Registering A Case

In certain cases, it is difficult to register even a case. Khalid Bashir Gura meets two families who fought protracted battles in court to get an FIR registered

Father and the sister of the Umar Qayoom Bhat staged a peaceful protest at Press Enclave Srinagar on Wednesday, August 25, 2021. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

When a court ordered, after almost two years of struggle, the registration of a First Information Report (FIR), it brought respite for Mohammad Rafiq Shagoo. A 42-year-old grocery-store owner, Shagoo has been desperate to get justice for his wife.

Having accepted the loss of their mother in front of their eyes in Bemina (Srinagar), Shagoo’s two sons; Aayan, 12, and Mahir, 9, are happy that they have a new caretaker in their step-mother. Shagoo re-married in the first week of September during the restrictions and communication blackout imposed by the authorities. Shagoo’s first wife was his cousin.

Shagoos’ were a happy lot. They had a handicrafts business in Goa. Married for 12 years, after her death, Shagoo left his profession, stayed at home to take care of his two minor sons. Subsequently, he started a grocery store to make two ends meet.

Shagoo remembers how Fahmeeda, his first wife, struggled to breathe and collapsed outside the gate, not far away from the that he later carved out of his two-story house. Quickly, she was rushed to the nearby SKIMS hospital, through a maze of checkpoints and barbed wires. But it was too late.

August 9, 2019

Four days after reading down Article 370 and subsequent curfew and communication blackout, on August 9, 2019 evening, Fehmeeda was working in her kitchen after customary cleaning of the house prior to Eid al-Adha , scheduled three days later.

There were some protests that Friday and to thwart away the stone-pelting mob, the police lobbed tear-smoke shells in the neighbourhood areas.

“In the evening the protests intensified and around 6 pm, police fired dozens of tear-gas and pepper-gas shells outside our home, some of which landed inside our compound,” Shagoo said.

Shagoo was having tea. He left it midway when his neighbour informed him that cops were chasing protestors and smashing whatever came their way. He rushed out to park his vehicle at a safer place.

The situation had changed when he returned. “My wife had rushed out of the house due to suffocation by toxic gases. She had collapsed and was gasping for breath just outside the door and my brother was trying to help her,” Shagoo said. “She constantly complained of breathlessness.”

Soon she started vomiting blood and was rushed to the hospital by Shagoo and his brother on a two-wheeler. They reported in to the hospital by around 7 pm.

“Earlier the day, she was fine and healthy but complained of pain in her right leg. As Eid was commencing, she had been busy cleaning and doing household chores for many days. Few hours before protests broke out; we went to a nearby hospital for a check-up,” Shagoo said, adding that the doctors informed them that she is medically normal and has been tired due to prolonged work. “After few hours, we used the same prescription to reach the hospital as she was gasping for breath.”

As we reached the hospital, she was constantly pleading doctor to save her life as she has two small kids recalls Shagoo as tears well up in his eyes. “Kindly save me,” she pleaded while gasping for breath, according to her husband.

Put On Oxygen

Doctors gave Fehmeeda oxygen and put her on a ventilator but Fehmeeda didn’t survive. “At 7.40 pm, she died,” Shagoo said. As her body was brought back home, protests intensified again.

Fehmeeda’s medical records, accessed by Kashmir Life, suggest that she died of a “sudden cardiac pulmonary arrest” suffering “acute lung injury” due to “toxic gas inhalation.”

Struggle for an FIR

Devastated Shagoo’s struggle started from the hospital itself when the hospital administration dragged its feet on revealing medical records.

“It took almost a week to get medical reports ascertaining her apparent cause of death. However, the actual cause of death could only be “ascertained after an autopsy,” Shagoo said, insisting the post-mortem was not conducted. “I was ready to exhume her body if hospital and police wanted to conduct an autopsy.”

No case could be registered in this incident as the FIR was not lodged despite Shagoo approaching the police station repeatedly.

“Initially I was turned away by the officials. They said that the senior officer of the post was not available. The communication was down and they kept postponing it,” Shagoo alleged. However, grief-stricken Shagoo was relentless.

Disillusioned with the police’s reluctance in lodging FIR, Shagoo said one day he ran out of patience. In an argument with the police officer, Shagoo alleged the officer told him, “Do whatever you want and the ‘door of the courts are open.’” And it was at that moment that hopes of getting justice from the judiciary rekindled his faith in justice, he said.

In The Court of Law

Almost after a month, in September 2019, Shagoo moved to Jammu and Kashmir High Court asking for an FIR to be registered. Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) helped him in pursuit of justice.

Initially, he pleaded before the High Court but were directed to approach the concerned Chief Judicial Magistrate, his advocate Shah Faisal said.

