Human Rights

Fatal ‘trespass’ trailed by queries: The case of ‘mentally unsound’ Rayees of Kulgam

A fortnight after being killed for “trespassing”, a mentally-unsound person of Kashmir’s Kulgam continues to make his departure as a matter of mourning and skepticism for his family.

As the 28-year-old Rayees Ahmad Wani rests in his freshly-dug grave after becoming a victim of the Indian armed forces’ bullet, his friends, as old as 10, wait for him to join them in the snowball fight. While the clueless kids believe their “mentally unsound” friend will soon come running to them, his cousin, constantly staring at the 7-feet long grave, knows the dark reality: “If only Rayees was shot below the waist…”

Around 5:00 in the evening on Friday, November 2, Rayees left his home on a routine stroll in his village Begam, a small hamlet falling on the Kulgam-Shopian Highway, sheltering around 200 households.

That day, heavy rain and lightening had ensured that every villager stays home. “But, Rayees was out, alone, and nowhere to be found,” recalls his father, Abdul Hameed Wani.

The entire night passed by, ‘mentally unsound’ Rayees, who although was “sane enough to figure out the village roads” that would safely lead him home, did not turn up. He returned the next day morning, lifeless, on a stretcher, with bullet marks around his neck.

Rayees was shot dead by the Indian Army after he allegedly tried crossing the ring-fence of an army camp in Pahnoo, which is stationed around 22 kilometres from his home.

“Rayees had never ever stepped out of the village alone. How did he reach Pahnoo?” questions the father. 

The search for Rayees had intensified as the sun set and the village wore a dark look amidst heavy rainfall and thundering. Hours passed by, but no one knew where Rayees was.

Rayees’ brother-in-law Bilal Ahmad Dar, his cousin Mohammad Yaqoub Ganaie and a village teacher Shakeel Ahmad Mir searched every corner of the village, but the 28-year-old was nowhere; while Rayees’ four sisters made sure that their mother doesn’t break down and lose hope.

Helpless, the family then took to Facebook for help. One Meer Ess Shafee wrote: “…If anybody has any information about the person whose photograph is attached with the post, they may please contact (on the given number) or any person from Begam. Please. Note that the said person is mentally retarded…”

The post was widely shared, only to be responded the next morning with a picture comment of Rayees lying lifeless on the ground, with blood flowing out from the back of his head.

The news of Rayees’ whereabouts first came out at around 6:00 in the morning when the family got a call from Shopian Police Station.

“He was shot in the leg by the Army when he tried entering the camp. He is injured, please come and see him,” Wani says, recalling the phone conversation between him and the police officer. 

Wasting no time, the trio of Dar, Ganaie, and Mir quickly took the car to bring Rayees back home.

“While the phone call had relieved the family, his father still wore an uneasy look. Maybe, he had sensed what others did not want to believe – the reality,” remarks Rayees’ cousin brother Ganaie.

He continues, “in the car, all three of us chose to be silent. Just as we reached the police station, we got down and rushed in. What we saw broke our hearts – Rayees was lying on a stretcher as a white piece of cloth covered him entirely.” 

Rayees was no more.

“Still, I couldn’t believe it,” Ganaie exclaims. “I placed my hand on his chest to check his heart-beats, but no, he was dead.”

As Ganaie stared at the dead body, his eyes fell on Rayees’ pheran, which had the marks of blood that had oozed past the bullet-hit areas of his body. That’s when he noticed the dry clothes “that should have been wet as Rayees must have walked under heavy rainfall on his 20-km journey from the village to the army camp”.

He then opened the picture of Rayees’ dead body from the spot, which had been shared by the police. “If he was shot dead while trespassing, how did the Kangri fall perfectly still right next to his face? Why are there blood marks beneath his eyes and nose? Was he picked by the Army, tortured and then killed in the custody? Is his death a mere lie?” asks Ganaie.

Between Begam and Pahnoo, lies another army camp at a distance for 14 kilometers in Gagran area, which, Ganaie says, raises another question: “Why was he not stopped there if he was ‘suspicious’?”

As the questions continued, the family then decided to stage a protest at Batapora, placing the stretcher carrying the lifeless body of Rayees on the road. “The protest, however, was soon foiled by the armed forces as they assaulted six protestors and detained them. The police then took Rayees’ body back to the station and threatened not to give it until 12:00 midnight.”

“After an hour of pleading,” the police then handed over the dead body. A huge crowd gathered at Rayees’ funeral as he was laid to rest in village’s local graveyard.

Post the killing of Rayees, Police issued a statement, which read: “Despite repeated warnings from the sentry the individual didn’t stop. The sentry of the post fired in the air first but the said person didn’t stop. The sentry (then) fired towards him.”

The family, however, does not buy the official version.

Since the last fifteen years, as per a valley-based Human Rights defender group – Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society – 18 mentally unstable persons have been killed by the armed forces, but no investigation has ever taken place in any of the cases.

Not wishing any “compensation, sympathy or condolences”, Abdul Hameed Wani says: “Today it was my son, tomorrow it could be someone else’s. If only the police and the army are not lying, answer all our questions.”

Of all, there was one question that remained constant in the mind of every well-wisher: “If they (Army) wanted Rayees to stop from entering the camp area, why was he not shot in the leg?”

“But no, he was shot to be killed,” his father says.

 

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