July 06, 2012

Dispatches: Kashmir’s Torture Trail

Filming in Kashmir meant keeping rushes safe, dodging stones – and persuading the locals that daily life was worth showing, says Catie White.


Kashmir’s Torture Trail

Production company True Vision
TX 5 July, 10pm, Channel 4
Commissioner Siobhan Sinnerton
Camera/director/editor Jezza Neumann
Producer Catie White
Executive producer Brian Woods
Post Paddy Garrick, True Vision in-house

Summary Dispatches investigation following a Kashmiri lawyer in the most militarised place on earth, as he uncovers India’s best-kept secret.
Catie White

There was no amount of explaining to our local AP – who had a day job for a busy lawyer’s practice and was doing us a favour by stepping into the breach in a hostile region where having someone who can spot the difference between a street vendor and a government spy meant keeping hold of our rushes – what we meant by future tense. Or character development.

“Let us know when [Ms X’s] story moves on,” we tried, as he kept an eye out for the competing intelligence agencies that follow foreigners filming in the Kashmir Valley. “Tell us when something happens to [Y]. Alert us when a significant event in [the carpenter’s] life is about to unfold.”

A funeral. A memorial. A homecoming. These were simple things that could help us achieve an intimate and fluid life – and death – story in this Indian state divided between Pakistan and China. It’s one of the longest-running emergencies in the world, for so long off our screens, especially when the Arab Spring drew away the last Western reporters, despite hundreds of thousands of local youths coming out onto the streets, throwing stones at the heavily armed Indian security forces. The troops returned fire with live rounds.

We arrived in Srinagar, the summer capital of Kashmir, in spring 2011, determined to seek out articulate teenage demonstrators to follow, through whom we would learn about these mega—protests that terrified the Indian government. However, the Indian security forces were also filming the stone-throwing boys; police snatch squads were seizing them in nightly round-ups that made them fear all cameras. On the other side, the police and paramilitaries, who had already killed 118 protestors, some of them children, had taken to beating journalists to stop them recording the unrest.
As we wrestled with the unwilling on both sides of the barricades, another potentially unfilmable development crashed over us: a state-wide government crackdown, with roadblocks and curfews that put several of the towns in which we had started making headway off-limits.

Mass arrests followed, with tens of thousands seized. Which brings us back to character development: how could we shoot what could not be easily seen among people who could not afford to speak out, using the local team of irregulars who struggled with our methods?

This has nothing to do with brains. Our local ad hoc AP could speak four languages. However, in a conflict zone where a pro-independence insurgency has cost upwards of 70,000 lives and at least 8,000 civilians have vanished while in custody – far more than in Pinochet’s Chile – all of the events we exhorted our fixer to help us chart seemed to him too mundane for TV.
A family silently assaying their dead son’s school certificates. The tearful joy when a sister hugged a wounded brother unexpectedly released from jail. We captured moments such as these despite the crackdown, and uncovered a shocking story about how India had restored peace in the Valley. But all of it came to us through people forgetting we were there.

It took time. We filmed on and off over a year. We spent days drinking saffron tea, munching almond biscuits and waiting for lives to coagulate. And in a punch-drunk state like Kashmir, when you are in the right place and the talking begins, it’s unstoppable.

A youthful insurgent went into a trance describing the inside of an Indian torture chamber, where Urdu graffiti welcomed him to hell. A veiled schoolgirl revealed, for the first time, how she had been plucked from class in her uniform, tortured and raped. A father sat before passport photos of his two dead sons, telling how he would never stop fighting to convict the security forces who shot one and then, when he protested, drowned the second in the Jhelum River.

It was when we strove to cover a story that things stalled, like the time we drove for 18 hours to reach a border village where residents were said to be captives of the security forces. A checkpoint stopped us and a young captain turned us around, mumbling into our AP’s ear in Urdu: “If the foreigners talk to anyone here, you will get it.” This the AP fully understood, and dismissed. A lifetime of threats had made him immune.
My tricks of the trade

Spend time constructing a non-partisan local team to fix, translate and guide.
If appropriate, seek out the authorities monitoring you before they act. It defuses tension.
Assume that every time you are on the road, someone is rifling through whatever you have left behind in your hotel room.
Take digital security seriously, protecting and disguising your rushes, encrypting your emails,
and talking on the phone in the expectation that everything you say is being overheard.
Pack a cafetière and good coffee.

Secret filming

Brian Woods
Executive producer

Funding a film like this is always a challenge. Channel 4 came on board early and we hoped that would enable us to attract the co-pro money we would need to make this film possible.

