September 25, 2010

"I could hear my sisters' cries from the other room"

On the night of December 30 1994, soldiers from the Rashtriya Rifles unit of the Indian army entered a house in Wurwun village, district Pulwama, seventeen kilometers south of Srinagar, assaulted several family members and sexually assaulted and attempted to rape three women. Rahti Akhtar, forty-five, testified that she first heard dogs barking at 11:30 pm When she looked outside, she saw about eight soldiers enter the courtyard and encircle the house. A few approached the door and knocked. The soldiers asked her to give them some food, and she said that she would send it to the camp. She recognized some of the soldiers as ones she had seen in the area. Fahmeela Akhtar, fifteen, told Human Rights Watch/Asia that at 11:30pm, she was awakened by her mother telling her that the army had come. Her mother then tried to call out to their neighbors, but the soldiers yelled at her to keep quiet.

Then Fahmeela's sister, Mubera Akhtar, seventeen, opened the front door of the house. Three army soldiers entered and stood at the door. One said , "Keep quiet, " then bolted the door from the inside. The soldiers were all in uniforms bearing the Rashtriya Rifles insignia, and they were wearing white boots. All three were drunk. Mubera said to one of the soldiers, "If you want to search, please let us go outside, and you search for what you want." The soldier told her to keep quiet and then at gunpoint forced the men into one room and the five women and three children into another and closed the doors. One soldier remained inside the room with the men. Two soldiers were inside the room with the women.

Nazir, twenty-two, and Mohammad, twenty-four, heard their mother's cries and came downstairs. When the soldiers said that they wanted to search, Nazir asked them if the family could wait outside. He told Human Rights Watch/Asia:

The soldiers refused and forced us at gunpoint into one room. One of them hit me with the butt of his gun. They were carrying Kalashnikov rifles. They smelled of alcohol.One soldier stayed outside the room; the door was not bolted. I could hear my sisters' cries from the other room.

Fahmeela told Human Rights Watch/Asia:

First the soldiers forced Mubera and Amira to the floor and lay on top of them and molested them. One soldier pulled off the top portion of my clothes. I opened the door and tried to run, but the soldier caught me and pulled me back and started to molest me. I was screaming.

Nazir and Mohammad managed to escape from their room. Nazir told Human Rights Watch/Asia:

I climbed out the window and went to the front door, where I saw three soldiers standing. I could not enter the house, but I managed to get into the corridor. Mohammad came into the corridor at the same time. Then the soldiers grabbed us and took us outside. I got hold of a congri and threw it at one of the soldiers and slipped away.

The soldiers had bolted the front doors of the two neighbors' houses, but when the residents went to the second floors of their houses and screamed, other residents of the village came and unbolted the doors and the soldiers ran out of the Akhtar house. The crowd pursued them. As they ran, the soldiers fired their guns in the air. The neighbors followed the soldiers to the entrance of the camp. The soldiers had been in the house for about fifteen minutes.

The next day, when the residents noticed that a soldier’s cap was scorched, they yelled, “He is one of them!" The soldier claimed that he burned his cap while ironing it.

On the following day, December 31, residents of the village gathered to protest the incident, and soldiers from the army camp attempted to disperse them. The next day, the commanding army officer came with some of the soldiers to the village along with a local officer. Rahti told Human Rights Watch/Asia:

The commanding officer told us not to tell anyone what had happened. He said that in exchange, the army would not search houses in the area or conduct a crackdown in the area or arrest any young men. He said, “We are already involved in two cases of this kind. Please don’t involve us in a third case.”

Despite this, the residents lodged a formal complaint with the local police. Afterwards, soldiers from the camp came around warning people not to talk about the incident.

As Human Rights Watch/Asia was conducting these interviews, we observed fifteen to twenty soldiers walking rapidly down the road with three young men from the village in their custody: Nazir Ahmed Dar, twenty-six; Khurshid Ahmed Malik, twenty-six; and Javeed Ahmed Rathore, twenty-four. The three were among the leaders of the gathering in the village the day after the attempted rape. As this report went to print, Human Rights Watch/Asia was unable to determine whether the men were detained for any length of time or released.

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