Another Probe

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A young man would start early to manage a roaring milk collection and distribution that required 10 helpers. Now his death will be probed by authorities. But has there been any forward movement in similar probes ordered earlier, asks Faheem Mir

Relative mourning the death of a youth in Sopore on Wednesday, September 16, 2020. Photo: Junaid Bhat

At around 5 am, Irfan Akbar Dar, 24, used to start his day. After offering prayers, Dar used to leave home to start his work even without having breakfast. Dar would collect milk from the nearby area and then distribute it to his customers. Usually, he remained busy at his family shop located just outside his residence at Sopore’s Sidiq Colony.

On September 15, at around 12 noon, some people in civvies asked Dar to shut down his shop and accompany them. He complied. A few hours later “the same men came in uniform and raided the house, and destroyed every possible thing in the residential house and the old building which now we use as a store,” Irfan’s elder brother Javid Akbar Dar said.

Four carpenters were working on the top of the building to make it weatherproof. The group in uniform inquired about their identities and asked them to stop work. The mobile phones of all five men present at the house including carpenters were snatched. “They took all the mobile phones of family members along with our car,” Javid said.

Police then detained Javid at around 4 pm. “I was beaten up ruthlessly and then taken to the SOG camp in Townhall,” Javid said.

Javid’s was unwell before the incident took place, so his health condition worsened in detention. “They repeatedly asked me to accept that we gave shelter to the militants but I denied as that was not the truth till I fell unconscious,” Javid recalled. Javid was later released by the police late at night at around 3.30 am.

Painful Mourning: A child consoling a close relative of Irfan Ahmad Dar, the Sopore youth who died after his arrest by police on September 16, 2020. Photo: Junaid Bhat

According to the family, the police blamed them that they have given shelter to militants some 10 days ago and the family urged the police to check the CCTV footage that carries records for the last 50 days when the cameras were installed on the premises. “I requested them to check the footage but they refused,” Javid said.  

 The Death

On the very following day, the family came to know about the death of their son in police custody from the journalists who visited their house. His ailing widowed mother, who was praying for the well-being of her younger son, fell unconscious, after hearing the news of the death of her beloved one from some local journalists who visited the house.

A pall of gloom descended over the town as the news broke out. People started visiting the deceased’s house in large numbers and took to the streets to protest the killing of the young man.

According to the police statement, the deceased was an over-ground worker (OGW) for militants and successfully escaped from the police taking advantage of darkness near Tujjer Sharif area of Sopore, where he was being taken to get some more information regarding the case. The police said that the family had given shelter to militants some 10 days ago.

However, the family, the locals, and friends blamed the authorities for custodial killing. “He was an innocent person. He never ever participated in any kind of protest or stone pelting,” his friend Rayees Ahmad said. Javid said they don’t have any kind of FIR registered in their name in any criminal activity in any police station or in any institution of law.

An Employer

Some 30 years ago, Irfan’s father Mohammad Akbar Dar shifted to this locality from an adjoining village Nowpora Kalan Rafiabad, to make both ends meet. “He worked hard to give good education to his children,” a neighbour said.

Irfan Ahmad Dar, a budding employer who ran a milk distribution network, died in the custody of the Jammu and Kashmir Police in Sopore. KL Image: Special Arrangement

Dar remained busy with his work. Friends visiting his house sometimes got angry with him for not finding time for them. “I asked him many a time for a trip to any tourist spot but he always refused due to his workload,” his friend Mohammad Aatif asked. “How could he manage time to work for militants?”

Dar is survived by ailing mother, two elder brothers and a sister. He was the youngest among the siblings. It was only some years ago that Dar had passed his twelfth class exams with flying colours. He got 78 per cent marks in commerce stream from Nowpora Government Higher Secondary School. Irfan, however, didn’t join any college and preferred to extend his father’s business. “He used to top the class every year especially in Mathematics,” Aatif added.

It is the second death in the family within a period of four months. Earlier in May, Dar’s father breathed his last following a brief ailment.  Three months after his death, Dar’s elder brothers Waheed and Javid got married.

Waheed, who is the eldest, is a software engineer and earns well from his job. The second brother, Javid is busy looking after his father’s tent business. He took up the family after completing his graduation from the University of Kashmir.

“Dar was a job creator. He has employed 10 boys that used to help him in his business,” Rayees Ahmad said. Locals prefer to call Dar a hard worker and an employer who used to start his day early in the morning to earn for a good life.

 Body Denied

After his death, another regret the family is living with is that they could not see young Dar’s body. Authorities, they alleged, forced them to knock the doors of every possible place to get the body but the police refused to do so and buried it in Sonamarag.

