"It Is Cold-Blooded Murder," Says Father Of J&K Principal Who Was "Killed" In Police Custody
Rizwan Asad Pandit, a school principal whom the Jammu and Kashmir police detained for questioning in a “militancy related case”, died in Srinagar in police custody. While his family termed his death as a “cold-blooded” murder, several people protested in Kashmir.
The principal of a local school, Rizwan also taught Chemistry there. Last year, he had taught at a local polytechnic college, where he had been hired on a contractual basis. He also ran a tuition centre in Awantipora town. On the night of March 17, police from the Awantipora police station picked him up during a raid at his house. His family was informed about his death two days later.
As alleged by a relative of Rizwan, police had harassed him in the past as well, and had arrested him on two occasions in 2015 and 2017. He was arrested last August and booked under the Public Safety Act (PSA). This Act allows the state to jail a person without a trial for up to two years.
“He was murdered in custody”
A protest was staged by family members of Rizwan on the Srinagar-Jammu highway at Awantipora Chowk on Thursday, March 21. They demanded that his post-mortem report be made public. Rizwan’s brother, Mubashir Hussain, led the protest, which was joined by several villagers, including Sikhs.
“My brother (Rizwan) had been brutally tortured. He was murdered in custody,” said Mubashir Hussain.
Mubashir told The Wire that Rizwan had “multiple horizontal cuts” on both his thighs. “The thighs had turned black as if they had been burnt…there were cuts on the thighs. He had a swollen and bruised abdomen,” he said.
He further said that Rizwan’s right leg had been broken and doctors at the Srinagar hospital where Rizwan’s autopsy was done claimed that he had suffered a spinal cord injury.
30-year-old Rizwan’s father, Assadullah Pandit, added that his son had two or three stitches on the left side of his head. “People don’t die in custody, they are killed. My son was killed in custody,” said Pandit.
While the post-mortem report is expected to be submitted by doctors at the Government Medical College (Srinagar), preliminary findings suggested that his death could have been a result of “profuse bleeding from vessels caused due to multiple injuries.”
Additional district magistrate Pulwama to conduct fresh probe
Rizwan’s family had visited Awantipora police station a day before his custodial death to ask for their son’s release. They were told that police had shifted him to the ‘Cargo’ detention centre in Srinagar.
The probe was shifted to Pulwama on Wednesday, March 20, by the government. A day after deputy commissioner Srinagar Shahid Iqbal told local media that a probe had been ordered by him by the additional district magistrate Srinagar, the decision was made.
The additional district magistrate Pulwama will now conduct a fresh probe, and he has been asked to submit the report within a month.
According to police, while Rizwan was being taken to a “location in Pulwama for searches”, he had attempted to escape. “An FIR (No 09/2019 under section 224 RPC (a person escapes or attempts to escape from custody) has been registered in the case,” reported local news agency GNS.
“The police are trying to cook up a story that my brother tried to escape from their custody. It is an absolute lie,” said Mubashir. He further said that the condition of Rizwan’s body could not possibly have allowed him to walk, let alone escape from a vehicle.
Rizwan’s friend joins militancy
In audio that has gone viral on social media, his friend Shahid Manzoor is heard pledging jihad to end Indian security forces’ oppression. Two days after Rizwan’s death in custody, Manzoor joined militancy.
“It is better to have a short and dignified life than a long one of slavery. I know after picking up a gun, my life would be very short but jihad is the only option left if you want to free your future generations from oppression and slavery of India,” Shahid Manzoor can be heard saying in the audio.
Manzoor also talks about himself and Rizwan being allegedly harassed by police on earlier occasions. He further claimed that he decided to join militancy after he got to know about his friend Rizwan’s killing. He is a resident of New Colony in Awantipora area of Pulwama in South Kashmir.
Recently, the Army had urged the mothers of Kashmir Valley to ask their sons to put down their guns and give up terrorism, or be prepared to die. Reportedly, over 150 local youth joined militancy last year and nearly 400 in three straight years.
After the encounter killing of Burhan Wani in 2016, there has been a rise in people joining militant ranks in South Kashmir districts.
Militancy incidents this year too have seen a huge surge. The deadliest attack took place in February where 40 CRPF jawans were martyred in Pulwama.