Protests broke out in the Kupwara district of Jammu and Kashmir on Wednesday, March 1 after the recovery of the body of a 34-year-old daily-wager Abdul Rashid Dar from nearby Zirhama forest. Dar had been picked up by paramilitary forces during a night raid on December 15. Subsequently, security forces said he had escaped from custody. Dar was a resident of Kunan village.
In a statement released on December 22, police claimed he was being questioned in connection with a militancy-related case, and had revealed some information regarding a hideout during his interrogation. While leading security forces to the hideout, he escaped, the police statement suggested.
However, his family and residents of the region had contested this version, terming his arrest an enforced disappearance. When new broke out of his death, demonstrators gathered in hundreds, calling it a custodial killing. The sarpanch of Kunan village, Khursheed Ahmad, was quoted as saying by Kashmirwalla that the body was badly decomposed and it was very hard to identify him.
In January, Rashid’s brother, Hilal Ahmad, said that the family was having dinner at home when the military arrived and bundled Rashid into their vehicle on the night of December 15. After the “town commander” took his brother to nearby Trehgam camp, the family became very apprehensive about Rashid’s security. These fears only increased when family members were denied access to Rashid inside the camp.
The family also refuted the security forces’ claim that Dar had escaped by pointing out that he had previously undergone two head surgeries and had been beaten up while being detained.
The villages of Kunan and Poshpora in the same district became infamous following a raid by Indian soldiers on February 23, 1991. According to villagers, the soldiers raped at least 30 girls and women and tortured 200 villagers.
For three decades, the survivors of Kunan and Pushpora have been seeking justice despite state reprisals, harassment, and victimization. Nothing has happened in court. In 2022, the authorities even raided the offices of rights bodies based in Srinagar, such as the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) and the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), both of which have been relentlessly campaigning for justice for victims of enforced disappearances and other acts of injustice in Kashmir.