In a new controversy surrounding the Kathua case, the Jammu and Kashmir police are facing allegations of torturing in custody Talib Hussain, the activist who led the protests demanding justice for the 8-year-old girl who was murdered after being allegedly raped early this year.

Hussain, a resident of Mansar in Jammu’s Udhampur district, was arrested from Tral in South Kashmir on July 31, a little over a month after his wife, Nusrat Begum, filed a complaint with the police in Samba accusing Hussain of trying to murder her and his brother, Mohammad Junaid, of molesting her.

On August 2, when Hussain’s associates met him at the Samba police station, he claimed to have been beaten up by police officials. Mubeen Farooqui, one of the prosecution lawyers in the Kathua case who met Hussain that day, said the kurta Hussain was wearing was torn. “He said he was handcuffed, hung from a hook and stripped naked,” Farooqui recalled. “Talib told us they had been torturing him continuously.”

Four days later, Farooqui alleged, the police beat up Hussain in the presence of his aunt, who had brought him lunch. Farooqui rejected the police’s claim that Hussain’s injuries were self-inflicted and derided the registration of a first information report booking him for attempting suicide in custody.

Director General of Police Shesh Paul Vaid has refuted the allegations of torture and claimed Hussain hit himself on the head “out of frustration”, sustaining “scratches”.

On August 8, Hussain’s cousin Mumtaz Ahmed Khan petitioned the Supreme Court to order the police to produce the activist before it and call for his medical records while he was in custody. The court has since directed the Jammu and Kashmir government to respond to the plea.

Wife’s complaint

According to Begum’s complaint, her marriage with Hussain ran into trouble within three to four months when he “started harassing and torturing” her. It only got worse when she gave birth to a girl and he started demanding a dowry of Rs 10 lakh, the complaint states. The couple were married in 2015 and have two daughters. “It is pertinent to mention that parents of the complainant have given sufficient dowry items as per their resources,” the complaint claims.

In her complaint, Begum alleges that on June 25, Hussain took her to an “isolated place” and tried to strangle her after she again refused to pay the dowry. He “tried to kill the complainant by strangulating” her, the complaint alleges, adding that she fell “unconscious and the accused fled from the spot leaving behind the complainant as dead [sic]”.

Begum also alleges that Junaid attempted to rape her in November 2016, after she moved back in with Hussain following the community elders’ intervention. Junaid, the complaint states, “started putting evil and lusty eyes upon the complainant and in the one midnight [sic] he forcibly enter [sic] in the personal room of the complainant which was without doors and stared molesting complainant.”

Curiously, the complaint describes Begum’s as a “pro-India” family forced to migrate to the Jammu province from the Kashmir Valley after being targeted for “serving the integrity of the country” while accusing Hussain of “working with anti-national Hurriyat Conference” and threatening his wife’s family with “dire consequences” at the hands of “jehadis”.

Hussain and his brother have been booked for attempting murder, voluntarily causing hurt, sexual harassment, preparing for causing death for theft, criminal intimidation, among other charges. Hussain has been booked under the Arms Act as well.

Wajid Khatana, state organiser of the All Tribal Coordination Committee, of which Hussain is the chairperson, said Hussain’s marriage was indeed strained but alleged that the charges against him are motivated. “He was unhappy with it,” Khatana said of Hussain’s marriage, adding that he could “never develop an understanding” with Begum.

The cases, though, are part of a strategy to build pressure on Hussain, Khatana said. “The [wife’s] family has come in the media and gone to the police after the [Kathua case],” he added.

Khatana said when he last met Hussain at the police station on August 2, the jailed activist told him he was “under pressure to not be a witness in the case”. While the prosecution said Hussain remains a witness, defence lawyers claimed he has been dropped.

Hussain, 32, was at the forefront of the agitation demanding justice for the murdered girl in January, initially calling for a Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry, and was detained for several days.

Talib Hussain, second right, with Deepika Singh Rajawat, the lawyer representing the Kathua victim's family. Photo credit: Reuters

‘Malafide intentions’

Farooqui alleged that the police are acting under “political pressure”. A day before Hussain’s arrest, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, responding to a petition filed by the Kashmir Bar Association president Mian Abdul Qayoom, had prevented any coercive action against Hussain until objections were filed.

Rendered unable by the High Court’s order to arrest Hussain on the basis of his wife’s complaint, Farooqui said, the police registered a new FIR, this time naming Hussain’s sister-in-law, Arjuman Begum, as the complainant. Farooqui pointed out that this FIR was filed at exactly the same time, 12.30 pm, as Hussain was arrested in Tral, around 230 km away. By “resorting to finding another name from the family to file a complaint” against Hussain, Farooqui said, the police made clear their intentions were “malafide”.

In her complaint, Arjuman Begum alleges that Hussain had attempted to rape her about a month and a half earlier. “[Hussain] thrashed me to the ground and try to rape and put his finger in my Vagina [sic],” the complaint states. “I make hue and cry and forcibly get myself free from his clutches, he threaten me by showing Tokka that if I tell about this to any one he will kill me. Due to fear I could not tell about this to any one.”

Farooqui rejected the complaint as baseless, pointing out that Hussain’s police guards – assigned to him after he was attacked in April, allegedly by supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party – have “given an affidavit saying he has not been there [in Udhampur] in the last two months”.

‘Witnesses harassed’

Hussain’s associates see the hand of AK Sawhney, a defence lawyer in the Kathua case, in Begum launching legal proceedings against Hussain. They allege that it is another attempt by the defence lawyers to put pressure on the witnesses.

Officials of the state police’s Crime Branch said other witnesses, particularly in Rasana, where the murdered girl was from, and its adjoining villages, have been repeatedly intimidated. An official who only spoke on the condition of anonymity said defence lawyers have been seeking advance notices on the witnesses to be produced in court. “They want to know who is appearing, so they can put pressure on them before they go to court,” he claimed.

The police officials said the defence lawyers have also been complaining about the “unusually high” number of witnesses listed in the case. They explained the number is high because the witnesses include not just villagers but doctors, investigators and forensic experts as well.