A Mysterious Death?

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A fortnight after Jammu and Kashmir lost its special status; a trucker was caught between stone-pelters and the paramilitary and died in South Kashmir. Though officially he was killed by the injuries inflicted by stones, his widow is dissatisfied with the official story and is desperate to know the truth, reports Shams Irfan

Noor Mohammad Dar, a truck driver from Urnhal Bijbehara, who was killed in an incident of stone-pelting while taking his cargo to Budgam. From family album

It is unusually quiet inside Shameema’s modest house in Uranhal village, located in the vast rice fields between Bijbehara and Anantnag. She sits in a corner of her small drawing-room facing an old television kept on a glass table.

The TV has not been turned on since August 26, the day when Shameema’s truck driver husband Noor Mohammad Dar, 45, was brought home dead.

Dar was killed during a stone-pelting incident near Bijbehara on August 25, while on way to Budgam to unload his coal-laden truck from Jammu.

“He came home from Jammu in the morning,” recalls Shameema. “He then took rest like he used to do after every trip. There was no oddity.”

In the evening, as it started to get dark, Dar left home towards his truck, parked half-a-mile away on the main road. He knew going out during daytime would be risky.

Just twenty days back, on August 5, Government of India had abrogated Kashmir’s special status and put the entire state under lockdown. There were minor clashes reported from a number of areas including Anantnag and Bijbehara. There was a massive deployment on roads and the towns.

As phone service was shut completely Dar told his wife that he would be back the next morning. There was no way for Shameema to know if he has reached safely.

After Dar left, Shameema got busy in her household chores. Married in 2008, Shameema and Dar had three children: one son and two daughters.

Fifteen minutes later Dar reached Bijbehara town where young boys clashed with CRPF men on the highway.

According to police, as Dar got caught in between and was hit by two stones: one at the back of his head and another on the right side, above his ear. His conductor, a young boy from Poonch who was on his maiden trip with Dar, survived unhurt.

He later told police and Shameema that Dar lost control of the vehicle after he was hit in the head. “He bled on the road and nobody came to his rescue,” said one of Dar’s three brothers who refused to give his name. 

 It was only after fifteen minutes that Dar was shifted to Bijbehara hospital. From there he was taken to Srinagar for specialized treatment.

Back home Shameema knew nothing about Dar’s situation. “Two policemen from Bijbehara came to our village and told local drivers that Dar is hit by a stone,” said Dar’s elder brother. “They said he needs blood so inform his family and tell them to bring a few people along.”

Quickly, Dar’s eldest brother and his sister-in-law rushed to Bijbehara hospital along with a few locals. They didn’t inform Shameema thinking she will get disturbed. “We thought it is a minor injury caused by a stone,” said Dar’s brother.

As they went to the hospital, a young boy from the village came running to Shameema and told her about Dar’s injury. The boy told her that a stone has hit her husband and he is referred to Srinagar for treatment.

“I was worried but not that much. Who would have thought that a stone could kill?” said Shameema.

That is why Shameema and her three kids, the youngest being just two and a half years old Nazima, slept carefree that night. “I had no idea that my husband lay dead in a morgue while I slept,” said Shameema with a hint of regret in her voice.

Because of communication blackout Shameema had no idea that Dar’s elder brother was asked to rush to Srinagar from Bijbehara hospital. However, before he could reach Srinagar hospital, Dar was already dead and sent back in an ambulance to Anantnag hospital for post mortem.

“He could finally find Dar at Anantnag hospital at around midnight,” said Dar’s brother. They had already conducted his post mortem.

As there was no way to convey family and relatives about the tragedy, Dar’s elder brother stayed at the hospital for the night with his corpse.

The next morning, Shameema was in her kitchen when her brother-in-law came crying. “I had no idea why he was crying like this,” said Shameema.

In order to keep people from asking questions and protest, the entire Uranhal village was cordoned off before Dar’s body was handed over to his family.

Almost four months later Shameema sits surrounded by her kids and tries to recreate the entire chain of events. “I don’t want to believe that my husband died because of a stone,” said Shameema resolutely. “I don’t know what, but there is more to it.”  

Looking for Truth

The only person who could have cleared Shameema’s doubts was Dar’s conductor. Two days after Dar’s quite burial, Shameema questioned the conductor. A resident of Poonch, he was with Dar for just a week.

“He was very choosey with his words when I asked him about the incident,” said Shameema.

The conductor told her that they were caught between protestors and CRPF near a petrol pump in Bijbehara town. In order to save himself from raining stones, the conductor told Shameema that her husband ducked and turned his face away. That is when a stone hit him on the back of his head and above his right ear.

“How can a person sitting on the driving seat get hit by a stone on the back of his head? It is illogical,” asks Shameema doubtfully.

Shameema, Dar’s widow, who lives in extremely difficult situation alongwith his son and daughter, is seeking answers about the killing. Police, however, says they have completed investigations and taken action as well. KL Image: Shams Irfan

Dar’s elder brother, who helped with the funeral bath, said his wound was too deep and wide to be inflicted by a stone. “It seemed as if his head had been smashed with a gun butt. But I have no way to prove that since we don’t have many resources,” said Shameema.

Before the conductor left in a hurry, Shameema asked the owner of the truck to take his contact details.

“After the mourning was over, we tried to contact him but he had probably given a wrong address,” said Shameema.

“I wanted to ask him in detail the sequence of events that led to my husband’s death. But he is untraceable since then. He is the only person who knows the truth.”

Till Shameema is able to know the exact reason for her husband’s death, she knows she has to keep going for the sake of her children. “I was given Rs 20,000 by the government but I don’t know which department it was,” said Shameema. “However, no one from the locality has come forward to offer help.”

But given the mystery surrounding her husband’s death, not many people are coming forward to help Shameema.

“I don’t want my husband to be tagged in any way after he is gone. His kids have the right to know what happened to him and how he actually died,” said Shameema.

Helping Hands

A few days after Dar’s death two young boys from Bijbehara visited Shameema and promised to help the family.

They left their phone number telling her that she can call them whenever she needs anything. “They were young boys, probably students, who wanted to help my children with books and other things,” said Shameema.

In October, a team from Humanity Welfare Organisation Helpline (HWOH), a Bijbehara based NGO, visited the family and gave them education and nutritional assistance. “Since then the family has no other source of income, we will be helping them on a monthly basis,” said Basra Manzoor, Referral Support Coordinator for HWOH. “We are thinking of doing more in the coming days.”

The NGO has also contacted the private school where Dar’s children are enrolled to get them full fee exemption.

But more than the monetarily help Shameema is keen to get to the bottom of her husband’s death.

“What will I tell my kids when they grow up? They will ask questions about their father’s death for sure. For that sake I need to know the truth,” said Shameema. 

 Police Version

However, according to police, on the basis of eyewitness account, a number of boys from the Bijbehra were rounded up and paraded for identification. The eyewitness then singled out four boys, including three minors. Among the accused, Tariq Ahmad Shah, a local, was slapped with the Public Safety Act and sent to Central Jail, Srinagar.

The three minors were let go after spending a month at Juvenile Home in Srinagar. “His (Noor’s) cause of death has already been established on the basis of testimonies by his conductor and other eyewitnesses,” said a police official on the condition of anonymity. “There is no doubt that Noor was hit by a stone. The cause of death has also been established by doctors at the SMHS hospital Srinagar.”

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A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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