Wife says a lifetime spent under oppression
Sopore: First arrested at the age of 20, Ghulam Mohammad Khan Sopori, now 71, has spent a considerable part of his life behind bars.
At the fag end of this life battling several health problems, Sopori is languishing in Kathua jail, under the 10th Public Safety Act of his life.
“How much time the government or judiciary in Kashmir takes to recognize a wrong. We have already faced immense hardship, now in the dusk of our lives, we want to be at peace” Sopori’s wife Hafiza Begum said.
A resident of Badambagh in Sopore, Sopori is chairman of the People’s League and a senior member of the Hurriyat Conference led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani.
Hafiza Begum, who is also Sopori’s cousin, has a count of all his incarcerations, and says that they have never seen happiness in life because of “Indian oppression” towards the family.
“My husband has faced immense hardships from his youth at the hands of government forces and even at the tail end of his age, he is in Kathua Jail under the 10th PSA of his life,” Hafiza said.
Sopori’s trysts with lockups began in 1969 not long after the theft of holy relic from the Hazratbal shrine shook entire Kashmir triggering protests and a mass agitation.
Sopori was 20 when he was arrested for the first time on charges of being a member of Al-Fatah.
Sopori had begun to take part in anti-government protests during the Holy Relic agitation.
Sopori was sent to Central Jail Srinagar but released after three months. However, Hafiza said, that soon after his release he was injured during an anti-India protest in Sopore, “which were common those days”.
“DSP Shamji who was popular for his tactics of terror on common Kashmiris opened fire on protestors in which Khan Sopori was hit in his leg and another protestor died on spot,” Hafiza begum recalls.
In 1974, Jammu & Kashmir Peoples League was formed, after different resistance groups joined hands, and Sopori was appointed as district president for Baramulla.
After the Indira-Abdullah accord in 1975 large valley wide protests took place. Hafiza said that in one such protest in Sopore police used teargas shells and aerial firing to disperse the protestors and Khan Sopori got injured again. His friend Ghulam Mohammad Bulla was arrested and died due to torture in custody, she said.
In 1976, she said, Sopori was again arrested and sent to Kathua jail for six months after Maqbool Bhat came to meet him in Sopore.
“In 1978 we were about to get married but Khan Sopori was arrested again and was sent to Kud jail from where he was released after two years and after his release we were married but just after 20 days of he was arrested again and sent to Hiranagar jail and was released after two and half years,” Hafiza said remarking that their families had thought that marriage would bring an end to his jail sojourns, “but it continued”.
“He was not present when his first son was born; he had a glimpse of his son’s face only after two years when he was released from jail but as life started to move normally, he was arrested again and sent to Kud jail where he was kept again for two years,” she said
In 1989, she said, police looking for her husband, took her to police station Sopore where she was kept for the whole day
“I was released in the late evening hours, that day was like a doomsday for me and I will never forget it through my whole life,” she said.
The first PSA on Sopori was slapped in 1990, when, she said, he spend one and a half year in Central Jail Srinagar and Hiranagar jail.
“In 1994, we migrated to Srinagar just to avoid this oppression but it never ended. In 1998 Sopori was arrested again from his house in Srinagar along with my two sons. After one month my sons were released and Khan Sopori had to undergo an extreme level of third degree torture. It was only when government forces thought he might die, they handed over his half dead body to Mohalla head and we shifted him to hospital where it took him three months to recover.” Hafiza said. “But a couple of days after reaching our home, BSF from Soura arrested him and tortured him again and handed over him to police station Soura where he was slapped with two PSA’s one from cargo and another from Soura police and sent to Udhampur jail.”
When he was released in 2001, she said, they again arrested him in the same year and slapped one more PSA and sent him to Kot Balwal Jail for two years.
“The extreme level of cruelty against us never stopped but it was increased to break his spirit for freedom,” she said.
In 2006, their home in Chanpora Srinagar was raided by government forces in civvies and Sopori was taken along.
“We were unaware about his whereabouts until next month when we came to know that he is lying half dead in police hospital. He was tortured to the level that he didn’t identify his family members for a day but instead of releasing him, he was shifted to Central Jail and then to Kot Balwal Jail,” she said.
In 2008, she said, he fell very ill soon after arrest and was released after two months on doctors advice.
In June 2012, government forces seized Sopori’s house on the charges of “acting as a conduit of banned terrorist outfit Harkat-ul-Jihadi Islami (HuJI) and “providing financial assistance to it through Hawala transactions”.
However, Hafiza said, no evidence has been presented about the allegations but the house remains confiscated till this date.
In February last year, he was arrested by Sopore police and remains in detention since under three consecutive PSAs
In September, while he was in police lock up after court has quashed his PSAs, instead of releasing him, Sopori –while in custody– was accused of giving speech at militant Qayoom Najar’s funeral.
“I along with my son went to pay a visit to him; He is not keeping well and has been denied medical check-up. Khan Sahib told us that he is not able to stand properly due to a problem in vertebrae. He is also hypertensive,” she said.