Mar 22, 2016

After faith healer is arrested for sexual abuse in Kashmir, more ‘victims’ come forward

Safeena Wani
March 16, 2016
Aijaz Ahmad Sheikh, 45, called himself a pir. A married man and father of three children, he had built a reputation for himself as a faith healer. For 20 years, people from Sopore in Kashmir, turned to Ahmad, asking him to reverse their misfortunes. Unwittingly, many may have served up their children to an alleged sexual predator.
Earlier this month, Sheikh was accused of paedophilia by the father of a 14-year-old from Sopore. “My son recently refused to visit the faith healer,” he told the police. “When I asked him the reason, he shocked me saying, ‘Enough! I won’t let him abuse me sexually anymore.’ My son also told me that the pir had abused many other boys at his residence.”
Sheikh was arrested on March 4 and his family claims he is innocent. However, people are coming forward with stories of how the pir allegedly used healing as a front to sodomise young boys. Some of those “kids” are now grown-ups in their twenties and their thirties.
Thirty-two-year-old Shahid (name changed) has come forward with his own experience. “I was an eighth-grader when my maternal uncle suffered a huge loss in business,” he said. “He went to Sheikh, who told him, ‘Do you have any kid of 12 to 14? If yes, then bring him here’.” Sheikh told Shahid’s uncle that he had a djinn that would speak to the 14-year-old Shahid and reveal “the solution” to the financial reversals.
Shahid was sent to the Sheikh’s house, upon his uncle’s request. “Once there, he [Sheikh] told my uncle to leave the room for a while,” said Shahid. “Then he asked me if I was 15. I said I was 14. Suddenly he pulled down my trousers and grabbed my buttocks and said ‘No, you’re 15’.”
This was the beginning of Shahid’s nightmare. Sheikh told Shahid’s uncle to bring the boy back after a few days. When Shahid was taken the second time, he remembers Sheikh said to him, “I thought, you will never come back. You are such a brave boy!”
“After dinner, he took me to a room and said, ‘We will now start conversing with the djinn’ and after a while said, ‘Be ready! Djinn is about to talk to you’,” said Shahid. “With that, he started speaking in Urdu. His body started shaking and saying that I should speak the truth. He asked if I masturbated. Masturbation was taboo to me. But he terrorised me with talk of djinn and I yelled, ‘Yes!’ Then he enquired, ‘So, how many drops do you ejaculate?’ I said, ‘Three to four.’ Then, he told me, ‘I am the djinn! Do it to me.’ Later, he forced me to do it to him. Then, he stripped me naked and sodomised me.”
Shahid’s ordeal lasted two years. Every now and then, the faith healer would send word to his home, asking him to come and Shahid had no choice but to go because he said he felt too ashamed too tell anyone what was happening.
Those who visited Sheikh knew that he had some set conditions. Primary among them was telling parents and guardians that they needed to leave their wards in his care overnight for the faith healing to succeed. Convinced by his silver tongue, parents willingly accepted Sheikh at his word. Thursday and Saturday were days when parents would throng his home seeking cures and children were left in the faith healer’s care.
One of his “victims”, now a Class XI student, narrated traumatic memories of those nights. In 2012, this boy accompanied his uncle to see Sheikh. They were seeking a cure for the boy’s cousin, who had suddenly taken ill.
“After an hour, my uncle left after the pir told him, ‘To heal your son, this kid must stay here’,” he said. There were four boys already there. Nothing seemed unusual for the boy until at night, when the clock struck 11. “All of us boys were in a room when Sheikh stepped in and told us, ‘Now, the djinn will talk to you’, scaring all of us. He then lowered his tone and warned us, ‘Don’t lie, if you do, the djinn won’t spare you’.” Then, Sheikh switched from Kashmiri to Urdu, and while speaking, he began fondling the boys, according to the victim. “He told us the djinns were under his spell, that he had learned to control them when he went to Gujarat. Suddenly, he started asking us dirty questions. Then, he forced us to have a sex with him. He forced a boy to do a sexual act on another boy as he stood watching. It was humiliating.”
On these nights, Sheikh would sleep sandwiched between two boys, according to the victim. “I used to wake up in the mornings wanting to kill him,” said one of the boys. “But I was scared of his djinns. He was always warning us that if we spoke of what he did to us, he would unleash the djinns on us and our families. It was horrible.”
After the arrest, the village of Bomai, where Sheikh lived, is simmering with anger. “Not everyone likes him,” said village elder Mohammad Shaban. “We were suspicious about his conduct toward children for very long. It’s good he stands finally exposed.”
It seems Sheikh was barred from offering prayers at the local mosque some years ago. The reasons aren’t clear but some said it was owing to “behavioural issues”. According to Shaban, “He seldom stepped out of his house thereafter. Hardly anyone from Bomai took his claims to faith healing seriously. Come to think of it, he never tried to lure our kids; he probably knew the village mood and its consequences.”
In Bomai, it seems the locals wondered why parents from nearby villages, who came seeking cures, left boys in Sheikh’s custody.
“Ten years ago, he was imam of Masjid Yunsu, of north Kashmir’s Pooru village, where he had rented a room,” said Sheikh’s neighbour Noor Mohammad. “He used to bring boys there, too. When the villagers came to know about it, they dragged him out of the Masjid. He was expelled from the mosque.”
In Bomai, despite Shaban’s claims, Sheikh was left largely untroubled. He had an “office” in front of his residence for his healing work. “Sheikh’s brothers are known goons of the village,” said another neighbour, Shameema. “Besides everybody thought why should they become his enemy when nobody in the neighbourhood complained about his activities. With the result, he got a free run.”
Sheikh’s family is defending him and have instead accused the police of intimidating Sheikh. “The Bomai police came here along with some cameramen,” said Sheikh’s brother Mohd Arif Sheikh. “They searched the house and spoke to pir sahib. They returned the day after to arrest him, but pir sahib escaped through a window. So, the police picked up our relatives. The next daypir sahib surrendered.”
Sheikh’s brother has filed a counter case, alleging that the 14-year-old complainant’s father had borrowed Rs 3 lakh from Sheikh and when the faith healer demanded his money, the man framed him in a fake case. Sheikh’s wife, Gulshana Begum, has vouched for his innocence. “I am his wife and I know him better than anybody else. He is clean,” she said.
However, public opinion is against Sheikh and victims are coming forward to help the police investigation. Superintendent of Police Harmeet Singh said, “So far we have recorded statements of around 10 victims. Besides we have recorded the statement of the 14-year-old complainant and another teen victim before the judge to make it a strong case.”
The author can be contacted on Twitter @safeena_wani

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