How a Kashmiri Detainee ‘Turned Into a Militant’ in Police Custody
Since the 1990s, Tral in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district has remained a hotbed of militancy.
On the evening of 16 May, Mohammad Amin Malik managed to escape just as security forces approached his house, in Machama hamlet of south Kashmir’s Tral.
Malik, a 38-year-old labourer, got away before security forces could enter his house and recover an unregistered rifle and some bleaching powder.
“The police asked us about Malik and his whereabouts. When they couldn’t find him, they told us he needs to appear at the police station for questioning,” said Malik’s younger brother Zahoor Ahmad Malik.
Upon Malik’s return later, his family – including his mother and wife – persuaded him to report to the police station for questioning.
“Initially, he refused and turned down the requests. But, ultimately on 22 May, he was handed over by his family members to the police station in Tral, where his questioning began. The police officer concerned assured us that he will be safely released within a couple of days,” Malik’s family told The Quint.
However, 11 days later, on 2 June, another police party reached Malik’s residence. They brought his mother to the Special Operations Group (SOG) camp, located a few yards away from the police station in Tral, and asked her to convince Malik to surrender.
“Our confused mother had no idea what was going on and she just followed the order and asked her son to throw away the weapon and surrender. Malik was asking her to come close to the room where he was hiding but security forces did not allow her to go there,” said Zahoor.
According to the police, later that afternoon, Malik was taken to the SOG camp for further interrogation. However, during the interrogation, he somehow got hold of a service rifle (AK-47) belonging to police constable Amjad Khan and fired indiscriminately at the police personnel. Khan was left injured in the exchange.
The detainee is then said to have locked himself up in a room inside the SOG camp.
“Sensing grave danger to the lives of police personnel and that of Malik, his mother and executive magistrate were brought onto the site and repeated efforts were made to persuade him to throw away the weapon and surrender. But he continued to fire from inside the room. The exchange of fire continued and during the intervening night of 2-3 June, Malik was killed,” a police spokesman said.
Family Alleges Custodial Torture
Malik’s family, however, argues that he was not formally arrested and was only handed over to the police for questioning.
“This is a white lie... that Malik was arrested. The fact is that he was handed over to the police station by his family for questioning ,” said his brother Zahoor.
He added that if Malik had any plans to join militancy, he would not have handed himself over to the police in the first place.
“We used to meet him almost every day, since he was taken under police custody. In the beginning, he appeared to be fine and did not complain about anything. But with time, he started complaining about the torture meted out to him. On 2 June, I met him for the last time. His knee and arm were broken due to the torture and interrogation he had been facing inside the SOG camp.”Zahoor Malik
Cops Deny Family’s Allegation
A senior police officer, however, denied the family’s allegations that Malik was tortured.
“He was radicalised and was brought to the police station for questioning. The allegations of his family, that Malik was tortured, are baseless,” a police officer said on the condition of anonymity.
His brother said that no one, except ‘the Almighty’, knows how Malik was killed while in police custody. “We do not know what happened inside the police camp but we are sure that our brother was a labourer, not a militant.”
When asked about the claims of police regarding recovery of a rifle and other explosive material from Malik’s house, his brother replied saying:
“The recovered rifle was unregistered but it was conventional Kashmiri-type weapon used by our late father for hunting. We never thought of checking its registration with the district administration or of renewing it. The rifle was completely rusted and we had only preserved it in our late father’s memory. The bleaching powder, which the security forces recovered, was used for disinfection purposes in water tanks.”
According to his family, Malik was a former Hizbul Mujahideen militant, active during 2003, but had surrendered following his arrest in 2004.
“After remaining in prison for three years, he was released in 2007, and since then, he had been working as a labourer to feed his family. He was not involved in any illegal activities,” the family added.
Malik is survived by his wife Rifat and two little sons Nouman and Abrar.
His brother Shabir Ahmad Malik was also a militant of Al Qaeda-affiliated Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind – a militant outfit which was eliminated at Brenpathri village in Tral in June 2019.
According to the J&K Police, Shabir was initially affiliated with Lashkar-e-Taiba and later joined the Zakir Musa-led militant group.
Increased Violence in Tral
Malik was killed at the SOG camp the same day BJP leader Rakesh Pandita was shot dead, allegedly by militants.
A BJP councilor, Pandita was the chairman of the Tral Municipal Committee.
According to the police, three unidentified militants opened fire at Pandita, killing him on the spot. A woman, identified as Asifa, was also injured in the attack. She was the daughter of a friend whom Pandita had gone to visit.
“He succumbed to injuries, whereas the woman is seriously wounded and is currently in the hospital,” a police statement accessed by The Quint said.
This is the third such incident in 2021 – of a councillor being killed. Earlier, on 30 March, militants had stormed the office of the Sopore Municipal Council and killed two BJP councillors and a policeman.
Following Pandita’s killing, Sajad Lone, president of J&K Peoples Conference, tweeted: “Yet again, gunmen attack a non-combatant. This gun is a curse. Just ponder. Since the day this menace came into Kashmir, what have we seen. In a nutshell, total disempowerment of the Kashmiri. Dear gunmen, can you please go back to where you came from. We have had enough.”
Since the 1990s, Tral in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district has remained a hotbed of militancy. It is also the hometown of former Hizbul militant commander Burhan Wani.
The town became an epicentre of Kashmir’s unrest during 2016, which led to the killing of 91 people and left more than 12,000 wounded – as the cycle of death went on for months.
However, there has been a considerable decline in local militant recruitment over the past two years, an official in Awantipora police district said.
Human rights activist and Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society programme coordinator Khurram Parvez told The Quint that the cycle of violence is unending in Kashmir.
“Irrespective of any affiliations and ideas, no one should be killed. Every killing should be investigated because otherwise the crime will never die and criminals will always find ways to kill people.”Khurram Parvez, Human Rights Activist
(Irfan Amin Malik is a journalist based in Kashmir. He tweets @irfanaminmalik.)
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