When authorities at the Islamic University of Science and Technology, Awantipora announced the sudden and unexplained postponement of exams on February 19, just a couple of hours before they were scheduled, many sensed trouble – something usual in Kashmir. The suspense melted away before by 11:30 am, when news broke that a 30-year-old private school principal and chemistry tutor, Rizwan Assad Pandit, had died in police custody.
What followed was the usual – a long wait for his body, protests, clashes, statements, condemnations, orders for an investigation, a huge, late-night funeral and an instant, refusing-to-fade social media furore talking about #Rizwan and seeking #JusticeForRizwan.
At Rizwan’s home, people can still be seen visiting his shattered family and his graveyard. While his parents and two sisters are still in shock, his elder brother, Mubashir, is putting up a brave face meeting visitors. Since Tuesday, he has been responding to queries from the media about Rizwan’s past and how his body looked like when it was brought home.
“He was brutally tortured; his left eye had turned black and his head bore two stitches; the body showed clear burn and cut marks making it obvious that they had used a hot iron over his thighs and some cutting tool as well; the cuts were deep and his spine broken,” narrates Mubashir, while showing the only picture he took of his brother’s body on his phone.
Rizwan was picked up by the local police at around 10:30 pm during a late-night raid at his home on Sunday, March 17.
“We were sitting together as usual after having dinner and eatibg oranges that Rizwan had brought that evening on his way home and suddenly they (police) knocked on the door,” Mubashir said.
“They barged in and locked all of us in a room to prevent us from resisting their intended move of taking Rizwan with them without giving us any reason,” he says hurriedly, as if in fear that we will stop listening.
He opens the cupboard and brings out a polythene bag to show three odd oranges. “See what his last memory with us is; these clothes were also unpacked by them; Vuchiv haz yi, Yi ti haz (See this and that),” he says, while pointing to multiple things.
Mubashir and one of his sisters have the urge to show all of their brother’s belongings – clothes, books, shoes and, among many other things, the gifts he had got from his students after he rejoined his school this year after he was released this January from Kot Balwal Jail Jammu. Rizwan was lodged there since August last year, under the Public Safety Act which was subsequently quashed just after five months against the usual two-year term, declaring him innocent.
The birthday gifts comprise flowers, chocolates and written wishes his students had sent him. Rizwan had turned 30 on Monday, March 18 – the day between the two nights of his arrest and killing.
The memories include his memoirs that he had brought home on his return from Dehradun Central University, where he completed his masters in chemistry. His sister shows me a white laboratory apron with names of his friends at the university and their parting notes like ‘Take care Rezvaan’, ‘I’ll always miss you’, ‘All the best’ and ‘Always keep smiling’ .
Sabir Abdullah Public School (SAPS), where Rizwan was the principal, wears a deserted look. Mubashir drove us there in his car. The school has been shut since Rizwan’s death. A peon, bursting into tears, welcomes us in at the gate.
Inside the principal’s office lies a distinguished chair, behind a brownish grey table, holding some office papers, a pen holder, a calendar, a glass tumbler and a writing pad – all waiting for ‘The Principal’.
At his home, Rizwan’s students have been visiting more than everyone else. They narrate tales of his simplicity, friendly behaviour and affection towards them.
While leaving, we noticed one of his students eager to say something and asked him to comment:
“All I can say is that he was more like our loving brother than our principal. You can ask others as well. We knew him much more closely as we used to spend eight hours with him daily. He was our role model and will continue to be so even after his death.”
Waseem Dar is a freelance photojournalist and Mudasir Nazar is a freelance writer, both based in Kashmir.