‘Another promising life snuffed out in Kashmir’

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An alarmingly outrageous death trailed by a familiar pattern has just shaken the valley. While a prominent unionist leader sees the shades of the ‘dark past’ in Rizwan Asad’s custodial death inside Cargo, many feel the case will eventually meet the slain lecturer’s fate.

By Zubair Khan

Just when the young schoolteacher was looking forward to his normal life, his sibling, Zulkanian recalls, fighting tears and dizzying state of mind, he was arrested in a nocturnal raid from his home in south Kashmir’s Awantipora. Three days later, on March 19, a day after his 29th birthday, Rizwan Asad Pandit’s sudden and shocking custodial death — termed as “cold-blooded murder” by his siblings — reached home and unleashed a cycle of helpless cries and mourning. And with that, another household in Kashmir got reduced to a conflict-torn domicile.

Consoled and comforted by his equally mournful friends and relatives, Zulkarnain recalls the call from local police in Awantipora—that had earlier cordoned their neighbourhood and arrested Rizwan—instructing them to stay “tight-lipped” about their “bright son’s” arrest.

Finally, when the family went to see their son at a local police station, they were told that he was in the custody of J&K Police’s Special Operations Group, the SOG unit camped in Srinagar’s Cargo. This is where, the sibling says, Rizwan was “killed in a cold-blood” in the intervening night of March 18-19, 2019.

J&K Police, however, stated that they are probing all the events related to the teacher’s custodial death. A police probe has been ordered, alongside a magisterial enquiry into the case.

“But we know how these probes and enquires have been failing justice system in Kashmir from last 30 years,” Zulkarnain broke down.

Many local unionists have condemned what the outrageous netizens termed as a “clear case of custodial killing”. Among other things, they asked Raj Bhavan to come clear on this. Joint Resistance Leadership, meanwhile, termed it as “an act of state terrorism” and called for shutdown in Kashmir on March 20 and peaceful protests on Thursday.

As an Awantipora-based school principal, Rizwan was an activist of Jama’at-e-Islami—the socio-religious outfit facing massive crackdown and ban in the valley after Pulwama attack that left 49 CRPF men dead. Over 200 Jama’at activists, as per reports, have been arrested and lodged in different jails in J&K.

Before his latest arrest would culminate into his death, Rizwan was slapped with Public Safety Act, had faced prison and was subsequently released on a bail. After his release, his family members say, he was busy with his private school.

Although his latest arrest is seen as part of crackdown on Jama’at activists, police statement said Rizwan was picked up for questioning in some militancy-related case — the claim rubbished by his mournful siblings.

Back home, some mourners compare the young tutor’s fate with the college lecturer, Shabir Ahmad Mengu of Khrew’s Sharshaali.

Slain lecturer, Shabir Ahmad Mengoo

On August 17, 2016, as the valley was under an intense wave of pro-Burhan Wani protests, Shabir was detained by an Indian army unit, storming his residence with “knives and rods” at 10:45 in the night. He was taken along with his sibling. At the crack of the new dawn, Shabir returned home—dead. His body bore the blatant torture marks. The 30-year-old lecturer was preparing for his NET exams when subjected to fatal end. He had left behind a young widow and 15-month-old orphan son.

“Then chief minister Mehbooba Mufti had also assured people that Shabir’s case will be investigated and culprits will be put behind the bars,” says a mourning relative at Rizwan’s home. “Nothing happened and nothing will happen. We will continue to witness the miscarriage of justice in Kashmir.”

In his hometown, Rizwan’s sudden death sparked off protests, with angry youth engaging armed forces in stone-pelting. By dusk, they had left behind a trail of anger on streets.

Heavens had already opened up with season’s fresh shower, when Rizwan was lowered into his grave late in the evening, amid cries and helpless tears. “And with that,” lamented his relative, “another promising life was snuffed out in Kashmir.”

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