On the night of December 15, Abdul Rashid Dar was home, having dinner with his family, when his sister heard a knock on the door. Before the night was over, 33-year-old Dar, a resident of Kunan village in north Kashmir’s Kupwara district, had been picked up by the soldiers of the Army’s 41 Rashtriya Rifles unit, said family members.
“The Army told us they had to ask him some questions about an investigation,” said Shabir Ahmad Dar, Dar’s elder brother, who works as a Special Police Officer with the Jammu and Kashmir Police. “We fully cooperated with them and handed over our brother to them in front of the local sarpanch. I also informed the police about the Army’s raid and my brother’s detention.”
The village sarpanch, Khursheed Ahmad, confirmed to Scroll.in that he was present at the time of Dar’s detention. “It was around 8.15 pm when he was taken away by the Army,” Ahmad said. “I was present there. I told them we have handed over the person [Dar] to you. They [Army] asked us not to worry.”
When the family and village representatives went to the Army unit’s camp in Trehgam the next morning, they were told by Army personnel that Dar was still being questioned. Later in the day, the police informed Dar’s family that he had slipped away from the Army’s custody. “The local police were informed by the Army unit that my brother had escaped from their custody during a search operation,” said Shabir Dar.
But the family is not buying the Army’s version. “He is too meek to get into any kind of trouble,” said Khera Bano, Dar’s mother, breaking into sobs. “ I know him. He doesn’t have the courage to flee. He’s a simpleton.”
Nearly three weeks after he was picked up from his home, there is no trace of Dar. Police in Kupwara say they have filed a missing person report and are searching for leads. “So far, we are treating this as a missing complaint,” said a senior police official in Kupwara, speaking off the record. “As and when we find anything substantial, we will lodge a First Information Report.”
“There are only two possibilities,” said Shabir Dar. “Either, he’s still with them or they have committed some disaster.”
“Around 8 pm or 8.15 pm, there was a loud banging on the main door,” recalled Mehfooza, Dar’s elder sister, who was the first to realise that the Army was outside their home on December 15. “I peeped through the glass window and saw many soldiers in our compound.”
She ran inside and informed her elder brother, Shabir Dar, the policeman. “We were hosting a guest at our house who is also a soldier,” she added.
When Shabir Dar and the guest went outside, the Army personnel said they were looking for his younger brother, Abdul Rashid Dar. “The town commander of the Army unit told me they had to question my brother,” recalled Shabir Dar. “I said I would bring him out.”
Abdul Rashid Dar left his dinner mid-way and stepped out. “As soon as I brought him out, the soldiers held him,” Shabir Dar added. “I requested them to at least let him wash his hands but they didn’t let him go back inside.”
Mehfooza recalled that her brother was not wearing many warm clothes. “I brought him socks and a pair of trousers to wear,” she said. “They didn’t even let him go inside to put on extra clothes.”
Around the same time, another Army raid was going on at the other end of the village – at the home of Dar’s sister. “The Army was looking for him there as well,” recalled Shabir Dar.
As there were no police personnel accompanying the Army, Shabir Dar informed the local police station about his brother’s detention.
A senior police officer in Kupwara, familiar with the case, conceded that the Army had not alerted the local police about the raid in Kunan on December 15. “Police didn’t accompany the Army during the raid on Dar’s house,” the senior police officer said. “As part of the standard operating procedure, any security agency has to inform the local police about a raid or search operation within the police station’s jurisdiction and local police have to be present at these spots,” he added.
While he was being taken away, Dar’s family members said they told the Army personnel not to rough him up in custody. “He’s weak and has undergone two surgeries in his ear,” Khera Bano recalled telling the town commander. “He promised me. He said nobody will beat him.”
On the morning of December 16, the local Station House Officer, or SHO, of Trehgam police station had news for the family. “The Army told the SHO that Dar had escaped their custody during a search operation in Marhama forests in Kupwara,” said Shabir Dar. Marhama forests are nearly 20 km from Kunan village.
The family contacted the local Army unit again on December 18. “I got to meet the town commander and I asked him if they beat up my brother,” said Mehfooza, Dar’s sister. “He admitted that he did. He said they beat him up everywhere on his body except on his head.”
For years, the Jammu and Kashmir Police, besides its law-and-order duties, has been at the forefront of fighting militancy along with the Army and other security agencies in Kashmir. Despite being a policeman, Shabir Dar says he’s helpless in getting information about his brother. “We are just waiting and waiting,” he said.
Scroll.in sent a detailed questionnaire to the Army’s public relations officer in Srinagar on the allegations of torture and disappearance by the victim’s family.
