Sudden appearance and subsequent disappearance of braid choppers recently reminded many of the ‘ghosts’ of the nineties who surfaced amid bloodcurdling campaign across Kashmir and vanished after creating a wave of uncertainty around. But not many know how a Ganderbal brave-heart ended the 90’s nightmare by maiming the prowling behemoth, never to be seen again.
We met the man amid rampant braid-chopping episodes across Kashmir. He was grinning over the “mass hysteria” theory being circulated and popularised by the fence-sitting state and its myriad managers calling shots from the virtual media. In their hour of reckoning, the pack of naysayers—the lowly ‘mental boffins’, star-studded officers, ‘celebrated’ pen-pushers, ‘expert analysts’ and social-media ‘sermonisers’—had jumped on the bandwagon to label the entire class of the freaking out Kashmiri women as mental cases.
But the man whose address falls beyond the usual pastoral lands of Ganderbal knew the terrified phase was just a reincarnation of the ‘ghost’ period of 90s.
The return of the nocturnal terror in different time and form, said Ghulam Nabi Wani, was to haunt the Valley’s ‘rebellious residents’.
When the ‘ghost’ came haunting his village one night in 1993, he heard the alarming noises emanating from his immediate neighbourhood. Then brawny and brave man in his thirties, Wani felt compelled to come out after noises got shriller.
“The moment I stepped out, the usual drumbeating to alert the neighbourhood was on,” said Wani, now a grandfather in his late fifties. Sitting on sunlit porch of his single-storey house in Ganderbal’s sleepy Fatehpora village, Wani recalled how he picked up a spade to confront the ‘lurking ghost’.
Living in Chak area of Ganderbal, then, he feared the presence of the ‘ghost’ inside a small shed in his courtyard. To address his fears, he began banging its doors with the spade. “As soon as I did that,” he recalled, widening his eyes in musing, “someone caught hold of me from behind.” He clearly remembers the assaulter: “Man with claws.”
On the spur of the moment, Wani reiterated and hit the ‘ghost’ on its head. Within no time, around ten people were on him. “They were trying so hard to pin me down,” he continued. “Despite trying hard, they were not able to do that. I was a strong man in those days. In that hustle, I heard a cling and I was sure that it was a gun.” Finally, around 15 men managed to overpower him. But they still had to scare him by firing warning shots.
“Tchour ground shot haz (They shot four times in the ground),” he went on narrating his nightmare. “They shot near my head. I thought they shot me. I remember there was a local cop with them, too. ‘Let him go. He is a civilian,’ the cop told them.”
Under the dark cover, the ‘ghosts’ disappeared only to surface with the following dawn. While Wani and his family were having morning tea, a Border Security Force party stormed his house.
“At once they told us that a trooper namely Kuldeep Singh has been injured last night,” recalled Wani, with a beaming face.
“Without further explanations, they picked me up.”
He was bundled into an armoured jeep and taken to the nearby BSF camp, where he was tortured for showing some spine to confront the prowling phantom.
“I was ruthlessly beaten,” he shuddered recalling his custodial ordeal. “The whole village came out to my rescue by staging a protest. After leaving me dead mass, the BSF handed me over to the local cops, but not before filing a murder case against me.”
The father of five was lodged in the police station for three days before set free. The veteran Kashmiri journalist Yusuf Jameel came and recorded his state and statements.
“The incident was widely covered,” he said. Even international media including UK-based The Independent reported the case, extensively.
The case that followed engaged Wani for the next four years. The lawyers fighting his case were very keen to probe: Who attacked him that night and how.
On the contrary, BSF never showed up in any of the hearings, finally forcing the judge to dismiss the case.
And soon, the ‘ghost’ whom Wani injured tried to get in touch with him.
“That ghost namely Kuldeep Singh wanted to meet and hug me at the camp after the case was dismissed,” Wani beamed a smile. “He even sent me messages that I should forget everything that happened that night, and move on.”
After that incident, Kashmir never saw or heard of the ‘ghosts’ again. While the identity of Kuldeep Singh’s ‘ghost’ tribe (then creating terror across the Valley) was never established, but in Wani’s case, “it was clearly established that the ‘ghosts’ were none other than the BSF men.”
Years later as braid-choppers became another tribe of night-time terrorists in Kashmir apparently to ‘discipline the defiant’ population, Wani could find a lot of resemblance between Then and Now.
“The ‘ghost’ episodes weren’t different from the braid-chopping incidents,” said Wani, flashing thoughtful expressions.
“After my case, the involvement of forces was clearly exposed and then it stopped.” I
n case of vanished braid-choppers, the grapevine has it that some vigilante groups even arrested and had gone medieval with the “homebound” uniformed men.
“Coincidence, much?” Wani ended the story.
Afshan Rashid contributed to this story.