SRINAGAR: Standing in a dusty lane named after Gowhar Ahmad, killed by government forces in 2015, a one-storey, old-fashioned house in Zainakote area of Srinagar goes about the motions of life in distressing silence during most of the day.
While the family head, Bashir Ahmad (name changed at his request), leaves his house to work as a construction labourer in nearby areas, the women of the family mostly remain indoors, busy with their household chores, hardly stepping outside, not even to converse with other women of the locality.
Within the despairing atmosphere that envelopes the house, the family battles haunting memories of a past which for them are not so easy to let pass. The family’s misery is doubled by their bleak financial condition, where managing even two meals a day is a struggle. For them, life seems to have come to a grinding halt with rarely a cheerful moment to enjoy or celebrate upon.
This has been the daily state-of-affairs for this unfortunate lower-middle-class family for the past three months, ever since the horrifying incident that left their simple lives filled with misery and haunting memories.
Bashir Ahmad called me on May 8 and asked me to meet him in Zainakote, so that he could convey his story of “a poor man’s ordeal”. While I was heading to his house, Ahmad identified me and stopped my two-wheeler midway.
“I am Bashir, I had called you,” he told me. Someone had employed him to pass bricks on a residential construction site. Ahmad went to the owner and pleaded for a 20-minute break, “to attend to a relative”, he said. “A day’s work is our only guarantee that we won’t sleep hungry,” he told me later.
“Those criminals have ruined my and my daughter’s life,” Ahmad kept repeating the same sentence till we reached the house.
On the fateful day of January 31, the entire family was stunned when one of their relatives informed them that Ahmed’s 16-year-old daughter had been abducted and sexually assaulted by a 50-year-old man who is also a worker of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
The ghastly crime was allegedly committed by one Mohammad Ramzan Bhat, a resident of Zainakote, with two of his friends – Ali Mohammad Kumar, a resident of Khushipora HMT, and Manzoor Ahmad Kumar of Budgam district. Both assisted Bhat in kidnapping the minor, who was then visiting her paternal aunt in Safapora area of Ganderbal district, and hid her at an unknown location where she was sexually assaulted by Bhat, as later proved by the medical examination.
Shattered by the brutal assault on his daughter, Ahmad has not yet come to terms with it.
“I don’t know why a poor man always becomes the victim of such horrific crimes. We have not much to show off, but that doesn’t mean we have no right to a dignified life. When even I couldn’t bear the pain of the horrific incident, how would the victim, who is also a minor, bear such a ghastly act which ruins her entire life,” says Ahmad, his eyes moist.
The assaulted girl, Azra (name changed), is mentally disturbed as of now and has stopped going to school. She, in fact, no longer shows any interest in education. She just nodded her head to answer a few of my questions and otherwise spoke very little. “I narrated everything to the judge (in Ganderbal)” was the only sentence Azra spoke.
Apprehending that the accused might be set free, Ahmad says that one of the accused was recently bailed out and another is believed to be out on bail soon. “I called you here just to record the ghastly act that was committed against us, so that it builds some pressure on the judiciary,” Ahmad said.
“We fail to understand why justice is delayed when every proof and witness has gone against the accused. We were told that the charges on the accused are non-bailable, still they (the accused) are being released on bail?” questions the father.
An FIR, vide number 05/2017, was lodged under sections 363, 376 and 109 of the RPC at police station Safapora, following which all three accused were arrested. Manzoor Ahmad has been bailed out by sessions court, Ganderbal, where a second accused, Ali Mohammad Kumar, has also filed a bail petition. He is currently in Kashmir Central Jail, along with the prime accused, Mohammad Ramzan Bhat.
The family says more than Rs 3 lakhs have been spent in the last three months on lawyers’ fees, travel and other expenses, of which the most part was borrowed from relatives and friends in the struggle to put the criminal behind bars.
“I am an illiterate man and don’t know much how justice is delivered to victims like my daughter. These criminals exploit my innocence, and I fear, with PDP backing, they might dilute the entire case and escape punishment,” says Ahmad.
As Bhat’s bail petition was refused on four occasions by the sessions as well as the Jammu & Kashmir High Court, the family still finds some hope of awaiting justice, provided the police cooperates with the family and the accused fail in their “treacherous plans”.
Station house officer, Safapora police station, Latief Ali confirmed the rape charges against the accused to Kashmir Reader, Ali and said that a challan has been filed against the three. He further further assured this reporter that there is no political involvement possible as the investigation is already done and the report submitted before court.
“We have completed our investigation and the case has been submitted before court for the verdict. The investigation is so fair and genuine that we expect an early judgement from the court,” says Ali.
As per the official figures, as many as 595 cases of rape were registered in the state in the last two years, out of which 213 cases were registered in Kashmir division and 382 in Jammu division.
In Kashmir, Kupwara topped the district-wise list with 30 cases, followed by Anantnag with 29 cases, 27 in Srinagar, 23 in Budgam, 9 in Ganderbal, 5 in Leh, 1 in Kargil, 9 in Pulwama, 17 in Kulgam, 9 in Shopian, 7 in Awantipora, 15 in Baramulla, 12 in Sopore, 30 in Kupwara, 7 in Handwara and 8 cases of rape in Bandipora.
In Jammu, 93 cases of rape were registered in different stations of Jammu during the year 2015-2016, followed by Rajouri with 70 cases, 15 in Samba, 27 in Kathua, 33 in Udhampur, 26 in Reasi, 23 in Doda, 23 in Kishtwar, 24 in Ramban, 70 in Rajouri and 24 in Poonch.