Srinagar: The family of a 48-year-old man, who allegedly took his own life after being named as a suspect in the Poonch terror attack case, has dubbed the magisterial probe ordered by the Jammu and Kashmir administration as an “official cover-up”.
Seeking a judicial probe into the death of Mukhtar Hussain Shah, his family alleged that the order of the magisterial inquiry was “full of discrepancies”. “The order reads like an attempt to cover up the truth. It is a farce. We reject it and demand a judicial probe,” said Rafaqat Hussain Shah, Mukhtar’s brother.
Sources at the Rajouri district hospital, where Mukhtar breathed his last on April 27, said that the victim had reportedly consumed some poisonous substance which is suspected to have caused his death. “The exact cause of [his] death will be known once the post-mortem proceedings are completed,” the source added.
Rafaqat claimed that there were “bruises” and “black marks” on Mukhtar’s back and thighs, suggesting that he was tortured in custody. “If he has committed any wrong, let the investigators reveal the facts publicly. Why are they trying to hide the truth?” he said.
Senior superintendent of police, Poonch, Rohit Baskotra, hung up the call when The Wire asked for his comments on the case and what are the charges, if any, against Mukhtar. Deputy commissioner of Poonch, Inder Jeet, when contacted, said the matter is not within his jurisdiction now as he has been transferred out of the district.
Earlier this week, Tahir Mustafa Malik, additional deputy commissioner, Poonch, was appointed as inquiry officer by the J&K administration to conduct an “in-depth magisterial inquiry into the incident and circumstances (that) led to the death” of Mukhtar.
The inquiry order
Mukhtar, a farmer from Poonch’s Nar village, allegedly died by suicide, days after he was summoned by security agencies for questioning in the Bhata Durian terror attack case, as per his family.
Barring the youngest child, the rest of his three children study at a local school.
However, a Jammu-based daily reported that Mukhtar was “not a suspect… but was called for questioning like most of the residents of his village that is located near the ambush site.” “We came to know [that] he was facing domestic issues and was disturbed,” the daily quoted an unnamed official as saying.
While the inquiry order says that the victim consumed poison at his home on Tuesday, April 25, the family dismissed the claim as a “white lie”. “I got a phone call on Wednesday [April 26] that Mukhtar was lying unconscious on the road. We took him to a hospital in Mendhar and doctors referred us to the Rajouri district hospital on the same day where he passed away on Thursday [April 27] at 12:20 am. I don’t know why they have written these lies,” said Rafaqat.
Quoting the family and locals, the inquiry order says that Mukhtar took the grave decision of ending his life “within hours after being asked to report to the police station in Mendhar for questioning in connection with the terror attack on an army vehicle” in Poonch.
However, the family rejected the order as an “eyewash”, claiming that Mukhtar got the first phone call from the security forces on the day of the attack itself, i.e., on April 20. Rafaqat said that Mukhtar went to the police station on the next day. He was detained for two days because of which their family didn’t celebrate Eid.
According to reports, there were subdued Eid festivities in Nar, Sanjiote and other villages located in the vicinity of the terror attack in Bhata Durian as the J&K police and the army were actively carrying out raids at several places to find clues about the attackers.
Rafaqat said that Mukhtar returned home two days later on April 23 at around 2:30 pm. “But he again got a phone call, asking him to come to Poonch on the same day for questioning. That was the last time we saw him,” said Rafaqat, breaking down into tears.
As the news of Mukhtar’s death spread on April 27, a pall of gloom descended on the village. Accompanied by neighbours and relatives, Mukhtar’s family, which comprises elderly parents, five brothers, their wives and children, blocked the Jammu-Poonch national highway between Bhimber Gali and Bhata Durian.
The protesters demanded an impartial inquiry into the circumstances that led to Mukhtar’s death following which the magisterial probe was ordered. During the protest, they were shouting anti-police, anti-administration, pro-army and pro-India slogans.
Allegations of torture
A video on Mukhtar’s phone shows him speaking incoherently and breaking down multiple times while alleging that he, his family, and the neighbours were subjected to torture in the aftermath of the terror attack. The video appears to have been recorded just before he passed away.
“I am not under any pressure from the army, police or any villager,” said Mukhtar, in the video, holding a small polythene bag in his hands, purportedly containing a bottle of insecticide. “I am taking my life, which is forbidden by my religion, because of the torture faced by my family and neighbours. No one is listening to me, even though I am telling the truth. It is totally wrong…I don’t have knowledge of anything.”
The duration of the video was 9 minutes and 48 seconds. It seems to have been recorded by another, unidentified person, as Mukhtar is seen rolling his eyeballs in anguish. However, no other person is visible in the frame.
The J&K police have not released any statement on the encounter or Mukhtar’s death.
Expressing regret over the death of five army soldiers, Mukhtar rejected having any links with militants. He also claimed to have worked with the police and the army last year during an encounter in Poonch. He named at least two police officials (names withheld) who were with him before he allegedly took his life.
“I am leaving for good because my villagers and friends are facing problems because of me. I helped the police and the army last year in the encounter. I am doing it today also. I am not afraid. I am on the righteous path. My family has sided with India till this day. But the same family is being tortured from all sides today,” he said, urging his family and villagers to “protect our country and cooperate with the forces”.
According to Rafaqat, one of their uncles, Gulzar Hussain Shah, his wife Khurshid Begum, two daughters, Shahnaz Akhtar and Masrat Kounser and two sons, Tahir Ali Shah and Morawat Ali Shah, were gunned down by suspected militants on September 14, 2000.
“From the last few years, we were living in peace, but the [terror] attack [in Poonch] has revived those horrors again. The government should give us justice, The person who recorded the video found in Mukhtar’s phone and still allowed him to consume poison should be unmasked and punished as well,” said Rafaqat.
Since the day the attack took place in Poonch, Rafaqat said that the army and the police carried out searches at their house on at least two occasions. “They vandalised our belongings and beat us. Even his [Mukhtar’s] 12-year-old son was not spared and slapped repeatedly. What was his crime? We only want justice,” he said.