A writ petition (Habeas Corpus) was filed by the relatives of Talib Hussain, activist who was recently arrested on account of a rape case, alleging that Hussain was kept in illegal detention and subjected to custodial torture.
Talib Hussain, a social activist of the nomad Bakarwal community of Jammu and Kashmir was arrested on Wednesday, Aug 1, 2018, on charges of rape. He was arrested from Pulwama’s Tral area and was kept in Samba police station. Hussain’s family allege that the case is false. Earlier,his estranged wife Nusrat Bibi had accused him of domestic violence and dowry demands and a case was filed against him in June. The present complaint of attempt to rape was made by his estranged wife’s sister in law.
Talib Hussain lost his parents in the 2014 floods in Kashmir and is the highest educated person among the Bakerwal community. He has been continuously fighting for the rights of his tribal community and was also a critic of the state policies of the PDP/BJP regime. The Gujjar-Bakarwal community is a largely Muslim nomadic group classified as a Scheduled Tribe. The members of the community spend the summer in the high altitude pastures of the Kashmir and Ladakh regions. In winter, they along with their livestock, move to the Shivaliks and the plains of Jammu province. Very few own any property and majority have no option but to settle on forest lands near water resources. This is cited to be the reason between tensions between the Hindus of Jammu region and the Muslim nomads over forest land.
Attempts to push the nomadic community to leave the Jammu region began
months after the BJP forged its alliance with PDP in the state in March 2015. In June the same year, several official eviction drives were carried out in Muslim-dominated areas of Jammu city. In February 2016, a young Gujjar man Yaqoob was shot dead as residents of a Gujjar settlement in Sarore, in Samba district, resisted Hindu mobs who were attempting to drive them out of their homes.
The tribal community was also targeted constantly by government-sanctioned operatives to evict them from land they traditionally use. In Vijaypur village, also in Samba district, the threat of eviction continues to loom over 204 Gujjar families as the land their settlement stands on, has been chosen as the site for a new All India Institute of Medical Sciences despite warnings by survey officials that it was prone to flooding. In December 2017, the Jammu Development Authority demolished an Islamic seminary in the city’s Gole Gujral area.
Besides that, the community of Gujjar Bakarwals does not have any political representation and this has led to constant threats from a majority of Hindu cadres from time to time. As an activist, Talib used to continuously for issues like the Right to Forest Act, Displacement of Tribals and political representation.
The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, popularly known as the Forest Rights Act is a historic act that gave back traditional forest dwellers their rights to access, manage and govern forest lands and
resources within village boundaries, which had been controlled by the forest department since colonial times. Under this law, traditional forest dwellers are protected against forced displacements. They also have grazing rights, access to water resources and are entitled to the minor forest resources except timber.
During the regime of PDP/BJP, several eviction drives were carried out under the
Forest Department which was under the ministry of Chowdhary Lal Singh. In February 2018, Singh said in a statement that more than a thousand forest closures had been closed to the public. He also claimed that 148339.4 kanals (7,369 hectares) of forest land in Jammu division had been retrieved from encroachers (‘nomadic Bakerwals’).
As a repercussion, the community was further threatened when an 8-year-old girl, Aasifa belonging to Gujjar community of Rassana village of Hiranagar Kathua was brutally raped and murdered in a nearby temple by a gang led by a Hindu priest. On January 2018, her body was found soaked in blood and mud which led nationwide protests and agitations.
Sanji Ram, a 60 years old retired government officer, planned the crime along with police officers like Surendra Verma, Anand Dutta, Tilak Raj and Deepak Khajuria. Sanji Ram’s Son Vishal, his nephew and his friend Parvesh Kumar were also charged in the case and all the accused are awaiting trial.
As per the investigation, the accused men wanted to terrorise the nomadic community who were using public and forest land for their animals. Most of the people of the community had alleged that the crime was committed over land dispute. According to the lawyer of the accused Ankur Sharma, the nomads were trying to alter the demography of Jammu region.
Talib Hussain, who did a barefoot protest in order to get justice for Aasifa, was the key witness to crime. Soon after, videos in which the wife of Talib Hussain alleging domestic violence at his hand went viral.
Subsequently, Talib was arrested and after the completion of the investigation, the story was found to be fabricated while Talib was granted bail. However, the Kathua case which was transferred to Pathankot was getting stronger. Soon after, allegatios of rape were made against Tablib. Talib was then arrested from Kashmir and tortured in police custody.
Senior advocate Indira Jaising, counsel for the petitioner, in a tweet responded to the torture saying that Talib Hussain “who was arrested last week has been tortured in Samba police station while on police remand, skull broken, rushed to hospital in Samba, he is a key witness in the Kathua rape-murder case. This is unacceptable in a democracy” and is seeking “judicial intervention” in the matter.
Police have claimed that Talib allegedly attempted to end his life by hitting his head on the iron bars of the lockup in the police station and this led to his minor head injuries.
(With inputs from Ishtiaq Ahmed Shauq, Founder patron of Fikr-e-Farda Society)