Monday, March 4, 2024

25 years after custodial killing of Kashmir man, court orders to probe investigating officers

According to Ramzan’s postmortem report, reviewed by Maktoob, multiple injuries in his body were the reason for his death and he had “sustained a sharp penetrating injury to the right paraspinal region to liver laceration profuse hemorrhage -shock – cardiorespiratory arrest and death”. Photo: Abrar Fayaz/Maktoob

Jameela Bhat has recorded her statements hundreds of times before police officers in the valley in the last 25 years – repeating the same story again and again – in a case of her husband’s custodial killing. “Even when I talk about it now, I can see the same visuals of that day,” she said. “I have been telling the same story all these years.”

All these years, her cries for justice fell on deaf ears till the Srinagar district court rejected the closure report submitted by the police on 15 March this year. On 1 April, the Bhat family filed a petition against the closure of the case.

On 28 October, the Srinagar court disposed of the closure report into the case of Mohammad Ramzan Bhat, who was killed in the Miskeen Bagh area of Srinagar in 1996. The court directed the police to form a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the role of investigating officers after identifying the faults in the case.

This might be the first time wherein one SIT will be investigated by another investigation team and the investigation is to be completed preferably in a period of six months, advocate Tabassum Rasool told Maktoob.

“This case is a living example of ‘Crime never dies’,” the lawyer said. “No doubt  the victims are waiting for justice since 25 years but it is also to be noted that even after so many years the court has come to rescue of justice and innocent killings.”

The judiciary in Kashmir has a rough reputation for handling human rights violation cases in the valley, piling up for the last three decades. Since the 1990s, when the counter-insurgency was at its peak, there have been numerous charges of extrajudicial executions in Jammu and Kashmir.

In Jammu and Kashmir, such killings never stopped. From January 2008 to December 2018, there were 4,059 extrajudicial killings in J-K. Out of 4059, 1,081 were unarmed civilians.

However, this case, Tabassum said, will set an example that might help bridge the gap in the system perceived by the people. “This case would somewhere act as a bridge between people and judicial system where their lost hopes will revive  and their faith on judicial and executive wing may take a rebirth,” Rasool said. “Justice will prevail for sure.”

The court’s order reads that it has been alleged that Ramzan was killed in an encounter while the post-mortem report suggests otherwise. Noting the delay in the case “unfortunate”, the judge said that “the investigation of the instant case has not been conducted properly from the beginning.”

The killing

On 31 May 1996, Jameela heard loud screams and she immediately rushed outside to see a partially damaged white gypsy of uniformed policemen – two of whom she clearly identified as Azam Gujroo and Abdul Majeed who were the creditors of my husband-who stood in front of her husband’s departmental store. Some troops were standing near the vehicle and a few were inside the shop while Ramzan was going through his ledger book, she recalled.

“One of them [troops] hit his [Ramzan] right eye with something and they started beating him till he fell unconscious. We tried to help him but were shut with abuses. He was then picked up and taken away in the gypsy,” she said to this reporter.

All of them followed the gypsy on scooters, bicycles, and auto-rickshaws till they spotted it standing outside the Rainawari police station near Vishwa Bharati College in Srinagar district. “Troops were taking him [Ramzan, who was subconcious] inside the police station on their shoulders as soon as we arrived at the spot,” Jameela said.

“We tried to find out why he had been arrested. But after a few minutes, he was again taken on shoulders in the same gypsy,” she recalled. “He looked dead.”

Jameela alleged when they tried to approach him, “the forces fired aerial shots and beat us with batons, but we did not leave and took cover behind the parked vehicles until we saw the gypsy departing once again.” She added that they followed the gypsy again till it went inside Miskeen Bagh Centre. “We waited outside the camp till 10:30 but in vain.”

“At 11:30 pm, we heard gunshots and it continued till 11:45 pm. I kept crying and praying for everyone’s safety and my husband’s, who was innocent,” Jameela shared her ordeal, who spent the night sitting in one position, restless and sleepless.

The next day, they visited the police station again in the hope of finding Ramzan, then 37, “but at the same time, two children approached us and informed us that two bodies have been found in Miskeen Bagh Centre.”

