The army took me away and put me in a dungeon, amid darkness. Soon Captain Bhim Singh entered and asked me to remove my clothes. Then they tied me and hung me upside down from the ceiling and asked me whether I was a militant or not. I had nothing to tell
From the top of a mini bus, he waved the flag and raised slogans in favour of the electoral candidate belonging to People’s Conference.
And as the candidate got on the raised platform to deliver a lecture, the man stood next to him, stick in his hand, swinging it to keep the crowd at a distance.
In between the pauses in the lecture, the man in khakis shouted full-throated slogans. He drooled as he punched the air in a triumphant gesture.
Afterwards the soldiers mocked at him: You are a dirty man. Later Major Bhim Singh came and told my father that now that his hands are dirty, so they have no use. The soldiers then pounded his hands with rifle butts
The crowd responded rapturously to his every slogan. At times they also laughed at the man’s comic ways. Then the candidate’s lecture ended. A loudspeaker mounted over the van blared out the party’s election song. The man broke into a dance to the tune. Soon other people joined him in the dance. As they went around shaking their legs, they laughed and revelled as the man in the khakis entertained them.
“Bu chus minister, governal, beye chus army te DCyes paethe” (I am the minister. I am the governor. I am one who leads the DC and the one who heads the Army),” he jabbered as he tried to make his way out of the crowd.
This wasn’t a one-off performance of the man called Bashir Moat by locals of Khag. And this wasn’t the only party he raised slogans, sang and danced for. He would do it for other parties too which at times were political rivals.
During election time people from Khag and adjoining villages would throng to see the ‘performance’ of Bashir. The people didn’t care who Bashir danced for. They just loved the way he did it.
During the elections, he was “hired” by various political parties for sloganeering and dancing. His “fee”: a day’s meal, a dozen cups of tea and lots of coloured posters of pro-India political parties.
This was Bashir when he was young. Look how handsome he was. He was innocent, but I don’t know whose evil eye fell on him
“He is a grand entertainer. If he was not there, the people don’t feel the thrill in the election campaign,” Mohammad Jabbar, a local pro-India political party worker of Khag told me. “He is a crowd-puller and that makes him the most sought-after man for political parties during elections.”
Bashir Ahmed Rather popularly known as Bashir Moat is politically promiscuous. He loves no party and he hates none. He just loves to be the part of the crowd and the revelry.
“He attends every rally. All he needs is food, and a stick by which he can show that he matters. And the political workers of all the parties exploit him to pull the crowds,” said Muneer Ahmed, a shopkeeper from Beerwah, Budgam.
Muneer, who has known Bashir for several years, added that not just politicians, everyone ‘uses’ Bashir for his own ends. “He is like a blank sheet and people use him whichever way they can. The traffic police, the shopkeepers, even school boys use him to courier their mobile numbers to girls.”
And after every ‘assignment’ he is dumped.
When the 2014 election campaign ended, Bashir had nowhere to go. So he returned to his old “job” – ‘manning’ the traffic in Khag alongside men from Jammu Kashmir Police.
In April 2015 I went over to see Bashir and if possible have a chat with him. He was dressed in his signature khaki police uniform studded with stars with a baton in his hands – his another signature accessory. The way he was conducting himself, I could feel an authoritative air around him. He ferociously whacked his baton at the steel of the public buses as he tried to bring some order to an otherwise messy traffic around him. Nobody seemed to escape his anger. He hurled filthy abuses at the passers-by. They just laughed them off.
At the far end, a driver honked intermittently and that got an already-irritated Bashir even more. He abused the driver and shouted at him, “Get out! Do you know who I am? I am Captain Bhim Singh. I am the head of army. I will kill you.” A chilling warning I thought, but nobody seemed to bother much about it.
A traffic cop on duty told me that Bashir makes the work of the police easy and is a good traffic controller. “He controls traffic nicely and shoulders off the burden from us. He lets us rest. Beside he entertains and keeps the town in jolly mood,” the cop said.
“Sometimes we send him to the city to help the traffic men there and entertain the public.”
SSP Budgam, Fayaz Ahmed Lone, denied that police is using Bashir for “controlling traffic.”
“I don’t think police is using him. I will look into the matter and punish those police men who are doing so,” Fayaz told me.
As Bashir walked on the road, the buses, cars, and two wheelers stopped for a minute, to let him pass and some blew horns to frighten him away. The drivers and the passers-by made faces at him. Someone flung a stone at him and he abused him in retreat. Adolescent school boys shouted at him, “Take the money, take it”. He walked on, swinging his baton and shouting, “left right, left right.” He then entered a tea stall and disappeared from view. The traffic resumed with all its unruliness and people forgot him for a while. Bashir has become a rural legend and so has his story. His transformation from a normal human being to a “mad man” is cited as an example, when the people allude to the military brutality in the area.
