Clashes erupt in south Kashmir after teacher dies in police custody
A 29-year-old school teacher, picked up from his south Kashmir home on Sunday evening in connection with a terror case, has died in police custody, triggering clashes in the Valley and allegations that he may have been murdered.
A police spokesman said Rizwan Pandit, a resident of Awantipora in Pulwama district, had been in custody in “pursuance of a terror case investigation” when he died. The state government has ordered a magisterial inquiry into the circumstances of his death on the intervening night of Monday and Tuesday.
Asked about the allegations of murder in custody, Srinagar senior superintendent of police Haseeb Mughal said, “There is a magisterial inquiry underway and, separately, a police investigation has also been initiated in the jurisdictional area of incident.”
Pandit’s family was informed about his death at the Cargo counter-insurgency police camp in Srinagar on Tuesday morning. A postgraduate in chemistry, Pandit was the principal of a private school in Awantipora and had also been running a private coaching centre.
In Awantipora, clashes erupted as soon as news of Pandit’s death broke. Angry protestors threw stones at the police, who fired tear gas shells to bring the situation under control, officials said. The separatists have called a total strike on Wednesday and protests on Thursday against Pandit’s death.
Pandit’s family alleged it was a “cold-blooded murder”. “Yesterday [Monday] morning, they told us he is at Cargo. Today [Tuesday] morning, we were informed he has died. We couldn’t understand how it happened, people started coming to our home. This is such a tyranny,” said Pandit’s brother, Zulkarnain.
Zulkarnain said Pandit was booked under the Public Safety Act (PSA) six months ago and taken to Kathua jail but the case was quashed by a court. “Rizwan was associated with the Jamaat-e-Islami like our father, which is not a crime. He was innocent. He had no links with any militant outfit. It is a cold-blooded murder,” he alleged.
Human rights groups have turned up the heat on the police. “Today... a young teacher from Awantipora has been killed inside the Air Cargo camp, controlled by notorious Special Operations Group of Jammu & Kashmir police. Police has ordered investigation, but apparently not filed FIR (first information report) for murder under section 302,” tweeted Khuram Parvez, coordinator of the J&K Coalition of Civil Society.
Several political leaders, including Omar Abdullah of the National Conference, Mehbooba Mufti of the Peoples Democratic Party and Sajjad Lone of the People’s Conference have condemned the incident and demanded that the government fix responsibility.
“I had hoped custodial deaths were a thing of our dark past. This is an unacceptable development & must be investigated in a transparent, timebound manner. Exemplary punishment must be handed out to the killers of this young man,” Abdullah tweeted.
Mufti said: “Innocent men hauled up from their homes for interrogation return home only in coffins now. GoI’s repressive approach leaves young educated men vulnerable who are forced to take up arms. Stop using Kashmir to exhibit your sick chauvinistic nationalism. We have suffered enough.”