As Ramesh Marhatta, a Hindu village boy, originally from Uttrasu in Omanagari of South Kashmir unveiled to me the layer after layer of his horrendous tale of kidnapping, night-long torture and gunshots by armed terrorists way back in 1990, I shuddered to think of the brutality and savagery with which the terrorists will have done to death hundreds of our innocent community members when armed insurgency broke out in 1990 in Kashmir. Ramesh Marhatta, I imagined, is the rarest of the rare cases of a Kashmiri Pandit escaping definite death while in the captivity of the jihadist terrorists who were out for the genocide of the community. The pain and suffering inflicted on the kith and kin of the unfortunate slain Pandits under similar circumstances still resound under the blue dome of the sky waiting for the day of retribution.
The youthful Ramesh left his village and came to Srinagar to find a means of subsistence for himself and improve his life somewhat. After a number of unsuccessful attempts, he somehow managed to find an opening as a casual radio announcer in Radio Kashmir in 1985. He decided to work with perseverance in the hope that one day he might get regularized and thus manage his life.
He hired a room in Sonawar, a locality not far away from the Radio Kashmir where he worked to earn a living. The room on the first floor of the building belonged to a local Muslim gentleman who was good and sympathetic to him. As he continued walking up and down day after day to his workplace, he came to know a taxi driver he sometimes hired to ferry him to his workplace or residence in Sonawar. The taxi man, a Muslim, was known by the name of Nana. They often met and gradually developed friendly relations with each other.
It was early 1989. Ramesh and some more of his colleagues noticed that the local Muslims, who usually called themselves lucky guys if they found casual employment in Radio Kashmir, had begun to decline the offer. No Muslim was prepared to be recruited in Radio Kashmir. To him, it was somewhat puzzling.
On 26th of September 1990, Ramesh returned from work to his room and went to the kitchen to prepare a bite. It was 7.40 PM and the time for the news from Radio Kashmir. He switched on his transistor and sat down to hear the news. Suddenly, he heard a loud sound of footsteps coming up the stairs. A large group of men with masks over their face and Kalashnikovs in their hands barged into his room. He was taken aback and trembled at the sight. The masked men brandishing guns and pistols and numbering anything between 30 and 40 began hurling endless abuses on him without giving any reason for doing so. Ramesh’s heart sank as he saw death hovering over his head. One among the terrorist group began questioning him about his profession and the reason for his staying back in the valley. He replied that he had a family to support and was only a casual radio announcer, and he had no scope of earning a livelihood in an unknown place like Jammu with inclement weather.
As the interrogation proceeded, one from among the group numbering anything between 30 and 40, armed and masked men asked Ramesh to come out of the house with them. At this moment suddenly the owner of the house appeared in the room. He heard that the terrorists wanted Ramesh to come down. He picked up courage and told the terrorist that they could ask Ramesh any question here in the room and there should be no need of taking him out. While this altercation was going on, Ramesh found that one of the masked men was no other than Nana, the taxi driver who had befriended him. However, he gave no indication that he had recognized Nana as that would have cost him his life in no time.
Then in this melee, the terrorists blindfolded and handcuffed Ramesh. He was dragged down the stairs like a corpse. They kicked and heckled him as they dragged him to the other side of the road. They banged his head against an electric pole which sent a shock down his spine. He got unnerved and resigned to his fate.
Blindfolded and handcuffed Ramesh was dragged through some lanes and then dumped in a vehicle and brought to some destination. After alighting from the vehicle he was taken through a passage he thought was something like a slippery tunnel. As he was dragged on, he received many baton strokes from his captors as if he was a beast and not a human being. Once inside a house, his blindfold was removed and hands untied. Now began the dreadful night-long interrogation and torture of Ramesh. He was made to sit in a chair. One after the other group entered the room, subjected Ramesh to questioning, often repeating the same questions again and again. In between questioning, the terrorists would rub burning cigarette bits against his body and he cried in pain and agony. Each group adhered to the same pattern of questioning, hurling abuses and rubbing burning cigarettes against his body.
At about midnight a group of terrorists entered the room. It was led by a lady whom they addressed as Asiya Ji. The torture method which this group employed was to place a hot rod on his feet. The pain was unbearable and he lost power even to cry. The leader of this terrorist group introduced himself as Azam Inqilab. Till then he had not heard the name of either Asiya or Azam Inqilab. Ramesh vividly recollects that only a few of the group of 30 or 40 spoke chaste Urdu which made him think they were Pakistanis while the rest of them were Kashmiris. Those who spoke only Urdu spoke it with Punjabi accent. They beat, thrashed and kicked him as hard as they could and then told him to lie down. Now the group engaged itself in discussing how he was to be killed. One suggestion was to cut him into pieces under sawmill while the second proposal was to gun him down on the roadside near a drain. The plans of killing Ramesh were discussed in his presence and within his hearing. He was already half dead with pain, agony and torture, and they were planning how to deprive me of the remnant of life left with him.
