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Srinagar: Grief-stricken cries emanate from the corner window of a single-storied house in Srinagar’s Natipora locality. Then they crash into the high walls of the double- and triple-storied houses of the locality before melting into the hot, humid air.
Across the black metal gate, which separates the small, unfinished house from the main road, a tin coffin has been set along the side of a paved path. A neatly-folded shroud for the dead lies on top of the coffin and a canvas tent used for funeral baths has been set up on the path.
Inside the house, two women are trying to console Shafiqa, a middle-aged woman in a black qameez with bright floral prints, who is crying for her “groom” son to return home. “Where have you gone, my brave son? Come to your mother. I will renounce this life only to get a glimpse of you, my friend.”
Fifty-three-year-old Shafiqa’s son, Muslim Muneer Lone, 21, was detained by the Jammu and Kashmir Police on July 9 for his alleged involvement in a theft case (FIR No 95/2022). A police team from the Nowgam police station in Srinagar came to their house at around 9:30 am on Saturday, according to the family.
“A policeman (name withheld) told me that Muslim was being probed in a case of theft and that they will set him free soon. Had I known that he was going to get killed, I would have never let them enter the house,” said Shafiqa, weeping inconsolably.
In the afternoon, Shafiqa said the same police team dropped in again. According to her, there were only male policemen and they had come in a private car. “They told me that I have to come to the police station because Muslim had lost consciousness. I felt terrified,” she recalled, as a woman tucked loose strands of Shafiqa’s hair under a translucent scarf covering her head.
About 15 minutes into the journey, the car came to a grinding halt, “The policeman asked me to shift to another vehicle which was parked on the roadside. When I got into the car, I saw Muslim lying on the middle seat. He couldn’t talk. They made me sign some papers and gave me Rs 400,” she said, loosening the knot at the corner of her scarf in which she had kept the cash.
Instead of going to a hospital or to the police station, the policemen brought the woman and her son back to their residence. “They hauled Muslim into a room with their hands. One of the cops asked us to switch on the fan and open the curtains. Muslim was unresponsive but they told us that he had lost consciousness,” Shafiqa said, showing a purported missed call that one of the investigators allegedly made to his phone at 4:38 pm before leaving the house.
With the police team gone, Muslim’s condition showed no sign of improvement. “When we checked him, he had lost his breath. I immediately put him into my car and rushed him to a private hospital nearby where doctors declared him brought dead,” Zeeshan, Muslim’s cousin, told The Wire.
Shocked by the turn of events, the aggrieved family, instead of returning home, held a demonstration along with the dead body on the main road outside their locality in Srinagar on Saturday night. Shouting anti-police and pro-Islam slogans, the protesters alleged that Muslim was tortured in police custody which led to his death.
The demonstration continued till Saturday midnight.
The J&K Police, however, denies the allegations that Muslim was tortured in custody. The police claimed that Muslim was a drug addict which possibly led to his death. “During questioning, his health condition got worse as he had taken heavy drugs and was not responding well. After that, he was handed over to his family members,” SSP Srinagar Rakesh Balwal told Rising Kashmir.
It is not clear why a person in custody whose condition had deteriorated to the point that he had lost consciousness was not rushed to the hospital for treatment.
“They are trying to cover up the crime,” alleged Zeeshan, Muslim’s cousin. “Has the police ever caught him with drugs? There is no police case against him anywhere in Kashmir. They are justifying his death by saying that he was a drug addict. We demand an impartial probe.”
Following intense protests, a team of senior police officers arrived in the area on Saturday night and promised the family that a transparent probe will be conducted to find out the cause of Muslim’s death. A senior police officer said that inquest proceedings under 174 CrPC have been initiated in the case. “We will take legal and departmental action if any foul play is proved in the case,” the officer said.
Meanwhile, the body of Muslim, the lone bread earner of his family, was taken to Srinagar’s SMHS hospital on Sunday afternoon for post mortem examination, after which it is likely to be handed back to the family for his last rites.
Following public outrage, the J&K Police on Monday, July 11, suspended one of its officials who was part of the police team from Nowgam police station that had detained Muslim. “Formal inquiry into the matter was started and one official of Nowgam Police station (who the family members and relatives suspect of foul play) has been placed under suspension for a fair and transparent inquiry.”
“Srinagar police reiterates its resolve to conduct the departmental inquiry and proceedings of 174 CrPC in a professional and transparent manner without any favour or bias,” a police spokesperson said. Inspector General of Police Vijay Kumar told The Wire that they are waiting for the post-mortem report of the deceased,
At the aggrieved family’s single-storied house, one of the neighbours told The Wire that Muslim’s father, Muneer Ahmad Lone, who worked in the Srinagar Cantonment of the Army, died some years ago after which the family slipped into poverty. “Muslim had brought a load carrier recently with which he used to make some money and run his family. With his death, the family has been destroyed,” said the neighbour, requesting anonymity.
Despite Eid celebrations in Kashmir, dozens of relatives and neighbours have gathered to console Shafiqa. Her second son, Moomin Muneer Lone, who is also jobless, was at the hospital, waiting for the doctors to finish the medico-legal formalities. In the absence of any male family member at the house, preparations for Muslim’s last rites were being made by the neighbours.
“Only he (Muslim) knew what happened to him at the police station. Had he got a breath of life, he could have told us when the police brought him home. But he was dead already. He could not utter even a word,” said Fancy, a relative of Muslim’s.
Note: This article was originally published on July 10 and updated on July 11 with the news that one police officer has been suspended.