“If you want to know what army and police did in the area, know the story of Bashir,” Nazir Ahmed a shopkeeper at Khag told me. “The army made an example out of him.”
I wanted to know Bashir’s side of the story. So one afternoon I caught up with him by a roadside in Khag. I knew what to expect. Bashir shouted abuses at me, brandished his baton and then suddenly laughed. I invited him for a cup of tea at a nearby tea-stall. He was reluctant or may be wary, I don’t know. I persisted and after some persuasion he agreed. As he made his way towards the tea stall, he belted everything that came in his way — a tree, an electric pole, a bus and then the table inside the stall.
He sat down in a red plastic chair, put the baton on the table and raised his head high. This was almost like an announcement that he was serious about a tete-a-tete with him. I had my own apprehensions though.
Bashir is a tall man; his face is dominated by cheek bones that have forced his brown eyes deep down into his face almost into insignificance. His face is covered with pepper beard and a receding hairline makes his forehead look bigger. The back of his head has a patchwork of bloody designs – scars, bruises, deep cuts – haphazardly spread out like hungry leeches on a patch of flesh. His arms are rickety and his legs weak.
“Bring two cups of tea for me and my guest from shehr (city),” he shouted at the waiter as he settled for some serious talk.
The waiter laughed, so did the many people around us who were eating.
One among them said to Bashir, “How is business going on, Inspector Sahab?”
“Thanks to Allah,” replied Bashir in a tone that had a distinctive authoritative tinge to it.
The tea arrived and as Bashir tasted it, he snapped at the waiter, “Is this tea? It has no sugar.” The waiter laughed and whispered, “Mad.”
After we finished tea, I asked Bashir about the torture.
The nightmare for Farooq, Bega Jan and other Rather family meanwhile has no end. The family has spent heavily on Bashir’s treatment without any results. As Farooq told me Bashir’s wounds were too deep to be cured. “A mutilated soul has no cure,” Farooq said
I immediately realised I had made a huge mistake. Bashir was furious and broke into a sweat. He held his head with both hands and complained of headache. His eyes turned red. In that moment I thought he will smash the glass on my head. He shouted at everybody and began to abuse. Two boys, from outside the stall made faces at him. He flung the baton at them, shouting, “I am Bhim Singh. I can do anything to you, even kill you. You bastards.”
I followed him out.
To my every utterance, his only answer was Bhim Singh — his nemesis, his nightmare.
A document on human rights infringements in Kashmir, Alleged Perpetrators, released by the JK Coalition of Civil Society, JKCCS, in 2012 carries extensive information on men in uniform involved in various human rights abuses in Kashmir. JKCCS obtained these details by petitioning various government bodies under the Right to Information Act. The document names one Major Bhim Singh of 34 Rashtriya Rifles, RR, in the case of extra-judicial killing of three men, two among them from Srinagar, Ghulam Nabi Lone and Shakeel Ahmed and one Ghulam Mohiddin Zargar from Lanlab, a village, 8 km from Khag. The case No. 24 of the document accuses Major Bhim Singh of several human rights violations. All the three cases against him are being pursued in the district court of Budgam.
On 23 July, 1995, according to the JKCCS document, the three men, Ghulam Nabi Lone and Shakeel Ahmed both employees in the State-owned Power Department, and Ghulam Mohiddin a local guide, had gone to Uri on an official survey assignment, when they were killed by Major Bhim Singh and later passed off as militants killed in an encounter.
In June 1999, soldiers from the Army’s 35 RR stationed in Khag where Major Bhim Singh was now posted, barged into the house of Ghulam Qadir Rather and dragged out the eldest son Bashir Ahmed, shoved him into a truck and took him to the army camp. The army accused him of helping militants and being “anti-national”.
After two days, Bashir was released, but he was unable to walk back to his home. He had been severely tortured. The locals came over and carried Bashir to his home.
“We brought him home on a charpoy. He had been beaten so much that he could barely move a limb,” recalled Ghulam Nabi Rather, Bashir’s uncle.
As I was making my way out, Bega Jan called me back. “He was a khanemoal – the darling son – and that was what got him. His father too was devastated at his condition. I wish I too had died with him.” Then Bega broke down. I knew my words of comfort, however sincerely said, were insufficient to console her. So I moved on and let Bega to be with herself
Bashir was taken to a local hospital for treatment. For the next few weeks he would recount the torture tale many times over to relatives who visited him at his home.