Jameela Bhat has recorded her statements hundreds of times before police officers in the valley in the last 25 years – repeating the same story again and again – in the case of her husband’s custodial killing. Photo: Abrar Fayaz/Maktoob

Meanwhile, Jameela’s neighbor came and asked her to accompany him. “I asked if one of the dead bodies was of my husband’s, he said ‘yes’,” Jameela sobbed. “His body was thrown into a stream. He had torture marks on his body, a deep cut on side of abdomen, and marks on wrists.”

According to Ramzan’s postmortem report, reviewed by Maktoob, multiple injuries in his body were the reason for his death and he had “sustained a sharp penetrating injury to the right paraspinal region to liver laceration profuse hemorrhage -shock – cardiorespiratory arrest and death”.

“Ecchymosis around the right eye, right eye closes, left eye semi-open. Bruise right pinna,” reads the report.

Ramzan’s cartilages were damaged at an above level while his heart and right kidney were congested and his “abdomen [was] full of blood.” He had strangulation marks on both wrists and his 8th, 9th, and 10th ribs were fractured. “Fracture dislocation and injuries on the body” the report reads.

Thirty-one-year-old Bilal Bhat said an investigation was going on in his father’s case but no action was ever taken in the family’s favor.

Bilal told Maktoob that they had moved motion in Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) where statement of witnesses were recorded with respect , to the case in 2003.

“In 2007, the SHRC issued a recommendation reflected that my father was innocent and was killed in a fake encounter and the culprits should be charged. But again, no action was taken,” he said.

Investigation

On 1 June 1996, Khanyar police station received a docket stating that on 31 May 1996, at Miskeen Bagh a militant named Ramzan who was a part of Zarb-ul-Mujahideen outfit was killed. The then Station House Officer (SHO), Khanyar filed an FIR No. 88/1996.

Bhat’s body was then taken to the police hospital for the postmortem which was later handed over to the family for last rites. The case was closed as “untraced.”

In 2006, Jameela filed a petition wherein it has been stated that “the two armed guard personnel then posted at Social Welfare Department Miskeen Bagh namely Majeed and Azam Gujjar had borrowed essential commodities worth [Rupees] 7,500/- from Ramzan’s shop on credit.”

He “when demanded money both the guard personnel got annoyed and they with the help of SOG [Special Operations Group] Rainawari they arrested Ramzan. “He was tortured which resulted in his death,” the petition stated. “The guards and SOG Rainawari Mir Hussein then threw the body of Bhat in a nallah [stream]… the guards and SOG Rainawari after killing Bhat conspired and involved him in a fake encounter.”

hopeful that something might happen in our favor,” Bilal who was six when his father was killed by cops, said to Maktoob. Photo: Abrar Fayaz/Maktoob

Following the petition, the case was reopened by the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Srinagar who entrusted the matter to the Special Investigating Team (SIT) North Zone Srinagar. “Further investigation of the case shall be completed by the said SIT on priority and furnish the detailed report to this office,” he had directed.

No progress was, however, made in the case after 2006, according to the court’s issued on 28 October this year.

According to the court’s most recent order, the then-SHO Rainawari Mir Hussein, Constable Noorudin 427 9th BTN, and Constable Ali Mohammad 2066 misled the investigating agency and presented false details about the incident.

In its order, the court directed the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Srinagar to form an SIT headed by an officer not lower than the rank of DYSP to investigate the current case and the role of all officials who played a key role in the investigation of the case prior to the case being opened in 2006. “He is required to complete the inquiry in a timely way, ideally within six months,” the directive states.

For Bilal, “it was a continuous trauma — especially for my mother — recording the statements again and again for different officers and judges.”

“We never lost hope. We knew one day we will get justice and this judgment has given light to our hope. We are hopeful that justice shall prevail and culprits shall be held liable,” Bilal who was six when his father was killed by cops, said to Maktoob.

Jameela still awaits justice.

“I will fight till I get justice. I won’t stop,” she said.

Gafira Qadir is a journalist based in Kashmir, covering human rights, gender and education.

Gafira Qadir
Gafira Qadir
Gafira Qadir is a journalist based in Kashmir, covering human rights, gender, and education.
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