentified gunmen carried out the killing. The family and everyone in the village knew that Ikhwanis had carried out the killing on the instructions of Rashid Khan.
In the same year, Abdul Rashid Shah, a public prosecutor, was killed on the orders of Rahid Khan. According to his brother Muhammad Rafi Shah, who is a practising lawyer in the Kupwara Bar Association, a group of 15 Ikhwanis came looking for Abdul Rashid Shah on the night of 20 November 1995. Before opening the door, Rafi Shah went upstairs to warn his brother to hide himself. Another brother Ghulam Mustafa Shah opened the door. Five to six persons, of whom one was masked, entered the house and locked up all the family members in one room. Abdul Rashid was hiding in his library room. He was shot dead there.
FIR number 334/95 by Ghulam Muhammad shah u/s 302 RPC, 3/25 Arms Act in police station Kupwara, was filed. It remains in the file.
Rashid Khan’s next target was Abdul Rashid Reshi, a policeman. A resident of Manzhar, Kupwara, he was abducted on 9 September 1995 and later killed. He was abducted from Kupwara Chowk by a group of 5-6 Ikhwanis sent by Rashid Khan. “Rashid Reshi was on his way home from work when Ikhawnis intercepted him and forced him into a vehicle. He was killed on suspicion of being a militant sympathiser. An FIR was filed against the killing, but no investigation was ever conducted,” said his brother Ghulam Nabi Reshi. “Till my brother was killed, we had no idea of him being on the radar of the Ikhwanis. Even Rashid himself had no inkling of being watched by the Ikhawni commander Rashid Khan. Twenty days before his killing, Rashid Khan had demanded Rs 50,000 which was paid to him by Rashid himself. The fear of the Ikhwan was so much in the area that even the police were scared of them. They were enjoying strong government and army patronage.”
Gaffar Chalkoo, another man killed by Rashid Khan, had a provision store in Kupwara market. He was affiliated with the Jamat-e-Islami as a rukun. On 05 November 1996, after Friday prayers at 4pm, Gaffar was abducted and his dead body was found lying near a gas agency.
The victim’s family is still awaiting justice from the High Court and the State Human Rights Commission.