Custody death puts police in spot

by Hamidullah Dar

The confusion into the mysterious death of a 40-year-old man in custody in Ram Munshi Bagh police station on October 6 was deepening as police, at least officially, and the deceased’s kin differs over his identity. Police identified the dead man as Pawan Sharma while his mother and other family said that he was Rajneesh.

Rajneesh Sharma of Jammu was accused of abducting a “minor” girl Amina of Abi Karapora, from Srinagar. A police party from Srinagar along with their Jammu counterparts raided various places in Jammu to apprehend Rajneesh. They also raided Pawan Sharma’s – brother of the accused – house, where police arrested a man who identified himself as Pawan Sharma during the night intervening September 29 and 30, said a police officer requesting anonymity.

The arrested was lodged in Ram Munshi Bagh station when according to police, he committed suicide by hanging from the grills of a window in the lockup. His family, however, claims he was tortured to death.

“He was found hanging from the grills of a window in the lockup when a sweeper of the police station saw him and alerted others. He was rushed to the hospital, where he was declared brought dead,” the police officer said.
Doctors at SHMS conducted an autopsy on the body on October 6, and the whole procedure was video taped. However, a second autopsy of the body was conducted at Government Medical College Jammu on October 8. The autopsy reports differ as the one conducted at Jammu lists 18 torture marks on the body besides three 0.22 cm pricks on the body which doctors at GMC Jammu thought were of cigarette butts.

Meanwhile, confusion over his identity began when Raj Kumari, the mother of deceased identified him as Rajneesh Sharma, while the police thought they had his brother Pawan in their custody.

The height of confusion can be gauged from the fact that Additional Deputy Commissioner Srinagar, the enquiry officer of the case, in a press advertisement named the deceased as Pawan Kumar son of Nanak Kumar of Rehari Colony Jammu.

“I cannot change even a single alphabet of the name of the deceased that police records show,” says Mohammad Akbar Ganai, the enquiry officer.

Police sources disclosed that after several failed raids at Jammu to nab the accused, police finally zeroed in on Pawan’s house, whose phone was used by Rajneesh to talk to Amina on intervening night of September 29 and 30. There they arrested Rajneesh after he jumped out of the window and was overpowered by neighbours taking him for a thief and handed him over to the police.

“When produced before the forest magistrate for remand, Rajneesh gave his name as Pawan Sharma. He concealed his identity for unknown reasons leaving us in the dark,” the police officer said.

Rajneesh and his brother-in-law Kaushal were presented before the magistrate for remand and police says that Kaushal also concealed Rajneesh’s identity while he was posing as Pawan.

Meanwhile, Amina’s father Mohammad Yousuf Marazi still claims that the deceased was Pawan Kumar while demanding the return of his daughter. “My daughter is a minor and whatever she talks is on the diktat of her abductors which has no legal validity. If Rajneesh is dead then what is the reason for Amina to stay at his house. I want my daughter back. She can reveal the truth when she is out of the clutches of her abductors,” says Marazi.

Marazi shows a certificate issued by Jesus & Mary Co-ed School, Dalgate, wherein the date of birth of Amina is written as November 9, 1992, and the state subject certificate issued by Additional Deputy Commissioner Srinagar in 2001 to substantiate his claim that Amina was a minor.

Adding another twist to the tale Rajneesh’s family presented Amina before the media persons at Jammu where she said that she had converted to Hinduism and taken a Hindu name “Aanchal Sharma”.

Amina, aka Anchal also claimed that she had married Rajneesh out of her “own free will’’ and that she was not a minor.

Under state laws and the laws prevalent in mainland India even elopement of any girl below 18 years of age with a man is recognized as an abduction.

To get political mileage out of the incident many Jammu-based politicians have tried to project the incident as a “Muslim-dominated-Kashmir-police killing a Hindu man for marrying a Muslim woman”.

Amina aka Anchal on October 14 filed a case before chief Judicial magistrate Jammu, requesting stern action against the policemen who “killed” her husband. The CJM ordered SHO crime branch to lodge an FIR against the accused under section 302.

The only thing that has lessened the confusion in the case has been the surfacing of Pawan Sharma, who according to police records is dead since October 6.

“Pawan had surrendered at Gandhi Nagar police station in Jammu and recorded his statement that he was Pawan Sharma while as the deceased one was his younger brother Rajneesh,” said the police officer. He was later allowed to participate in the last rites of his brother, adds the officer.

Meanwhile, police investigating the case say that phone call details show that last telephonic conversation between Amina, now Aanchal Sharma, and Rajneesh took place on August 21, at 12.30 p.m. and on the same day Amina’s father came with a missing report. An FIR was lodged the next day when police failed to recover the girl. According to police, Guru Dutt, Rajinder and Kaushal helped in the “abduction” of the girl. One of them, Guru Dutt, was arrested but was later released on bail.

Amina’s aka Anchal, abduction or elopement was not a one-off case.

“Amina’s is not a stray incident in the area. Two years back a woman from this (Nehru Park) area married a man from Jammu. She was brought back twice but she ran away to her Hindu husband again,” said the police officer.

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