Our father was mentally stable says slain Budgam old man’s family

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Srinagar

The family members of 65-year-old Syed Habibullah, a resident of Astanpora, Soibug area of Budgam district who was shot dead on the midnight of January 19 outside the Indian Air Force station in Budgam after he “crossed the security fence and came close to the station perimeter wall”  have contested police claims that the elderly man was “mentally challenged”, Habibullah’s sons said their father was mentally stable, except for some general weakness due to old-age related health issues since last year, a report by The Wire said.

A report published in the media outlet The wire said that as per the police statement released soon after the incident, at around midnight “one yet to be identified individual entered the security zone area at Air Force station Budgam. He crossed the security fence and came close to the station perimeter wall,” the statement said, adding, “despite repeated warning from the sentry the individual did not stop. The sentry fired some warning shots in the air but the individual did not stop. The sentry fired towards him.”

The police statement went on to add that “spot examination revealed that the individual of about 50-55 years of age who appears to be mentally challenged has died in the incident,” further pointing out that the person was “not wearing footwear, is without proper winter clothing and has no identity card.”

The dead body of slain Syed Habibullah, a resident of Astanpora soibug area of Badgam who was shot dead by government forces outside the Air Force station in Budgam on January 19.

At their home in Astanpora area of Soibug, a small tin shed structure next to the rubble of their single storey house, which was damaged in the 2014 floods, Habibullah’s distraught sons are receiving relatives and neighbours who continue to pour in to condole his death. They are unable to come to terms with the death of their father and having many questions about the circumstances that led to their father’s killing and the manner in which the police dealt with the dead body.

“How can the police say he was mentally challenged when they had not even spoken to us and mentioned this in the statement released to the media that day?” asked Syed Abubakar, the elder son of Habibullah, who works as a part-time labourer. He brings out a mobile phone showing some photos of his father. In one of the photos, Habibullah is seen standing close to a heap of bricks which used to be his home before the 2014 floods damaged it. In another, a more recent one clicked by one of his sons, he is seen standing outside his makeshift shed which doubled up as a small kitchen and a room where the family lives in penury. He also shows some of his hand-written Arabic texts, prayers written on pieces of paper, which he would give out to people as amulets.

“He was mentally fine and had left home for his evening prayers that day and didn’t return,” said Abubakar, adding that “by calling him mentally challenged, they’re trying to cover up his killing,” The Wire reported.

“He was physically weak since last year, which you can expect at his age, but he was mentally hundred percent stable,” says Abubakar, adding that late afternoon that day when he left home for the nearby Jamia Masjid, he was carrying a Kangri, wearing proper winter clothes, shoes and a Pheran which they didn’t get back after his dead body was handed over to the family next day. At the time of the incident, as per the police statement, Habibullah was “not wearing footwear and without proper winter clothing.”

Survived by five sons and a daughter, all unmarried, Habibullah made a modest living as a faith-healer who would often visit homes of people, giving his blessings and hand-written Tabeez (amulet). His father and elder brother were also faith healers. “Everyone knew him in this area and in other places too as he would sometimes stay for several days at the homes of people who respected him for his spirituality,” said Abubakar. “He must have visited some home in the area close to the air force station that evening where he was fired at”, he added.

Habibullah’s sons said when his dead body was handed over to the police in Budgam that night, they had rushed it to police control room in Batamaloo without informing their family. “Before we reached there, they had done his postmortem without seeking our permission,” said Syed Soliha, younger son of Habibullah. “When we reached the police control room to fetch his dead body, we were not even provided with the ambulance to carry him back. We had to bring back his dead body in a private vehicle,” the report said.

Abubakar said the Air Force camp, which is about 10km away from their residence, is a heavily fortified area where no civilian can enter. “We don’t know how he could get close to the station as bunkers and huge walls protect the camp,” he said, adding that some local people who live close to the Air Force station told them that they’d heard nine shots that night. “The station also has layers of barbed wire to protect the heavily fortified walls.”

The Wire has quoted the IGP Kashmir range S P Pani saying “the incident happened in the dead of the night and the person was barefoot and without proper winter clothes,” the IGP said.  “We respect the family claims and will take that into account as investigations have started.”

Habibullah’s sons are demanding an impartial investigation into his killing. “Those who directly fired at him should be held accountable and punished,” said Abubakar. “Had the forces guarding the air force station fired warning shots even on his legs, maybe he would have survived but they’d shot him directly above his legs which killed him,” he said, after an uncomfortable pause, adding that “he didn’t deserve to die like this,” reported The Wire.

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