Indian Army accused of assaulting eight-year-old with a brick in Kashmir’s Bandipora

Khadija Bano, a resident of Malapora village, holds a photograph of her 22-year-old son, Ishfaq Ahmad. He was among seven people detained from Malapora during a midnight raid, on 18 August, by the Indian Army and the Jammu and Kashmir Police, according to residents. Masrat Zahra
23 September, 2019

Around midnight on 18 August, the Indian Army and the Jammu and Kashmir Police detained seven people during a joint raid in Saderkoot Bala Malapora, a village in Bandipora district, according to residents. Among the seven were Mohammad Ramzan Ganei, a 40-year-old man and his 22-year-old son, Ishfaq Ahmad. The family said that the security forces in their house also assaulted Murtaza Bilal, an eight-year-old boy, who is Ganei’s grandson and Ahmed’s nephew. As one member of the forces lifted Bilal off the ground, a second member repeatedly hit him on his feet, while a third beat his head with a brick, the young boy recounted. “I had no idea why they were beating me,” Bilal said. Ganei was released ten days later, but Ishfaq still remains in custody.

Since 5 August, Kashmir has been in a state of lockdown after the Indian state read down Article 370 of the Constitution of India to abrogate Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, and downgraded it from a state to a union territory. Over seven million residents have been under a communications blackout and a military crackdown that has led to the arrests of at least four thousand people, according to news reports.

We visited Malapora on 14 September. Within minutes of asking a group of locals about the prevailing situation, we were surrounded by a crowd of men, women and children, each eager to talk about their experiences. It was evident that no journalist had visited the village since the Indian state’s clampdown began.

Amid the chaos, Ambreena Jan, a 12-year-old girl, held one of us by the hand and said, “I will take you to a house where an eight-year-old boy was beaten by forces.” Jan is Bilal’s friend and neighbour. The village comprises nearly a hundred houses, most of which are single-storey mud structures, while Bilal’s house was one of the few newly built two-storey buildings.

Ganei was crying when we entered the house—that morning, the family had learnt that after being held in custody at the Sumbal police station for 27 days, Ishfaq had been transferred to an undisclosed location. The house was crowded with over twenty people, even though the family comprised just ten, because men, women and children from the village had gathered at the house upon hearing the news of Ishfaq’s transfer. We sat in one of the central rooms on the ground floor as family members recounted the events of the night that Ishfaq and Ganei were detained. Most of the women were in a different room, consoling Ishfaq’s mother, who was also crying.

On the night of 18 August, the residents of Malapora woke up to the sound of security forces banging on their doors with sticks. Several people spoke of the fear they felt in that moment. “They started breaking the windowpanes and banging doors of people,” Misra Bano, a 32-year-old woman and Ganei’s neighbour, said. Over twenty security personnel entered the house and began asking for Ishfaq and Ganei, the family told us.

Bilal, a skinny, bold and outspoken boy, peeped down at us through a window on the first floor before he came to talk. He remembered the details of that day vividly. They locked several people in their rooms and then picked up Ganei first, Bilal said. “They held my grandfather by the collar and took him outside to their cars.”

According to one of the family members, who requested anonymity, the forces then picked Bilal out of a room on the ground floor, where he lay awake next to his grandmother, and dragged him upstairs. “They beat him mercilessly,” the family member said. Bilal recalled that he was lifted off the ground by one member of the security forces who was “shaking me up and down,” while another was beating his legs with a stick, and a third hit him on the head with a brick. Pointing to the right side of his head, he added, “When I started bleeding from here, my mother came and told them, ‘Leave him, don’t do anything to him.’” But he said they continued beating him. The family told us that the security personnel also kicked and thrashed Bilal’s mother with a stick when she tried to intervene.

Bilal recalled how the security forces then held his uncle, Ishfaq, by his wrists and ankles and took him outside to the car. The young boy took us to Ishfaq’s room and pointed towards the broken LCD television and the electric sockets, which he said the security personnel had pulled out. The family said that the troops provided no reasons for the ransacking or the detention. “They don’t give us reasons for arrests nowadays,” the family member who did not want to be identified told us.