Sadly, we were unable to persuade our previous co-funders in the US or Germany that Kashmir was important enough to warrant this kind of investment. But we felt passionately that the tale of how torture is being used in Kashmir had to be told, so with the help of a modest, but much appreciated, advance against international sales from DRG, True Vision invested the rest of the shortfall and Jezza Neumann (pictured) and the team set off.

The film had to be HD-compliant, but also needed to be filmed as discreetly as possible. C4 made a special exception for Jezza to shoot HDV rather than full HD so that we could opt for a combination of Sony HVR-Z5 outputting the footage to a tape and card, and an HVR-A1 when even more discretion was needed. The HVR-A1 is ideal as once you’ve taken off the XLR and dispersed your equipment in bags or about your person, it doesn’t look at all suspicious. The only downside is that it records to tape, so you have to make sure you offload your footage as soon as possible.
The HVR-Z5, on the other hand, is perfect because, unlike tapeless cameras, you can put tourist footage on the tape and your real stuff on the cards; if you’re searched, you can hand over the tape and keep the card. Then back in the rooms, everything gets transferred to drives and put on hidden partitions, so it will take a seriously techy geek to find it. All our drives were then duplicated, with one set stored in a safe house.

One essential was protection when filming stone-pelting scenes. The team wore bump caps often used on building sites and Jezza had a motorcycle back protector.

Watch the Pre Trailer

October 25, 2011

32 bullets, he took 'em all, to shield others from unrelenting guns

(Baba Umar)

It was the morning of January 21, 1990. The sun came up without much sparkle but it shone on young Rauf’s face for the last time. For, by noon, he was lying on the ground in his favourite blue jacket and green shoes, his body pierced by a hail of troopers’ bullets.

And, two decades later, his family and those who saw him getting killed along with 52 other peaceful protesters in Kashmir’s first massacre since the armed rebellion broke out in 1989 against the Indian rule, try to look back on the event that gave birth to a generation of angry youngmen, a violent uprising and a separatist sentiment never seen before in Kashmir.

On that fateful morning, Abdur Rauf Wani (24) and his father G A Wani, a government employee, watched from the window a huge but peaceful procession passing through Maharaja Bazar, triggered by the news of molestation of women in the old city, strict curfews and restrictions.

It was also just a day after New Delhi appointed Jagmohan as J-K Governor in a bid to control mass protests by Kashmiris.

In the street below, men in thousands raised their fists, with slogans ‘Hum Kya Chahte... Azadi’ (We Want Freedom) renting the air. Nothing unusual, as people had grown used to these reminders. But Rauf, unable to contain the surge of emotions within, turned to his father and what followed was a little "more unusual".

“Bauji, this’ll be now begairti (disgrace), should we not join now,” Zulehama Banday, Rauf’s older sister recalls his brother’s conversation with dad.
The senior Wani looked back, waited for a moment and then nodded his head. “Should I go,” Rauf again insisted. “Yes,” his father replied.
Zulehama says it was the first time that the family had okayed Rouf's request to join the peaceful protests. Rauf was soon away, smashing a flower vase in hurry. He stumbled but got up immediately. He performed ablutions, fixed the shoe laces, adjusted his jeans and slid both arms in the blue jacket that he had slung on his right shoulder till then.

Onto the road. “A neighbour tried to stop him but he wouldn’t,” recalls Zulehama, who by now had joined her father at the window to see Rauf disappear in a swarm of youngmen.
The long strip of rally that begun from Jawahar Nagar and Ikhrajpora, Rajbagh to reach Budshah Chowk. Earlier proposed to stopover outside UNO at Sonawar, people in the front decided to drum up more support from inner city. The crowd swerved towards Maisuma that would lead demonstrators to inner city till it reached Gaw Kadal Bridge over the Jhelum.
When the front-liners of crowd were halfway across the Gaw Kadal, the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) opened fire with automatic machine guns from three directions. In the next few minutes, the bridge with littered with corpses and blood. The first day of Governor Jagmohan’s rule would pass in the bloodshed.

Muhammad Altaf Qureshi (50) remembers how the march was stopped with automatic machine guns and how a fearless youngman braved bullets from an unremitting gun nozzle.
“Without any provocation and warning, they fired on us,” he recalls. Qureshi, who was in the third row, says the sounds of unrelenting gunfire triggered a stampede on the wooden bridge. The charge pushed him on the deck and soon blood-stained bodies were dotting the spot. Whosoever tried to stand on his legs would be fired upon.
In this melee of bullets and screams, Qureshi noticed a youngman getting up, pushing aside with his hands both the dead and alive. “A trooper was showering bullets from a short distance and this youngman shielded people by blocking troopers’ view,” Qureshi recalls. “He took all the bullets on his chest.”

