Slain Kashmiri Advocate Babar Qadri Was A ‘Fearless Democrat’
Syed Babar Qadri was assassinated by unknown gunmen at his Srinagar residence on 24 September, Thursday.
Syed Babar Qadri “was a true democrat who spoke his heart without any fear,” said Shafkat Nazir, a close friend and lawyer who worked with the slain Kashmiri advocate.
“We used to meet in the court daily. He always volunteered to help poor people looking for legal assistance. I can’t believe he is no more.”
Babar, a prominent human rights lawyer and television commentator, was assassinated by unknown gunmen at his Srinagar residence on 24 September, Thursday.
Hours before the assassination, Babar had hit out at the separatist ideologue and Kashmir High Court Bar Association president, Mian Qayoom, and accused unnamed lawyers associated with the Bar of planning to kill him. Lawyers associated with the Bar, however, rubbished his claims, saying they had no role in the killing.
In his last tweet, Babar, father to two minor girls, posted a screenshot of a Facebook user who accused him of working for ‘agencies’ and wrote, “I urge the state police administration to register FIR .... This can threat(en) my life,” and tagged the official handle of Jammu headquarter of J&K Police.
The assassination, second of its kind in two years after editor Shujaat Bukhari was shot dead by militants outside his office in Srinagar on 14 June 2018, has sent shockwaves across the Valley. His mortal remains were taken to their ancestral Sheikhpora Dhobiwan village in north Kashmir for last rites.
Babar’s Fight for Justice
Babar belonged to a Jamaat-e-Islami family. His father, Mohammad Yasin Qadri, has been a Jamaat associate for more than three decades. Babar completed his law degree from the University of Kashmir in 2007. He began activism at the varsity by reviving the banned KUSU. After passing out, he started practicing at a local court and J&K High Court. In 2011, he floated Kashmir Lawyers Club.
But his moment of reckoning came in 2012 when he was seen escorting a minor boy, Faizan Ahmad, then 12, who was arrested by police in Srinagar on charges of stone pelting and “waging war” against India, and paraded before media, in blatant violation of the juvenile justice law.
In the picture that circulated on social media, Faizan is seen pulled by a uniformed cop into a court in Srinagar while Babar is walking alongside him; his left arm wrapped around the twelve-year-old’s small shoulders.
According to his lawyer friends, Babar, in his 13-year-long career, defended hundreds of similar cases involving stone-pelters and other protesters, many times without charging his fee. “He would go out of his way to especially help the poor families who could not afford to hire a lawyer,” said Shafkat Nazir, another advocate.
Babar had returned from a court in Srinagar on Thursday afternoon when two unknown men knocked at the gate of his residence in the congested Hawal locality of downtown Srinagar, and sought to meet him. The men were asked to wait on a swing chair in the compound, said Rashid Maqbool, a neighbour.
“When he walked out of the house, the assassins shot him from barely two-metre distance. A bullet hit his skull and it proved lethal,” a senior police officer, who visited the scene of crime, told The Quint.
Babar, before his killing, had flagged concerns and fears over his activism. Inspector General of Kashmir Police, Vijay Kumar, said Babar was asked by his brother-in-law, a middle rung officer in J&K Police, to “leave home for few days.”
“He went against the advice,” said Kumar, during a press conference in Srinagar on Friday, without elaborating.
When the assassins struck, Babar’s eldest brother, Zaffar Qadri, also a lawyer, who was inside the house, rushed out but they had managed to escape. “He somehow limped his way back into the home but collapsed at the main door,” Zaffar said.
Their third brother, a tech postgraduate, is in New Delhi. He couldn’t attend the last rites.
Babar was rushed in a critical state to a super speciality hospital in Srinagar where he was declared dead on arrival.
“He had two injury marks; one on his head and another in his arm,” a doctor at Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Science said.
Haseeb Mughal, senior superintendent of Srinagar police, told media that a case has been filed.
“We have filed an FIR under relevant sections of IPC and investigations are underway,” said SSP Mughal.
IG Kumar has also said a special team headed by an SP ranked officer has been constituted to probe the assassination.
From Lawyer to Peace Activist
As a TV panelist, Babar was an outspoken votary of justice for the victims of excesses in Kashmir by armed forces. In one program hosted by Arnab Goswami in 2017, he shouted ‘Down With India’ and left the show midway when the anchor asked him to proclaim ‘Down with Pakistan’.
In another TV show in 2018, Maj Gen (Retd) KK Sinha accused Babar of being a “Pakistani agent.”
In an extensive television interview for a local channel, Babar said his father and Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin knew each other well before militancy was born in Kashmir. He also said he didn’t agree with the ideology of his father.
In the aftermath of the abrogation of Article 370, Babar had floated his political outfit called Justice Party which he said was meant to “build bridges” between people of Jammu, Ladakh and Kashmir. He termed New Delhi’s 5 August decision a “political aggression”.
An outspoken critic of the Hurriyat led by Syed Ali Geelani, he also said he was fortunate to be living in Jammu and Kashmir, as against the part of Kashmir under Pakistan’s control, “I can speak (without any repercussions). This is a fact,” he said in the TV interview.
Politics at Bar Association
Following the recent release of Bar president Mian Qayoom, Babar had accused him of securing his release by surrendering his political ideology. His membership of the Bar was suspended in 2012 for ‘constant criticism’ of its activities.
His associates in the legal fraternity said Babar was rallying support for his friends who were contesting against the incumbent members of the association. The elections to the Bar association were scheduled this Saturday and it is unclear if they will take place.
“He was not contesting for any post but he was very active in the election process,” said one of his friends, wishing anonymity.
Babar was a well-connected lawyer who knew people in high offices in both New Delhi and Islamabad, sources said.
In a Facebook live video, posted hours before the assassination, he had accused Qayoom of trampling on dissent in the Bar and turning it into an extension of the Geelani-led Hurriyat.
Qayoom could not be reached for his comments. The J&K Police has not given out any details about the assassination or the perpetrators involved in it.
“I don’t think either India or Pakistan is against my ideology. However, if I am hurting the vested interests of some people, so be it. I may be enemy for some people but I don’t have enmity with anyone,” he said in the TV interview.
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