Murtaza Bilal said that Indian security forces broke the LCD television and pulled out the electrical sockets in his house in Malapora, a village in Bandipora district. Masrat Zahra

Ishfaq’s family had been visiting him daily at the Sumbal police station, where his father and he were being held. With the communication blackout preventing any means of arranging for a vehicle, the family is forced to undertake the 13-kilometre journey to the police station by foot. On the morning of our visit, police officials had informed the family that Ishfaq was being transferred, but they gave no indication of where he was being taken.

“The police used to tell us that he has no case and that he will be released soon, but now they took him away from us,” Khadija Bano, Ishfaq’s mother, told us. When Ganei asked the police where his son was being shifted, they told him they would send the “PSA dossier of Ishfaq the next day,” referring to the draconian Public Safety Act, under which individuals can be held in preventive custody for two years without facing trial.

According to the residents of Malapora, the midnight crackdown was triggered by an incident that took place earlier that day, on 18 August. In Dedawan, a village situated a few kilometres from Malapora, Irshad Ahmad, a 14-year-old boy, was picked up Indian security forces during a game of cricket. Saleema Bano, Irshad’s mother, narrated the events of that morning. “My son was playing cricket when forces were patrolling the place,” she told us. She said that Irshad and his friends were shouting in excitement during the game, which led security personnel to chase them, under an apparent anticipation of stone pelting. “Others were successful in running away, but my son did not move because there was no stone pelting going on,” Saleema said.

Upon seeing this, Saleema immediately ran towards the security vehicle and began pleading with them not to take her son. She said the personnel then slapped her several times and then pushed her into the wet paddy field nearby, before leaving with Irshad. “He abused me as well,” Saleema said. “He was using obscene words when I requested him to leave my son.”

Saleema Bano said that her 14-year-old son, Irshad Ahmad, was picked up Indian security personnel because he and his friends were shouting while playing a game of cricket. He was released five days later. Masrat Zahra

She then ran till Malapora in wet and muddied clothes, Saleema told us, where she stopped near a group of security personnel. She said she began pleading with them for the release of her son, following which they threw a tear-gas shell at her. The shell did not explode, but Saleema fainted at that moment.

At the sight of a woman lying on the road, Malapora locals feared that Saleema had died, which led residents to gather around the area. A large number of residents, including several women, mobilised at the spot and began shouting in anger and rushed towards the security forces. According to the locals, this act of dissidence led to the detentions in Malapora. Irshad was released five days later.

Following the mobilisation in Malapora, the situation in the area became very tense as security forces amped up the patrolling, residents told us. A few women approached us and said that the sense of fear was so extreme that they had used buckets to relieve themselves instead of walking to the toilets that are situated outside their homes.

Their fears were confirmed that night, according to the residents’ accounts of the crackdown by the security personnel. Bano, Ishfaq and Ganei’s neighbour, told us that she was in her house with her two younger daughters when the security forces banged on their main gate and broke all the windowpanes of her house. “It was the worst day for us,” Bano said.

Ambreena Jan, Bilal’s 12-year-old friend and neighbour, recalled the security personnel’s indiscriminate use of tear-gas shells that night. “I was sitting inside when the army came,” she said. Jan recounted that the security forces tried to break the windows with their batons, but were unable to due to the mesh. She added that they then used razor blades to cut through the mesh and then broke the windows of the houses. “I told them, ‘Don’t break [anything], don’t do anything to us.’ Then they threw tear gas. They threw tear gas inside and I started suffocating. My mouth began bleeding a lot. I quickly went to the bathroom and washed my face. My eyes were burning.”

According to Malapora residents, almost a dozen children vomited because of the tear-gas smoke. Amid the crowd of residents who initially swarmed around us at Malapora, a 28-year-old woman, who spoke to us on the condition of anonymity, said her two-month-old daughter had vomited due to the tear-gas smoke. The woman added that she had wrapped her infant’s mouth and hugged her to prevent her from inhaling the smoke, but her daughter has been unwell since then. With visible anger and frustration, she told us that she had not been able to take her daughter to a hospital because of the clampdown. “I cannot even take her to the hospital, which is 14 kilometres ahead of our area. There is no transport and hardly anyone in this area has a vehicle. This is like hell.”

The Indian Army and the Jammu and Kashmir Police did not respond to emails seeking their comments on the story. The story will be updated if and when they respond.