As the discussion among the terrorists about how to put an end to Ramesh was going on, the sound of azaan – the call for the Morning Prayer – came to his ears. He imagined it could be about 4 AM the usual time for the morning azaan. While listening to the call for prayer, Ramesh realised it was the same voice he used to hear every dawn around the same time when he was in his room. It came from a loudspeaker fitted to a three-storey house.
Dawn was nearing. The terrorists collected some gunny bags and rope lengths. They again blindfolded Ramesh. After about thirty minutes of walk, the terrorists put him on a vehicle and moved away to execute him. After reaching some unknown destination, the car stopped and Ramesh was pulled out of the vehicle and pushed towards something like a nullah. Ramesh knew that he would be killed in a couple of minutes and thus begged for life saying he had done nothing to punish him with death. In this disorderly situation, Ramesh’s handcuff became loose and he removed the blindfold from his eyes. As he opened his eyes he caught the sight of some light atop the Shankaracharya temple on the sombre and serene hillock. As he looked around, he found about 15 terrorists surrounding him and some more sitting in a Contessa car parked at a little distance. All terrorists had aimed their guns at Ramesh. The dance of death began.
A young boy with a gun stood behind Ramesh. He fired four shots at him. Three of the four shots hit him in the right hip and abdomen area. With bullets embedded in his body, Ramesh in desperation took to his heels and ran away in a zigzag manner while the terrorists continued showering bullets on him. Fortunately, none of those bullets hit him, Ramesh ran towards a nearby army camp about 200 meters away and asked the guard on the gate to let him in to save his life. The guard suspecting that Ramesh was a terrorist, aimed his gun at him and asked him for hands up. The wounded Ramesh had no strength to lift his hands and fell down on the earth. The guard dragged him inside the gate. When Ramesh spoke to the teashop owner close to the gate of the camp, the vendor came to know that he was a Hindu who had been kidnapped by the terrorists and wanted a safe place. The guard immediately informed his superiors and instantly there was movement in the camp because the news had been flashed across last night that a Hindu radio announcer had been kidnapped in Sonawar area by the militants.
The army authorities reacted immediately and brought an ambulance and Ramesh was admitted in the Badami Bagh cantonment hospital. The army doctors operated on him. Three days later he regained his consciousness. The surgeons told him that the bullets were removed after 18 hours of surgery. The message went across that the kidnapped person had miraculously escaped death and was being treated in the hospital for the gunshots. The day Ramesh regained consciousness, Governor Girish Chander Saxena accompanied by the Director-General of Police visited Ramesh in the hospital, consoled him and praised him for his bravery and fortitude in going through such a deadly ordeal in captivity. The DGP asked him if he could bring to his mind the locality where he had been kept as a captive for the night. Ramesh had no clue but told the DGP that the sound of the azaan he had heard at 4 AM while in captivity of the terrorists was precisely the same which came out from a loudspeaker fitted atop the three-storey house of the locality in Sonawar where he lived. A few days later the DGP visited Ramesh again and told him that his guess was correct and the police had swooped on the hideout of the terrorists in the same locality wherefrom a large cache of arms and ammunition was recovered.
In the meanwhile, a terrorist organization called Hizbul Mujahideen issued a press statement in local newspapers that Ramesh had attacked the jihadis of their group and hence an attack on him was conducted. This was an example of the disinformation campaign of the militants with a twofold purpose. One was to shift the onus of attack on him and the second was to strike fear among the Hindus in the valley to take note of HuM watching their movements and activities. The question put to Ramesh by the terrorist, viz “Why did you stay back in the valley while others (Hindus) left”, is a clear proof of the fact that ethnic cleansing of the valley was a definite agenda of the jihadi terrorists in Kashmir way back in the early 1990s.
Ramesh Marhatta was awarded by the State government for his bravery and his services were regularized in the AIR. He and posted to Kathua.
I congratulated Ramesh Marhatta for his bravery and the good luck he had to escape the bullets of the terrorist. This real story reveals how brutal and savage the terrorist was to the hapless Kashmiri Hindus, hundreds of whom were gunned down in homes, on streets, in offices or workplaces, in buses and odd places. This is the pattern of genocide that was unleashed against the small religious minority in 1990. Ramesh Marhatta, like all of us, laments those thirty two-years from the date of the event, as no inquiry commission, no investigation and no FIR about these crimes have been ordered.