The two-storied house of Abdul Rashid Dar (R) at Kunan village of North Kashmir’s Kupwara district/AUQIB JAVEED

Kupwara (Jammu & Kashmir): Abdul Rashid Dar, 33, had had a few bites of his dinner on a freezing December night when his family heard a loud banging on their door at 8:15 pm.

It was 15 December 2022, and Rashid’s elder brother, Shabir Ahmad, went to see who it was. As soon as he opened the door, he was faced, he said, with a squad of soldiers.

Rashid kahan hai (Where is Rashid)?” the soldiers asked, according to Shabir, a special police officer (SPO) with the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) police.

Rashid’s eldest sister, Mehfooza, said she rushed to the kitchen where he was having dinner and told him the army was looking for him.

“He said, ‘Don’t worry, I will see what the issue is,” said Mehfooza.

The Dar family lives in a two-storied house without fencing in a village called Kunan nestled between pine trees and paddy fields in the district of Kupwara bordering Pakistan, 85 km northwest of Srinagar, the capital of the union territory of J&K.

Kupwara is flooded with soldiers, army camps and other signs of militarisation. A number of villages lie next to the line of control, the de facto border with Pakistan. Most militants from Pakistan infiltrate Kashmir from these villages, according to security forces.

Like the other 21 districts in J&K, Kupwara has been a “disturbed area” for 32 years since 1992, allowing the army sweeping powers to detain or shoot at those associated with militancy.

As soon as Rashid stepped out of the house, soldiers surrounded him and barged in. Mehfooza said she suspected something was wrong when soldiers snatched his mobile.

By this time, all of the family of eight, some who stayed there and others who were visiting, were outside the house, pleading with the soldiers to tell them if Rashid had done anything wrong.

Rashid, a 10th-standard dropout, described by his family as a calm, self-effacing man, is the main wage earner of his proximate family of three (parents and a single sister), driving a goods minivan, hiring out tents or selling shawls with one of his two brothers, both of whom live separately with their families.

Another brother became a militant in the 1990s and was shot dead in a firefight.

“He would mind his own business,” said Hilal Ahmad Dar, Rashid’s elder brother with whom he would travel to Punjab or Delhi selling shawls.

Rashid’s father is bed-ridden from a stroke and suffers prostate issues and diabetes.

“The town commander (a major or company commander) kept saying that they only needed him (Rashid) for an inquiry and that they would release him the next day,” said Rashid’s mother, Khera Begum, 65, who was tense and apprehensive and consoled by relatives and friends when we met her.

“The town commander kept his hand on my head and assured me that my son would be released the next day,” said Khera Begum, who requested the soldier not to beat her son since he had had two ear surgeries. “Tame woun mae aames karni kahe touch (He told me, ‘no one will touch your son.’)”

‘We Were Told He Would Be Released The Next Day’

With night temperatures at —3.6 deg C in Kupwara, the family pleaded with the soldiers to allow Rashid, who was clad only in thermal underclothes and a hoodie, to wear warm clothes and shoes, but he was not allowed to, according to Mehfooza.

“He wore his father’s shoes and a trouser on the lawn and was bundled in an Army vehicle and taken away,” said Mehfooza. “We were told that he will be released the next day.”

That was the last the Dar family ever saw Rashid, his disappearance the latest of more than 8,000 over 32 years of J&K’s insurgency.

From the accounts of Rashid’s family, the local police and sarpanch or headman and the interpretation of India’s law for “disturbed areas” by two retired generals we spoke to, it appeared that the soldiers who arrested Rashid did not follow the procedures they were required to under the law and the army’s own procedures.

On 31 October 2019, when J&K became a union territory, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi discarded hundreds of laws that applied to the former state alone, but among the handful of laws it retained was the AFSPA.

This story was originally published in Read the full story here