Women Terrorists in J&K Unhidden Enemies
Battling to counter the terror activities in Jammu and Kashmir, the state police are encountering an unhidden enemy in form of fairer sex. In the past few months, the state security agencies have made nearly a dozen arrests of women who have been working as conduits of terrorists operating in the insurgency-hit state.
Though the news of involvement of women with gun-toters is not new but the frequency of expose of involvement of women as couriers of money, arms and ammunition, providing shelter or safe passages to ultras to their respective destinations is indeed alarming, say the police. Some major cases have cropped up with significant involvement of women with terror outfits.
The most recent case has been the arrest of one Nighat Siddiqui, who was arrested near ‘martyrs’ graveyard—Eidgah Srinagar—with huge currency of Rs 300,000. “The money was meant to be delivered to some top commanders of Lashkar-e-Taiba operating in the state,” police sources said. She was captured after the transaction deed was unveiled on the basis of her mobile telephone intercepts.
The 45-year-old Nighat Siddiqui was also holding one leaf of Lashkar letterhead. The arrest followed when one Ghulam Mohammad Bhat, a close aide of hardline Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani and head of legal cell of the Hurriyat, was arrested by Delhi police with hawala amount of Rs 2.2 million.
Police said, of late, the terror groups have been involving women cadres to transport money and in this connection, some time back, another woman operative, Rukaiya Bano, along with her mother was arrested from Batamaloo locality of Srinagar. “Rukaiya was carrying a cash amount of Rs 85,000 that was to be delivered to the terrorists,” police sources said. Police sources further said that both the arrested women have some close relatives, who have crossed over to other side of border in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir for arms training and they are using their close relatives (females) for money transportation.
The presence of women terrorists in the Lashkar ranks was first detected in 2006, when a 24-year-old woman terrorist—Khalida Akhtar—was held in Srinagar. Akhtar had told intelligence sleuths that Lashkar was raising a band of women terrorists of Kashmiri origin and providing them ideological and arms training in the camps. Khalida had told her interrogators that she had infiltrated in Kashmir after seeking training at Lashkar camp with a specific mission to lay a honey trap for the Indian security forces and kill them, apart from spreading the terror network in the strife-torn state.
The terror outfit Lashkar has a full-fledged training camp for women terrorists situated 6 km from Muridke on GT Road between Lahore and Rawalpindi, with infrastructure to provide rigorous training to cadres in guerrilla warfare, an intelligence report has said.
Giving details of the Lashkar’s women brigade, the report says these terrorists are imparted 21-day training in handling arms and ammunition, besides swimming and jehadi discourses. The intelligence report says the LeT’s women-training camp is headed by a 45-year-old jehadi woman, Umi Hamad, a Pakistani national.
Another big cache for state police has been the arrest of sister-in-law of high-profile Hizbul Mujahideen commander, Ghulam Nabi Sheikh alias Javaid Qureshi who was arrested from Dehradun, Uttaranchal, in December last. Kulsooma Begum, wife of Tariq Ahmed Sheikh of Doda, who happened to be brother of Javaid Qureshi. She had come to the GMC hospital Jammu to see her husband suffering from cancer. She was arrested on the inputs provided by Javed Qureshi. She had helped Qureshi a number of times in changing hideouts and shifting arms and ammunition besides providing other logistic support to him and his associates.
Qureshi, during his interrogation last month has reportedly revealed that nearly 26 women terrorist sympathisers are still operating in the erstwhile Doda district. Prior to the arrest of Kulsooma Begum, police had arrested another woman terrorist of Hizbul Mujahideen identified as Yasmeena and recovered one Chinese pistol and some ammunition from her. Qureshi had given the weapon and ammunition to her for her protection.
The HM commander had asked the woman, who happened to be his girlfriend, to keep the weapon with her while transporting the consignments of weaponry from one place to another. Javed was a close associate of Hizbul Mujahideen supremo and United Jehad Council (UJC) chief Syed Salah-ud-Din based in Pakistan. Through his satellite telephone, he was directly in contact with Salah-ud-Din before being arrested.
The story does not end here, another female activist of Hizbul Mujahideen was arrested by police from Doda district hospital last month. The one in question Rukhsana Begum along with two members of her outfit was to take Rs 50,000 from a local state government officer. She was part of the group working for Hizbul Mujahideen commanders and extorting ‘terror fund’ from government officers and officials, contractors, political activists and other influential persons.
