Confessions of a Human Rights Activist
I was barely 13 when my maternal grandfather was killed in the 1990 Gawakadal massacre while protesting human rights violations in Kashmir. This loss filled me with rage and hatred towards the Indian establishment. My friends and relatives were disillusioned. Some of them had taken up militancy by 1994. This incident was my trigger to become an activist, but a non-violent one. Some called me a coward for this. But I believed courage could be exhibited through non-violence too.
From 1996, I was neck deep into activism. Besides advocating human rights, I started rigorous documentation of human rights violations, mainly forced disappearances, custodial killings, cases of rape, torture, mass graves and fake encounters. Once, while investigating mass graves in Oori, Baramullah, we found 2,373 unidentified bodies. When families of the deceased do not have the means to fight a case, we take it to the courts and state Human Rights Commission, and help them get compensation. In the last 22 years, not one accused has been punished. But I’m satisfied that my findings have become part of a discourse for the ordinary man.
In 2004, on our way to monitor elections in Lolab Valley, our car was attacked by a remote controlled bomb. We were badly injured. A female colleague died on the way to hospital. I went through two operations in my head, and seven in my leg. I lost one of my legs. That is the only time my spirit was dampened. Sadly, the government feels threatened by what we are doing.
Since the work is difficult and so many have lost their lives, not many look at this as a rewarding career. The government tries its best to malign our work. They say we are agents of Christian missionaries just to turn our people against us. I know my phone is tapped, but I am glad that because of this they are in touch with my beliefs.
(This activist is 35 years old and based in Kashmir)
As told to Sidrah Fatma Ahmed