A Kashmiri youngster, who was reported dead while in the custody of the Jammu and Kashmir Police on Wednesday, 16 September, has grave injury marks on his body, his family has claimed. They suspect ‘foul-play’ behind his death.
Speaking with The Quint, his brother, Waheed ul Akbar, a software engineer, said he found that three teeth of the victim, 23-year-old Irfan Ahmad Dar, were broken, and there were “grave injury marks” on his body.
Waheed was part of a small group who travelled from Sopore in north Kashmir to central Kashmir’s Ganderbal, nearly 100 kms away, to attend the last rites of his youngest brother, Irfan.
The J&K Police statement said that Irfan took “advantage of (the) darkness and terrain” and “managed to escape” during the raid. The body “was found near Stone Quarry of Tujjar-Sharief” in Sopore, the statement added.
“He fell on a stone and it might have caused his death. A post-mortem report is awaited. Once we get the report, a medical team can come up with the exact details.”Inspector General of Police (Kashmir), Vijay Kumar
Irfan – A ‘Father Figure’ In The Family
Irfan ran a small departmental store adjacent to his home in Sopore’s Sidiq Colony. The middle-class family also owns a tent business. Waheed credits his deceased brother with changing the financial condition of their family. Their father, who had started the store, passed away a few months ago.
“He (Irfan) dropped out of college and started the tent business at a young age. Although he was the youngest, he was a father figure for everyone in the family,” said Waheed, who has done an MTech at a university outside J&K.
“When I was learning, he was earning. Even though I am the eldest among the siblings, it was Irfan who sent me money. Now I had reached a point when I could give back. But death snatched him from us,” Waheed, who is presently working with a multinational company in South India, told The Quint, as he burst into tears.
How Irfan Came To Be Detained – And What Happened Next
On 15 September afternoon, three cops in civvies arrived at their store, said Waheed. The action, captured on CCTV and independently reviewed by this reporter, shows one of the men taking Irfan’s phone while another puts on his headset.
After a few minutes, Irfan is shown being whisked away. In the statement, the police claimed to have recovered two China-made grenades from his possession. However, the moments caught on CCTV don’t show any recoveries being made.
Javed Ahmad Dar, Irfan’s other elder brother, said that some cops of the J&K Police’s anti-militancy SOG unit – posted in Sopore Townhall – arrived at their store a couple of hours later, after Irfan was detained.
“They accused us of giving shelter to militants. They beat us up and ransacked the house but didn’t find anyone,” Javed, who supported Irfan in his business, told this reporter.
“I spoke with him over the phone but he said he will be back in the evening. The next morning, we got to know about his death. They have killed him,” Javed, who was also detained but later set free, told this reporter.
‘Not A Single Case Against Irfan. What Was His Crime?’
Waheed said his brother was an outgoing person who liked to buy expensive gadgets and often spent nights at hill resorts with his friends. “He had recently returned from a three day trip to Pahalgam. Because of his hard work, we were doing well and he was planning to buy an SUV,” he said.
“There is not a single case against him. He has never participated in stone-pelting. We are at a loss to understand what his ‘crime’ was – that they killed him,” Javed said.
Waheed, who was working from home due to the pandemic, is – every now and then – being consoled by a thin trickle of mourners who have been visiting their residence since his brother’s death.
He strongly denies claims by the J&K Police that his brother had ‘sheltered militants’.
“It would have saved his life if he had sheltered militants. If it was true, my brother would be alive. In the face of the torture that he was subjected to, he would have told them everything. But the truth is there was no one. They are cooking up a story to cover ‘their crime’,” he said.
After the news of Irfan’s death spread, the family had requested the police to hand over his body to them for the last rites, but, citing the pandemic guidelines, the police refused.
“In view of the pandemic, the body was buried at Sonmarg area of Ganderbal in presence of a magistrate and close relations,” IGP Kumar said in a press briefing on Thursday.
J&K’s History Of Custodial Deaths
The Jammu and Kashmir government on Thursday asked the District Magistrate (DM), Baramulla, to probe Irfan’s death. “To find out the truth, it has become expedient to institute Magisterial Enquiry into the incident.. (which) shall submit a report within 20 days,” said an order issued by the DM.
Kashmir isn’t new to custodial deaths, although their occurrence has gone down significantly. According to Amnesty International, there were 706 custodial deaths between 1990 and 1994 alone, in Jammu & Kashmir.
The Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) says there were 225 cases of custodial killings from 2002 to 2009. A report by International Federation for Human Rights and JKCCS states that between January 2008 and December 2018, 107 official probes were ordered by the Jammu & Kashmir government.
“All of these families are waiting for justice. Due to legal, political and moral impunity enjoyed by the armed forces, there have been zero prosecutions in hundreds of cases of human rights violations here,” said Khurram Pervez, JKCCS convenor.
No Hope Of Justice
Before Irfan’s, Rizwan Pandith, a young principal of a private school in Pulwama district, was the last person to die in police custody in J&K in May 2019.
The too, the police had claimed that Rizwan had died ‘while trying to escape’ from custody. After launching a magisterial probe, the police booked Rizwan for attempting to flee.
“If suspects flee police custody, the blame also falls on the erring cops accompanying them. In such situations, the normal course of law would be to also charge the cops for dereliction of duty. But in Kashmir, the victims are booked for getting themselves victimised,” said another human rights defender, who didn’t want to be named.
The findings of the probe into Rizwan’s death have not been revealed publicly. Irfan’s family too doesn’t expect much out of the official probe.
“I don’t expect any justice from the people and the system involved in the cold blooded murder of my brother,” said Waheed. “Our God will punish them for their crimes.”
(Jehangir Ali is a Srinagar-based journalist. He tweets at @gaamuk. This is a report and analysis, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)