Though women have traditionally not been part of terror outfits, there have been umpteen instances of women giving overnight shelter and food to terrorists and protecting them from the security forces. However, whether they did this out of choice or due to pressure exerted over them is highly debatable. Young girls romanticise the idea of falling in love with a mujahid, and many eventually marry them, lured by the risk and glory that came with such an association.
A senior Army official explained why women were mostly used as carriers of money: “We do not check very thoroughly any vehicle in which a family is travelling, keeping in mind the sensitivity of children and women being there… Women used their traditional invisibility in the public sphere to create space for their activism. As they are seen as less threatening, they are less watched.”
The officer, however, believed that women had neither been involved in the transfer of weapons and arms and ammunition, nor used as human bombs.
However, in the Avantipura explosion, which happened soon after the October 2005 earthquake, a woman blew herself up on National Highway 1-A that connects the Kashmir Valley to India. Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) claimed it was a fidayeen (suicide squad) attack, and the woman, Yasmeena Akhtar, was a suicide bomber. But investigations have yet to establish whether Yasmeena was actually a suicide bomber or was merely transporting explosives from one place to another, and whether the explosion occurred due to a mistake on her part. Media reports, however, clearly point towards Yasmeena’s involvement much beyond the role of a mere transporter. “…Some officers believe their camp was Yasmeena’s target and the explosives went off accidentally. At the blast site they had found three live hand grenades and pieces of a torn combat pouch—a belt with big pockets, that’s tied around the chest.”
The first major story of woman acting as courier of money for Kashmiri separatists was exposed way back in 2002 when one Shazia Begum was caught with hiding a huge 100,000 US dollars in tape of her salwar at a security point in Kud town of hill station Patnitop in Jammu. The woman told police she felt cheated because her boyfriend had promised a vacation to New Delhi, and then the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu.
Instead, the Kashmiri couple went from their hometown of Srinagar to Kathmandu to bring the money by road through the porous India-Nepal border to avoid detection. The money was meant for JKLF chairman Yasin Malik, who is former terrorist-turned-politician.
Further, the Special Branch of Delhi Police had arrested Anjum Zamrooda Habib, chief of the MKM, which is also a constituent of the 23-party Hurriyat Conference, while allegedly coming out of the Pakistan High Commission with Rs 3,07,000, allegedly meant for separatists as nazrana (token money).
The growing emergence of women conduits had created ripples in security forces and counter-intelligence sleuths. Lashkar and Harkat-ul-Jihadi Islami (HuJI) cadre in Doda and Kishtwar districts of Jammu region have been using women to ensure smooth flow of cash and other material, especially mobile SIM cards, in their hideouts. Police sources revealed that a large number of women have joined terrorist groups to work as couriers during the past six months.
The main job of these women couriers is to carrying cash and mobile SIM cards for the terrorits active in the higher reaches. Majority of them have nothing to do with jihad, its pure economics which lure them towards such acts.
Sociologist at Jammu University, Aparna says, “Lack of facilities of education, continuous insecure surroundings have left women socially and economically backward, especially those living in remote terrains of Doda, Kishtwar, Bhaderwah Udhampur and border districts of Rajouri and Poonch in contrast to Kashmiri women who enjoy political assertion, social freedom and media focus.”
Amidst all these adversaries, these women have devised different ways to counter conflicting situations around them for their own survival and those of their families. Surrounded by guns of both the terrorits and the security forces, many a times parents have no choice but to send their young daughters to terrorists. A case in instance is that of one Fatima of Mendhar area of Poonch who sleeps with gun-holders from either side. “This way, our men are spared by the terrorists of coercion to join jihad and security forces of regular harassment,” she narrated.
Similarly, Shamima of Doda district chose to bear the child of a terrorist thrice her age, even threatening all those who questioned her relationship with her terrorist boyfriend for the power and economic reasons.
Several surrendered terrorists have revealed that women were major attraction for them to swear by cult of gun. Terrorists enjoy a macho image and would most of time be equipped with good food, dry fruits, chocolates and fancy clothing, which attract many a young woman towards them. Mohd Ayub, a young surrendered terrorist of Hizbul Mujahideen claimed that he would change woman partners with every change of shelter and offer clothes, money and good food in return.
By Prakriiti Gupta from Jammu