On January 12, the army sent a response to the questions. According to the statement issued by the Public Relations Officer, Defence, Srinagar, Dar was picked up on the basis of a disclosure made by Abdul Rouf Malik, the commander of the militant group Hizbul Mujahideen, who had been detained by the Kupwara police. “He revealed names of five other accomplices, including Abdul Rashid Dar, son of Mohd Siddiq Dar, resident of Kunan, who were part of the same nexus and terrorist module. All five accomplices were apprehended by the Army and police in various operations, thereafter, in the next few days,” the statement said.
On the night of December 15, the army said it had launched a “joint operation” along with Jammu and Kashmir police to nab Dar from his residence. “The army established a cordon as per plan. However, the J&K police team did not reach on time. Since the village sarpanch was present during the search, and the brother of the individual, a Special Police Officer, was present in the house, the individual was picked up and police informed about the same,” the statement added.
The army said Dar confessed to his role in helping militants during his questioning and agreed to take army personnel to a location where weapons and ammunition were hidden. “However, while approaching the location around Laderwan Forest, [Dar] on the pretext of confirming the location, and taking advantage of the darkness, escaped. Since then, Abdul Rashid Dar is missing and as per technical intelligence of J&K Police, the last known location of the individual was in Baramulla,” the statement said.
The army also denied allegations that Dar was tortured in custody. “The claims of the family are baseless and motivated. The preliminary questioning was done in presence of the representatives of other intelligence agencies and police. The individual was neither tortured nor threatened,” the army said.
‘Took care of us’
The Dar family lives in Kunan village of north Kashmir’s Kupwara district. Kunan and its adjoining village Poshpora were the site of one of Kashmir’s most devastating tragedies. In February 1991, Army personnel allegedly committed mass rape in the two villages during a search operation. The Army denied the allegations and no one was punished.
Abdul Rashid Dar, the youngest of Khera Bano’s seven children, grew up in Kupwara, one of the most militarised districts in the Kashmir valley. Dar’s sister, Mehfooza, said one of her elder brothers had joined a militant group in the early 1990s. “He was killed in the 1990s, when we were children,” she said.
With his father unwell and bed-ridden for the last nine years, Abdul Rashid Dar has been looking after his parents and an unmarried sister. He drives a mini load-carrier truck to earn his living. In winters, he works as a Kashmiri shawl hawker in Punjab. “My other sons are married and they have their family responsibilities,” said Bano. “It was Rashid who would take care of us.”
Shabir Dar said his brother had never been in trouble with the law enforcement agencies. “He has no police record,” he said. “There’s not a single case against him. Even when there would be demonstrations in the past, he would never join.”
The senior police officer in Kupwara confirmed that Dar had no police record but said he had been questioned by police earlier. “His name had figured in a SIM card we seized from a module of five terrorist operatives we cracked recently,” he said.
On December 22, Jammu and Kashmir police announced that they arrested five “terrorist associates” of militant group Hizbul Mujahideen in a joint operation with security forces. “A huge cache of arms and ammunition have been recovered from their possession,” the police statement on the arrests said.
While that may explain why Dar was wanted by the Army for questioning, the questions about his disappearance are still unanswered.
Another enforced disappearance?
Dar’s disappearance from Army custody has revived the ghost of enforced disappearances in Jammu and Kashmir. According to rights group Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, 8,000-10,000 people in Jammu and Kashmir have been subjected to enforced disappearances between 1989 and 2006.
The United Nations defines enforced disappearance as “the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the state or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the state, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law”.
Since 2017, Dar is the third civilian picked up or detained by the Army to have gone missing.
On August 31, 2017, 20-year-old Manzoor Ahmad and his neighbour Nasrullah Khan from the remote Kakad Pati village of Kupwara district’s Lolab valley were detained by the Army’s 27 Rashtriya Rifles camp. While Khan was allegedly severely tortured in the camp and dumped outside his makeshift hut in his village on the same night, there has been no trace of Ahmad.
Nearly four months after New Delhi scrapped Article 370 of the Constitution and split Jammu and Kashmir into two Union territories, 24-year-old Naseer Ahmad Wani allegedly disappeared from the Army’s custody in south Kashmir’s Shopian district. He was picked up by the Army’s 44 Rashtriya Rifles unit during a midnight raid on November 29, 2019. While the Army claimed to the family that they had released him the next evening, Wani never returned home.
On December 2, 2019, on the directions of the Shopian deputy commissioner, the police filed a missing person report about Wani’s disappearance. While there is no trace of Wani, in September 2020 Shopian police said that Wani joined militancy in November 2019 – the month he was picked up by the Army from his home.
In May 2021, Wani’s was one of the three cases about which the United Nations had sought a reply from the Indian government about what it described as “repressive measures and broader patterns of systemic infringements of fundamental rights” of civilians in Jammu and Kashmir.
Update: This report was updated on January 12 to incorporate the Army’s version.