Javid Ahmad Dar, the brother of Irfan, who was also arrested and freed because of deteriorated heath alleged that the cops killed his brother. KL Image: Faheem Mir

The family said it visited Police station Sopore, Police Control Room Srinagar, Police Station Batamaloo, Police Station Ganderbal to Sonmarag, and finally, they were asked to see the body of their beloved in Sonmarag where police already had completed all formalities.

Later a picture of the body was circulated on microblogging sites.  “There were injuries on his forehead, face and one of his teeth was broken and there were some marks of post-mortem” Javid who was accompanying the family revealed.

Only a few members of the family were allowed to get the last glimpse of Dar’s body. Locals demanded a probe into the case and want the culprits behind bars. On the other hand, the family has requested the authorities to allow them to shift the body to hometown.

However, the police statement makes no mention of any injuries and the cause of death. “The police is saying that he was found dead after he fled from the custody, then why they didn’t provide us with the details of death?” Rayees Ahmad asked. When this reporter tried to talk to the mother of Dar, she fell unconscious and didn’t respond.

The Probe

Kashmir’s political class angrily reacted to the development. Sopore remained tense forcing authorities to snap the internet connectivity for the time being. Eventually, the authorities announced a magisterial probe into the death in custody.

Probe, people insist, has emerged as the quick way-out that helps defuse the tensions. The Sopore death came in the midst of an alleged fake encounter in Amshipora Shopian on July 18, in which three labourers were allegedly killed. They were labelled militants by the security forces.

Lieutenant Governor, Manoj Sinha (Image: DIPR)

The army had said that they received specific inputs about the presence of militants in the area, after which they began operation. They also said that the suspected militants had allegedly opened fire at the security forces.

However, Army, contrary to expectations indicted the personnel responsible for the killings following a short probe. “The inquiry has brought out certain prima facie evidence indicating that during the operation, powers vested under the AFSPA 1990 were exceeded and the Do’s and Don’ts of Chief of Army Staff (COAS) as approved by the Hon’ble Supreme Court have been contravened,” Army said in a statement. “Consequently, the competent the disciplinary authority has directed to initiate disciplinary proceedings under the Army Act against those found prima-facie answerable”.

While the army came out with something concrete a few days after the Lt Governor Manoj Sinha said the justice will be delivered, there has not been any forward movement on the DNA fingerprinting on which the entire case of the three Rajouri families rest. Though the authorities had promised quick delivery of the report, it is now caught between the procedural wrangles between two laboratories in Srinagar and Punjab.

A Heap Of Probes

This, however, is not the first probe after the civilian government’s fall in Srinagar. On March 19, 2019 a school teacher Rizwan Asad Pandit, 28, from Awantipora of Pulwama died in custody after been arrested by Police. Police had alleged that Pandit had links with militants.

A collage of the photographs of three Rajouri labourers who , according to their families, were killed in a fake encounter in Shopian in summer of 2020.

The family of the victim, however, had said, that Rizwan had no links with any militant group and that they were being harassed just because they are supporters of Jamaat-e-Islami, a politico-religious organisation banned by the Central government. Though authorities ordered a magisterial inquiry into the incident at the time, its results have yet to be made public.

In February this year, the J&K high court closed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking a CBI probe into the “killing”. The court ruled that “there is no public interest involved” in the PIL which demanded a transparent and time-bound investigation into the incident.

In its two-page judgment, the division bench comprising Justice Ali Mohammad Magrey and Justice Dhiraj Singh Thakur observed: “on a bare perusal of the pleadings on the record, coupled with the nature of the relief sought for, we are satisfied there is no public interest involved in the instant Public Interests Litigation, as claimed by the petitioner.”

On May 13, a civilian Merajuddin Shah was killed in a CRPF firing on a civilian vehicle in central Kashmir’s Budgam district. Police said the civilian vehicle jumped at least two checkpoints after which CRPF opened fire. But the family including the uncle Ghulam Nabi Shah, himself an employee in the police department, denied police version, saying the CRPF opened fire without any reason.

“We stopped at the CRPF checkpoint and were allowed to go after I showed my police card. But the moment we were about to leave, a soldier fired at my nephew,” Shah told reporters. “He died on way to the hospital.” 

On July 1, a civilian identified as Bashir Ahmed, a 65-year-old man who worked as a civil contractor was killed in Sopore when his car ran into an ongoing encounter. Ahmed was accompanied by his three-year-old grandson at the time. The child’s picture atop the dead body went viral. Interestingly, two relatives of the slain old man had or were serving the Jammu and Kashmir Police.  

In an encounter at Batamaloo on September 17, a woman identified as Kounsar Jan died in the “cross-firing”. The woman was hit in a lane as she was on her way to open her bakery shop at the early hours.

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