A young fearless girl, confident enough to have her way, was ready to take on the world but then chose domestic bliss. Years later she was again ready to take on the world when her husband was killed in custody like so many other men in Kashmir.
The girl, Masooda Parveen, now a lean middle aged bespectacled woman, ready to lead by example, has been fighting for last ten years to bring the killers of her husband to justice. A man killed over business rivalry but labeled a militant. Her husband Ghulam Mohi-ud-din Regoo, an advocate and saffron dealer, who she says, wouldn’t have hurt a fly or even the one who had harmed him.
Regoo was picked up on the wintry night of Ferbuary 1, 1998 by army and Ikwanis (renegade militants turned counterinsurgents) from his home in Chandhara village near Pampore in Pulwama district of Kashmir.
Masooda says she recognized some of the Ikhwanis who barged into their house that night even with their masks on. Regoo was first tortured in a room of his own house and then taken away.
Masooda ran after them barefoot in the dark of night. Her husband called out her name, which unknown to her would be the last she would hear from him. Next day she confronted police officials to seek her husband’s release. Two days later Regoo was sent home a parcel of a torn body.
“He was so tall, but when his shrouded body reached us, it was half the size,” says Masooda. Relatives didn’t let her uncover the body.
“People said that his face was unrecognizable. They had even cut his face. It is not his death but the way he was killed that pains me most. In Kashmir so many people got killed, so many good people, so many were much younger than him but he died a horrifying death. It is something I can’t and am unable to forget.”
Masooda’s misfortunes had begun much earlier, when Regoo’s business associates cheated him. Masooda says that the greed of his one-time business associates led to his death.
The story begins somewhere in early 90’s when Regoo was a saffron trader. He is allegedly cheated by his business associates, plunging him into deep debts. He trades his family land for debts and migrates to north Kashmir’s Kupwara district. But, Masooda says his associates were not content. They were greedy and wanted more money. So they traced Regoo in Kupwara and used militants to coerce him.
“I confronted militants too and told them that we have settled the debts. What more do they want,” says Masooda adding that they were convinced and could see through their (business associates) tricks. Some months later Regoo, on his mother’s insistence, returned home.
Now, his enemies started bringing in counterinsurgents, the Ikhwanis who by now were most dreaded in Kashmir. “They (the associates) fed lies of militant links about us. Regoo was picked a few times, even by army and left after questioning.
But that fateful night, when that greed culminated in Regoo’s death, Masooda began an unending fight for justice. It was a fight against all odds. It still is.
She named the suspects. She cried for justice. Fought for it at the cost of harassment and inconvenience to her family. Her in-laws asked her to give up her fight or leave the house. They couldn’t bear further harassment by police and counterinsurgents. Masooda left the house, and raised her two sons in rented apartments changed from time to time - sometimes for avoiding harassment, sometimes for revised rents.
Her job as a teacher fetches her less than 5000 per month, but that doesn’t make her make compromises in her children’ education. Her elder son is doing post graduation in Agriculture while the younger one is graduate student of Forestry.
Masooda was the first person to take her fight to Supreme Court of India. Seeing a pile of unresolved cases in Srinagar courts Masooda thought it wise to take her plea to apex court.
“I met some lawyers in Delhi. They were very helpful and I filed a case in the Supreme Court of India”. The case was rejected twice but the next time it was admitted.
After years of fighting, the apex court admitted a “shady” file submitted by army, which declared that Regoo was a militant and was killed, when he stepped on a landmine at a militant hideout, where he was taken on his tip soon after his arrest.
According to civil rights activists the army and police version had many loopholes, but the apex court chose to admit it as the fact and dismissed Masooda’s plea.
It was by no means an easy struggle, not by any means. “When I had a hearing in Supreme court or I had to meet my lawyer in Delhi, I would board a bus to Jammu, take a train to Delhi there, attend the hearing, and return, often without any food and sleep,”
In her fight Masooda has taken less favours and more cudgels. The local legislator who promised help soon after Regoo’s death backtracked. “I went to him as he had promised help, but I saw the kin of murderers coming out of his room,” says Masooda. “His tone had changed, and I told him on face.”
The legislator was also the chairman of the school Masooda worked in. “He tried to make things difficult for me, but I didn’t succumb.”
The case, which ended in the Supreme Court last year, has not ended her resolve to set an example for women in situations like her. Masooda says she knows the pain of losing a husband in such circumstances and the consequences there of.
“It doesn’t end there (with the death). My children are unable to get a Passport. My younger son, an excellent student and a gold medalist got admission in a prestigious London university last year. He couldn’t go as he was denied a passport. We left no stone unturned but the reason they gave was that his father was a militant (even if he was no more)” says Masooda Parveen who has admittedly kept her children out of her fight for justice.
Masooda Parveen is one of thousands of Kashmiri’s who have tried in vain to get justice from the judicial system. Though Masooda tried her luck in the Supreme Court, thousands others whose kin have been killed or disappeared in custody have been striving for justice in High Court of Jammu and Kashmir.
A report published by South Asian Forum For Human Rights (SAFHR), released recently has said that judiciary has failed to protect “Right to Life” in Kashmir citing cases of Habeas Corpus cases in Kashmir
About Masooda’s case, in which the Supreme Court chose to admit the army version and dismissed Masooda’s petition for lack of evidence, The SAFHR says that the court has ignored so self evident a truth as that in cases of custodial killing the possibility of corroborative evidence is virtually non-existent.
The Court also has “ignored the fact that Regoo died in military custody and that it is a settled position that the custodial authority is responsible for ensuring the safety of the person in custody, and becomes liable if it fails to discharge the responsibility. Finally, the Court could not have been unaware of the law, as laid down by itself, that a death (or a disappearance) in custody must be compensated, irrespective of the reasons proffered by the custodial agency in justification and defense.”
Taking on the system, the mighty state, the ugly perpetrators, and the circumstances loaded against her was not easy. But Masooda has been a tough fighter.
“People keep telling me that I should give up. What would I get out of it? I feel like giving up, but the thought of that night haunts me. What they did to him, to his body. I can’t sleep, and I know my purpose of life is fight for justice.”
She doesn’t just want to fight for herself alone. She wants to set a precedent. Disappointed by the Indian judicial system, Masooda wants to go with her case to an international forum “ I will go to Geneva and fight my case there”, says Masooda.
Legal experts say that taking cases to any international forum is not easy, as for that needs India to be a signatory of an international criminal court.
But that answer is not going to silence Masooda.
“You see I will find a way. I will take my case, and I will set a precedent for all such cases,” says Masooda.