The youngster was none other than Rauf. Troopers with faces masked had emptied their carbines by puncturing Rauf’s abdomen and chest. The act of bravery saved scores from getting killed. Rauf finally collapsed, his face upwards; blood painting his blue jacket and green shoes with red.
Qureshi watched silently. He was motionless. The crowd had dispersed. ‘Mayhem’, ‘Massacre’, ‘God’ were the cries he heard from the receding crowd. On the bridge, troops were leaping on the corpses, kicking survivors and finishing them off. Qureshi pretended dead, hiding his face under someone’s blood-splattered torso.
“I preferred to lie with the bodies, knowing for sure I will be shot if I stirred. I closed my eyes and remembered Allah and recited Kalima without letting a sound come out,” he recalls.

Then the image of his three-month-old daughter flashed in his mind. He soon heard policemen speak in Kashmiri, shouting loud if someone was alive.
“For a while I pretended dead,” he says.
As if mere sack of flesh, blood and bones, the scene had deadened his body. He was picked up by a cop of J&K Police who inquired if he was alright. He saw policemen heave the bodies into a truck, over a tarpaulin and disappear from the spot.
“I was taken to a nearby fire station, from where I called up my home. They were waiting for my corpse after a friend and survivor told them about the massacre,” recalls Qureshi.
The news travelled to home faster than the body of Rauf. Zulehama, the other siblings and father panicked. Rauf had wished martyrdom when a funeral procession passed by the family’s house months back. Zulehama watched their elder brother Parvez Wani readying for Police Control Room (PCR), Batamaloo, where the injured and dead were taken.
At PCR gate Parvez struggled hard to enter the premises, as relatives of victims had already started to pour in. Back home, Rauf’s father was restless. He had allowed his son join the peaceful march. A sense of guilt had overtaken him. Others in the family were crying and consoling each other, assuming Rauf might have swum the river below the wooden bridge. Or he must have stayed at someone’s house.

“We were not sure, however,” Zulehama says.
Read More Here:

May 29, 2011

Shopian Cover Up.

Excerpts from a report by The Independent Women’s Initiative for Justice

In the afternoon of 29 May, 2009, two young women left home for their orchard. Neelofar and Asiya were sisters-in-law. Neelofar had married Asiya’s brother Shakeel, and had an infant son. Asiya a schoolgoing teenager aspired to become an engineer. In the evening Shakeel learnt that Neelofar and Asiya had not returned home. These are trying times in Kashmir, and there is much cause for concern when people do not return home before dark. Shakeel began his search with friends and family. As night set in, Shakeel sought the help of the police and together they scoured the countryside.

The way to the orchard is crowded with the security forces - the District Police Lines, an army outpost and a CRPF camp, with night lights. The Rambi Ara Nallah that runs through is clearly visible to the lookouts in the CRPF camp, under the glare of the search lights. Before the Justice Jan Commission, the night guards, stated they had seen the search party, but conveniently noticed nothing for the rest of the night, and had no explanation for the mysterious appearance of the bodies.

The police called off the search at 2.30 a.m. promising to restart at the crack of dawn. Around 5.30 a.m. Shakeel resumed the search. An hour later the local police joined and almost immediately the SHO Shafeeq Ahmed pointed out the spot where Neelofar’s body was found. Neelofar’s body was found at a shallow spot which is located about 100 mtrs upstream from Zavora bridge over the Rambi Ara Nallah.

It was observed by Justice Jan in the First Spot Inspection that the depth of the stream around the spot would be 2 -2.5 feet, with reasonably fast flowing water, but certainly not strong current to drown an adult girl. It is pertinent to note that this exact spot had been thoroughly searched by the family and police till 2:30a.m.

Asiya’s body was found further downstream, 1.5 km from the army camp. The exact spot is 1.5 km down stream from Zavora bridge. The dead body was found at an elevated dry spot in the stream. Those who helped retrieve the bodies of the two women saw enough to suspect that this was a case of rape and murder. The photographs taken of the bodies as they were recovered from the Nallah showed visible signs of injuries and wounds. When the bodies reached the hospital, there were two post-mortems performed on them to determine the cause of death and any antecedent injuries. It was put out by the police that the deaths were caused by drowning although the first post mortem report itself had negated drowning as the cause of death of the two women.