His brother Farooq Ahmed remembers lucidly the details of the torture that he heard Bashir telling the visitors. This is the account he told me he had heard Bashir narrating to the guests: ‘After the army took me away, they put me in a dungeon, amid darkness. Soon Captain Bhim Singh entered and asked me to remove my clothes. Then they tied me and hung me upside down from the ceiling and asked me whether I was a militant or not. I had nothing to tell. When they couldn’t find anything, they left me in the darkness.’
Farroq told me that Bashir would sweat and lose control of himself while describing the night of torture. “He used to cry like a child while narrating the details of his torture,” said Farooq.
“They had put rats in Bashir’s pants and then dumped him in a dark dingy room. He told us the army men would then make eerie sounds from outside the room.”
Farooq told me how rat phobic Bashir had been from childhood. “He still has fear of rats. My brother told us he had cried and asked the army men to kill him instead of putting rats in his pants.”
The next morning, the army found Bashir had fainted in the room. They brought him out of the room and in the afternoon began to interrogate him again.
Farooq recollected the trauma his brother had been put through. To extract “information” from Bashir, his brother recounted, they crushed his testicles and gave him electric shock in his genitals. But, Farooq added, it was the electric shocks to his head that wrecked him.
Farooq said that Bashir told the family that the army rigged “some wires” around his head and then ran a current through the wires. “It felt like a thunderbolt and then I didn’t know anything. Next day I saw myself on the charpoy,” Farooq recollected Bashir telling him after he was brought home from the army camp.
For a month after that, Bashir would weep without any apparent reason. He then lost all interest and respect for people around him and started abusing everyone.
His neighbour and childhood friend Fayaz Ahmed Rather told me that a month after the torture, Bashir couldn’t recognize him. “Instead, he abused me and chased me out of home with an axe,” Fayaz said.
“Initially, I thought that he is possessed which was why he was violent.” I asked Fayaz if he was still in touch with Bashir. “I do approach him but even after 17 years he still does not recognise me,” Fayaz told me.
A week after meeting Bashir, I visited his family in Rather Mohalla, Drang in Budgam. Bashir’s brother Farooq Ahmed
and his mother Bega were sitting on a mud-plastered veranda outside their dilapidated one-storey house. I exchanged greetings with them and told them I wanted to talk to them about Bashir. As they guided me inside their home, I was curious to go straight to Bashir’s room. They readily led me there.
The room was neat and clean, with three tin boxes piled over each other, overlooked by Bashir’s photographs from his youthful, jolly days.
“Look, how handsome and innocent he was,” Bashir’s mother told me as I looked intently at the pictures. “There are more in the tin box, but I am afraid I can’t show you those pictures. He will kill us if he finds out that we opened his tin box. He is so possessive about his things.”
That made me even more inquisitive. I told them that I wanted to see the pictures and after some cajoling they agreed to open the box.
Farooq opened the tin box cautiously. It was stuffed with clothes, many posters of political parties, photos of Bashir and photos of his father and mother. As we turned over the things, there were a lot more interesting items in what I thought was a treasure box of sorts. There were around twenty driving licences, a JK police three star badge, a khaki pantaloon and three Cavender brand cigarette packets. Then there was a stack of passport size photographs of men and women which I was told he had collected from the police station. Some papers and pieces of polythene of different colours also caught my eye.
After running through Bashir’s treasures in his secret treasure box, Bashir’s mother Bega Jan, Farooq and I sat around it. I didn’t know what to ask next.
Then Bashir’s mother pulled out a photograph and said to me, “This was Bashir when he was young. Look how handsome he was. He was innocent, but I don’t know whose evil eye fell on him,” said Bega Jan, pointing to another photo of Bashir.
“He would spend an hour doing up his hair. He would see himself in the mirror ten times before going out,” Bega went on and I could sense she was really getting disturbingly emotional. “He was like a ‘gulab’ (rose),” she told me in a choked voice as a final comment on her son. Then a silence ensued. It was tormenting. She was already in tears. Her comparison of Bashir with a rose struck me. Though I didn’t want to bother her any more, something prodded me to ask her what she thought of all that had happened. Her answer was quick. And from it I could make out how this poor woman and thousands like her resolve their tragedies they can’t come to terms with. “I don’t remember anything. I don’t want to remember. Please don’t ask anything, let me die in peace.” Purging your mind of painful memories is what a psychologist would probably suggest to get over trauma, but this woman in this far-off village in her ramshackle house with no hope of any redemption had learnt it the hard way.
