Many in the Valley see the lynching as another instance of a fast deteriorating situation where the decades-old conflict has taken a huge human toll.
Srinagar: “Why did they do this to us?”asked Danish Ayoub, the son of police officer Mohammed Ayub Pandith who was lynched by a mob in downtown Srinagar on June 23, as his family and relatives struggle to make sense of the killing that has led to an outrage in the Valley.
Pandith, a deputy superintendent of police who was working in the security wing of Jammu and Kashmir police, was beaten to death by a mob outside Jamia Masjid, the main mosque in Srinagar, on Thursday (June 22), which was Shab-e-Qadr – an auspicious night for Muslims when, according to belief, the Quran was revealed to Prophet Muhammad.
The slain officer had left home at around 8:30 pm for “duty at the mosque,” according to Ayoub, saying he would return in the morning. The family had planned to celebrate this Eid together and their only daughter, who is studying MBBS in Bangladesh, had returned home some ten days ago.
While both Ayoub and his sister are in shock, their mother is inconsolable. “We are all waiting for you to celebrate Eid together…come for us,” she cried aloud.
Varying narratives of the attack
Narratives about the lynching vary. According to an eyewitness, the police officer, who was in civilian clothing, was caught by a group of youth for clicking pictures or videos of people around, accusing him of being a mukhbir (police spy).
He was then asked to prove his identity by the youth who had by then grown in number and had started hitting him. “A few people tried to intervene but they were pushed to the side. Sensing a threat to his life, the policeman took out his pistol and fired at the youth, injuring three persons,” said the eyewitness. This, he said, enraged the mob who stripped him naked and started “hitting him with whatever they could lay their hands on,” which led to the police officer’s death.
According to local media reports, at least two men who were accompanying him had managed to flee. Policemen posted in the security wing do not wear uniform as a matter of service regulation.
The director general of police, S.P. Vaid, said Pandith was on “access control duty” outside the mosque to ensure protection of the people offering prayers there.
“They [the mob] had broken his jaws, his bones… this is not what Islam teaches us. It is barbarianism. It was a brutal murder,” said Umer, Pandith’s nephew.
The slain officer, described as honest and down-to-earth by relatives and neighbours, had “no craze of being a police official”. “He was so simple that most of the people in the locality don’t know that he was a police official,” Umer added.
According to another relative of Pandith, his body was lying on the road for more than 45 minutes before it was taken away by the police.
Social media outrage
The killing has led to outrage in Kashmir with people taking to social media to condemn the attack. “Deeply disturbed & condemn the brutal act at Nowhatta. Mob violence & public lynching is outside the parameters of our values & religion,” tweeted separatist Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who had gone to the mosque past midnight to deliver his sermon.
“Act of stoning DySp Ayub Pandith in Nowhatta is barbaric & ghastly,” tweeted political commentator Gowhar Geelani.
Another user Mir Burhan tweeted: “Mob lynching reaches Kashmir, I am ashamed.”
The police, which has increasingly come under attack from both anti-India protesters and militants, has so far arrested five in connection with the killing. This year alone, the Jammu and Kashmir police has lost 16 personnel of the total 29 security personnel killed so far.
“Police is exercising maximum restraint in dealing with its own people. If they run out of patience, it will be a very difficult situation,” chief minister Mehbooba Mufti told reporters after the wreath laying ceremony of the slain officer.
She termed the killing as shameful while National Conference working president Omar Abdullah described the officer’s death as a “tragedy and the manner of his death a travesty.”
“Had he died of a bullet we would have no regrets. What was his crime that he was killed in such a barbaric and inhumane way?” asked the slain officer’s cousin Muhammad Abdullah Pandith.
Many see the lynching as an instance of the fast deteriorating situation in Kashmir where the decades-old conflict has taken a huge human toll. “This [lynching] is the outcome of extreme violence that Kashmiris are subjected to in daily life. It is now threatening to brutalise the society,” an elderly man told a group of mourners who were perplexed at the manner in which the police officer was killed.