Hajra Bano sat next to her 19-year-old son, Feroz Ahmad Ganai, and stared helplessly as a room full of reporters and neighbours waited for him to speak. On the afternoon of 22 September, they had all gathered at the Ganai’s house in Chandgam, a village in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district. According to the family, the Indian Army had tortured and harassed Feroz in the previous week. As he struggled to recount the ordeal, his 50-year-old mother spoke in his stead. On 18 September, Bano said, members of the Rashtriya Rifles, the army’s counter-insurgency wing, tortured her son at the Tahab army camp a few kilometres away from the village. “They tied him to a chair and inserted needles into his lips multiple times,” she said. As his mother spoke, Feroz stared at the ground in silence, his upper lip visibly swollen and discoloured, and his eyes sunken and lifeless.
Bano’s 22-year-old daughter, who requested not to be identified, recounted that on 14 September, she was sitting in their courtyard and making rotis when army personnel patrolling the streets began shouting from their main gate, asking the family to come outside. When her elder brother, Irfan Ahmad Ganai, went to the gate, the armed forces assaulted him, she said. Bano added, “They tore his shirt and pulled his chest hair,” and sobbed as she spoke. The 22-year-old woman told us that she immediately went to the gate to try and protect her brother, but “they shouted at me and ordered me to go inside.” She continued, “They then entered the house and asked my brother for his identity card and his phone.” The army seized Feroz’s phone and identity documents, and “told him to visit the camp the next day to get the identity card,” the 22-year-old added.
Feroz was reluctant to talk, but as the reporters kept prodding him with questions, he nodded along and told them specific details of the incident. His expressions and body language suggested that he was still dealing with the trauma of the incident. “My identity card was with them so they kept making me visit continuously,” he said. According to Feroz, he was one of eight men from the village who were called to the camp to retrieve their identity cards. “We used to go at 10 am and stay till the evening.” Feroz said he was tortured on the last day he went to the camp, on 18 September. “They tied me to a chair and beat me up,” he said. “A needle was inserted into my lip.” His father, who was also seated next to him, told us that he was asked to pick up his son from the camp. “When I brought him from the army camp, he was like a living corpse,” his father recalled.
According to Chandgam’s residents, the army’s actions were in response to a grenade attack at the Tahab camp on 11 September. Nobody seemed to know—or were willing to reveal—any details about the incident, but the suspected militants had reportedly escaped after the attack. Since then, the residents said, security officials had been randomly asking young men for their identity documents, and ordering them to visit the camp. They said that almost a dozen individuals, including minors, had been severely beaten, and several women from the village recounted accounts of harassment and intimidation. “We spend all day in fear and hysteria,” the 22-year-old woman said. “When the army patrols, we are not able to sleep.”
Yawar Ahmad, a 15-year-old resident of Tahab village, was said to be among those subjected to the army offensive. According to his family, Ahmad took his own life after he was tortured by the army. His sister, who requested anonymity, said that Ahmad had confided to her the night of 16 September that the army had “beaten and tortured” him earlier that day, and as in Ganai’s case, asked him to return the following day to retrieve his documents. The next day, Ahmad did not speak to anyone in his house the whole day. That night, when he started vomiting and his health began to deteriorate, his sister alarmed the family to the possibility that he may have consumed poison. Two days later, Ahmad died in Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh hospital. According to media reports, the army claimed the allegations were “completely baseless,” and that “the boy was not detained or tortured in any manner.”