After Bega’s final words, there was nothing left to ask. So I left. As I was making my way out, she suddenly called me back. “He was a khanemoal – the darling son – and that was what got him. His father too was devastated at his condition. I wish I too had died with him.” Then Bega broke down. I knew my words of comfort, however sincerely said, were insufficient to console her. So I moved on and let Bega to be with herself.
While Bashir’s mother lives a painful life, his father, Ghulam Qadir Rather, died within a year after Bashir turned mad.
And his death was “horrendous.”
Farooq told me that one day the army came to their house and picked up his father. They took him to the camp and tortured him there.
“When he came back, he was a different man from one we knew as father. Petty things would irritate him. He would pick up a fight over trifles,” Farooq told me. “But there was sadness in his eyes. I could guess that something was eating him up from within.” Initially the family thought it was Bashir’s condition that was troubling Qadir. “We later came to know of something very dreadful that he had been through. It shook me,” he added.
I found Farooq reluctant to tell me what this “dreadful” thing was that his father had been through. That obviously made me curious and pressed for these details. It was later I came to know why he wouldn’t share those details. Probably nobody in his place would. But as I persisted with my pleas with Farooq to tell me what his father had been through, he finally broke open.
After his father was released from the camp, Farooq told me, his both hands were crushed and mutilated; he would avoid touching anything with his hands again. He always ate using a spoon.
Farooq told me that his father had developed a bizarre habit – he would frequently wash his hands with soap and detergents.
“During his last year after the torture at the army camp, he was so obsessed with washing his hands,” said Farooq. “I thought that he was losing his mind because of Bashir”
At night, Qadir would wake up and go to the nearby stream to take a bath. His family and neighbours thought that he was “possessed” or was on a “spiritual journey”.
“I thought that he was possessed by a jinn and I was scared of him. I tried to take him to Ahad Bab, his pir (a local faith-healer), but he always refused,” said his brother Ghulam Nabi.
This continued for six months. Then one day Qadir complained of pain in his heart and asked Farooq to sleep by his side.
Farooq remembered that day vividly. “It was raining and the sky was grey and the air cold,” recollected Farooq.
His father asked him to press his chest which he did. Then after a while, he broke down. “I am terrified. I feel fear,” Qadir told his son.
Then Qadir broke open about what had been haunting him. “Listening to father’s story of trauma and torture was like an unending nightmare,” Farooq told me.
“When my father was taken to the army camp, the soldiers forced him to rub their genitals. He was forced to masturbate and then use his hands to masturbate the soldiers,” Farooq recalled what his father had told him about the debasing violence he had faced in the army camp.” He told me he was even sodomised by the soldiers.”
Qadir told Farooq that after masturbating the soldiers, they took him to a separate room with his hands still soiled with semen.
They then mocked at him: You are a dirty man.
“Later Major Bhim Singh came and told my father that now that his hands are dirty, so they have no use.”
Then they took him out and pounded his hands with gun butts. He never was able to use his hands again.
Four days after telling his son about the incident, Qadir died.
I asked Farooq it was a clear case of death due to physical and mental torture, why then didn’t they file a police complaint. The reply was what is standard in such cases in Kashmir to cover up torture, rape and other systematic methods of violence by state personnel. “The army and the police threatened us to not reveal anything about these incidents. We didn’t want to make them angry or they would have killed us all,” Farooq told me.
SSP Budgam, Fayaz Ahmed Lone, told me that there is no FIR filed in this case. “I have no knowledge of any such case,” Fayaz said.
The nightmare for Farooq, Bega Jan and other Rather family meanwhile has no end. “My father died a sad and bitter man,” Farooq told me towards the end of my conversation with him. He believed that one day justice will be done as he found solace in words that oppressed people often deploy to give themselves hope and strength against all odds. “Kashmir will be free one day. India will have to pay for its crimes.” Farooq is the only bread-earner of the Rather family. The family has spent heavily on Bashir’s treatment without any results. As Farooq told me Bashir’s wounds were too deep to be cured. “A mutilated soul has no cure,” Farooq said.
Meanwhile, Bashir in his signature police khakis regally swinging his baton continues to bring some order to the chaotic traffic at various places in the towns and city. That is until the next elections when he will be hired for a few cups of tea by political parties to play the street-side showman for attracting people to election rallies and keeping them entertained. But nobody knows buried in this man – the khan-e- moul, the darling son of his mother – is a frightening tale of torture and trauma.