Whenever a crime occurs, what leads the investigator to the accused are a series of material, forensic, scientific, medical, circumstantial and ocular evidence. The diligent collection and professional analysis of these pieces of evidence enable the whodunit to be solved. Similarly the mystery surrounding the killing of 2 young women in Shopian could have been unraveled by piecing together the clues.

However at every stage those responsible for unmasking the culprit/s, have systematically and deliberately destroyed, tampered, diluted, the evidence and thus misdirected and obfuscated the investigation. The truth of this damning statement is borne out by the facts enumerated below:
  • The spots from where the bodies of Neelofar and Asiya • were recovered were not preserved or cordoned off by SHO Shafeeq Ahmed and SI Gazi Abdul Kareem and no instructions to that effect were given by the S.P. Javed Mattoo. Evidence relating to vehicle tyre marks, footprints was not gathered, these could have provided a vital trail leading to the accused. No instructions were given by the S.P or SHO to photograph the bodies. No detailed or accurate site plan of the spot was prepared. For instance the motorable approach road into the Rambi Ara Nallah is conveniently not marked. Again relevant details such as the depth, width of the stream and the speed of the current were left out.
  • Neither the S.P. Javed Mattoo nor the Dy. S.P. went to the spot to supervise the investigation.The S.P.,Dy S.P. and SHO • all three admitted before the Jan Commission that contrary to the settled position of law they did not issue instructions for registration of the F.I.R
  • Clothes of the deceased women were not seized nor was any material collected from the spot where the bodies were found. The S.P also admitted that the visible injury of a large size on the head of Asiya was not measured.
The town rose as one to challenge what they saw as an attempt to cover up a crime. Shopian shut down for 48 days. The government had to set up a Commission of Inquiry, an SIT and the High Court had to interest itself in the matter before the town resumed a semblance of the everyday. Majlis-e-Mashawarat, comprising of the elders of Shopian led the demand for justice to the victims, their families and for the assurance of safety to all women of Shopian. The valley joined the call for justice.

6 months later, the CBI reportedly claims that what happened that night was a case of drowning. No one is to blame.

The drowning theory that the CBI is floating does not hold water, for the following reasons:

Neelofar’s body was found in the very place where the police and family had looked for them the last thing the previous night. That is, it was not there at 2.30 a.m., but was found at about 6 o’clock. And no one admitting to having seen it happen despite the high security in the area. Where were the women till then? In hiding? Why? Guard Commander B.B. Kumar and Pradeep Kumar admitted before the Justice Jan Commission that they had instructions to report any suspicious movement in the Nallah during the intervening night of 29-30th May, 2009, but had noticed no suspicious movement of vehicles in the nallah from 2:00a.m. – 4:00a.m. There has been no report or “leak” of the CBI, further questioning these 2 night guards.

  • The only test performed on both the bodies was the lung flotation test, performed by Dr. Bilal during the first postmortem on 30th May, 2009, which negated the possibility of death by drowning. When IWIJ met the CB-CID, at their insistence, a post-mortem report was flaunted before us, which did not bear the endorsement that drowning had been conclusively ruled out. Why did the police and Shopian administration announce drowning as the cause of death despite medical evidence to the contrary? Why were senior officers trying to convince us of drowning even after three months through an uncertified post mortem report? The drowning theory however continues to resurface and the CBI leaks are once again trying to resuscitate it.
  • All the officers of the department advanced the theory of death by drowning with full knowledge and belief that no one in the recent or past history of Shopian has died due to drowning in River Rambi Ara.

  • The Shopian Bar Association had during the course of it’s independent fact finding found 2 public witnesses viz. Abdul Rashid and Ghulam Mohi-ud- Din. On 29th May, 2009 around 7:30 -8:00 p.m., these 2 men just after crossing the Zavora bridge on Rambi Ara Nallah, saw a blue colour 407 police truck with khaki tarpal on the left side of the road, in which 2 girls were shouting ‘Mouji Mouji’. The eight uniformed men guarding the front and rear of the truck abused, threatened and forced these two witnesses to flee from the spot.
  • All witnesses who may testify to a cause of death other than drowning have been systematically compromised. Significantly witnesses who did not support the drowning theory have reportedly under sustained interrogation from the CBI changed their stance.
As for accidental drowning, of two women, in such shallows, in a nallah where no one in recent or living memory has ever drowned – we would need to be more than merely credulous to believe that possible! While available evidence has been manipulated and distorted, crucial material, circumstantial,ocular and forensic evidence was deliberately never collected and allowed to be destroyed, lest the tell tale signs point an accusing finger.