“Under 156 clauses 3 of CRPC, we filed the complaint. However, police argued that they have already registered an FIR. The police had lodged FIR after the protestors emerging from the boat colony appeared near the National Highway, Bye-Pass, Bemina, near JVC and blocked the road and pelted stones on private and official vehicles lying on the road,” Faisal said. “To disperse the mob, tear gas shells were fired in the air and the mob got dispersed.  An FIR bearing No 272/2019 in respect of offences U/S 147, 148, 341, 336, 427, RPC was registered and investigation is in the process as no injury has been reported orally or written.”

The process dragged on for almost two years.

An order issued by CJM, Srinagar, reads that there was no harm in registering an FIR into the incident of the death of the deceased and investigate the circumstances. “The court said that the investigating officer should not be below the rank of a Deputy Superintendent of Police. It directed the officer to submit a status report on the investigation to the court after every 20 days,” the order said. “I do not hope much. How will they implicate their own officers?” Shagood said.

August 25, 2010

But Shagoo is not the only person who had to fight a larger battle to get an FIR registered.

On Friday, August 20, 2010, in the month of fasting, Umar Qayoom Bhat, 17, had gone to offer prayers. He was fasting. The erstwhile state was witnessing violent protests over Machil fake encounter.

Umar Qayoom Bhat, 17, a class eleventh student at MPML Higher Secondary School, Bagi Dilawar Khan, Srinagar was “ruthlessly tortured by police,” according to his family.

On June 11, 2010, Tufail Ashraf Mattoo, a student of Class twelfth at Government Higher Secondary School Hazratbal was killed.  His killings triggered massive protests across Kashmir. According to reports, the police had fired tear gas shells at him killing him on the spot. Tufail’s skull had cracked open by the impact of a shell that had hit his head so forcefully that parts of his brain spilt on the dirt of Gani Memorial Sports Stadium according to reports.

Both Qayoom and Mattoo were the only sons of their parents.

Torture Tale

After finishing Friday prayers, protests started. To foil protests, police chased protestors and dispersed the mob. However, police were able to lay their hand on Umar Qayoom Bhat and he was beaten on the street itself alleges the family. As Bhat’s phone was switched off, the worried family started looking for him. They found a single slipper lying on the street which they presumed belonged to Bhat.

“Everyone was saying that a boy has been almost killed on the street. Soon an old man asked my father to go to a police station to ascertain if his son is in the police station near SKIMS Soura,” his sister said.

As Abdul Qayoom Bhat saw his son, he broke down. “I am not able to get up or walk,” his son had told him. Despite repeated requests to shift Bhat to a hospital, his sister alleged police rejected the request.

In the evening when his father went with milk and bananas to break his fast, he saw his son oozing blood out of the mouth. Later in the night, one of the neighbours helped the family talk to Bhat wherein his repeated requested would be to take him to hospital.

As he was released on bail, on August 25, 2010, “four days after he was released by Soura police station from custody”, Qayoom succumbed to injuries at the hospital as his internal organs were “damaged after police beat him during detention,” his sister recalls.

He had succumbed due to, “respiratory hypertension with severely deranged blood gases, diffuse intrapulmonary haemorrhage and blunt trauma on chest,” as per the hospital records accessed by Kashmir Life.

Hospital Involvement

However, the family believes that hospital authorities were complicit with police in hiding the truth as they initially kept us in dark over internal damage to organs. “At the hospital, the doctors said he is normal without conducting proper tests and discharged Umar swiftly. On the next day when his condition got worsened, we rushed him to the hospital again wherein after he was put him on the ventilator,” said his sister.

He succumbed to his injuries on August 25, 2010, triggering a wave of protests in his area of Soura.

Eight Years

A daily wager, Abdul Qayoom Bhat lost his only son among three daughters. He continued to pursue justice. Besides, the expenses, the legal process cost him his earnings, his daughter said.

In 2011 the family had moved an application before the court seeking an FIR into his death wherein they had mentioned that Qayoom was “arrested by the personnel of Soura police station Soura and was beaten mercilessly”.

“It took us eight long years to get an FIR lodged,” his daughter said after a local court in Srinagar directed the Soura police station to lodge an FIR in the custodial killing.

In March 2018, the family hired deceased Babar Qadri and three hearings later an FIR was lodged. An FIR into his death was filed at Police Station Soura on the directions of the CJM on September 9, 2018, under FIR No 97 of 2018 under section 302 RPC.

Police were given 42 days to file a charge sheet but nearly three years have passed the police are yet to submit it. Lately, on August 26, 2021, the daughter and father protested in the press enclave and demanded to file the charge sheet.

“I am fighting for everyone and not just my brother. What happened with us can happen with anyone,” she said. We cannot even afford a lawyer and need support to continue justice. “I am looking for a lawyer,” she said.

For more than a decade the justice according to families continues to elude them.

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