Survivors of torture in Kashmir Part 4: Shalimar youth, who died of poisoning in 2016, identified local police as his killers, claims family

Editor's note: In a first such report compiled over a span of 10 years, Srinagar-based rights body Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) has documented accounts of 432 survivors of torture since 1989 when armed militancy took root in the Valley. Safwat Zargar met four of these survivors to document their stories. This is the final part of the series.

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Srinagar: Every time 50-year-old Abdul Hamid Sofi pays a visit to his house in Doodh Mohalla area of Shalimar in Kashmir's Srinagar, he struggles to suppress his emotions. The visits hardly last more than 15 minutes until Sofi decides to return to his ancestral home in old city’s Eidgah, some 15 kilometres away.

A Pashmina dyer by profession, Sofi, along with his wife and three sons, had shifted to the newly-built Shalimar house in 2010. Until October 2016, the Sofi family had not imagined that their new dwelling will become a nightmare. On 27 October, 2016, when Kashmir was still in the grip of widespread civilian protests after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, Sofi's youngest son 16-year-old Kaiser Ahmad Sofi left home around late morning to never return alive.

According to Sofi, Kaiser was picked by police who tortured him in custody and then forced him to drink poison. The Kashmir Police, on its part, said that Kaiser was epileptic and had lodged an FIR in the case under Section 309 (attempt to commit suicide) of Ranbir Penal Code.

 Survivors of torture in Kashmir Part 4: Shalimar youth, who died of poisoning in 2016, identified local police as his killers, claims family

50-year-old Abdul Hamid Sofi said that his son Kaiser was picked by police who tortured him in custody and then forced him to drink poison. Safwat Zargar

Kaiser's alleged torture and death is mentioned in the first-ever report on the widespread torture of civilians at the hands of security forces in Jammu and Kashmir, released on 20 May. The report, which has documented cases of 432 torture victims, was prepared by Srinagar-based rights group Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society over a ten-year span. The report demanded a probe commissioned by the United Nations into the allegations of torture in the conflict-riddled state.

The report triggered a strong reaction from the Government of India, which decided it will no longer entertain any communications from the UN's Geneva-based Human Rights Council (HRC) on the alleged human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir.

Among the total 432 cases studies, 301 victims were civilians, 119 militants, five were ex-militants, while two belonged to the Jammu and Kashmir Police. Twenty-seven victims were minors. According to the JKCCS report, 49 victims died during or after the torture.

'Kaiser named his killers'

After searching for him for more than 36 hours after his disappearance, Sofi says, Kaiser was found in a semi-conscious state outside a carpet showroom in Shalimar area on 28 October.

"I was at the Nishat police station pleading with officials to find my son when I received a phone call. The police refused to lodge a missing complaint after my son's disappearance. Instead, they were asking me to look for him on my own. Kaiser had gone missing during the holy month of Muharram. So, the police wanted to give Kaiser’s missing a sectarian colour as they told me he might have been abducted by the people of another sect,” Sofi told Firstpost.

After reaching the spot, Sofi saw that his son was already put into a vehicle by locals and was being driven to the hospital. “When we reached the hospital, the doctors kept him in the emergency and started treating him. When we asked Kaiser what happened to him, he told us he was tortured and then forcibly poisoned. When we asked who did this to him, he said they were policemen. Some were in uniform, the rest were in civil clothes. Even the doctors were a witness to it," Sofi recalled his last conversation with Kaiser on 28 October.

Kaiser's death certificate issued by SKIMS hospital in Srinagar. Safwat Zargar

Kaiser's death certificate issued by SKIMS hospital in Srinagar. Safwat Zargar

Kaiser was still speaking to his parents, but his condition deteriorated. "He slipped into a coma. Eight days later, he breathed his last," Sofi said, adding that he spent Rs 6 lakh on his son’s treatment in the eight days at the hospital.

According to Kaiser’s family, they had no idea about the severity of torture on his body until they took off his clothes in the hospital emergency. “He had burn marks on his arms and his neck was full of cigarette burns. There were boot marks on his stomach and his body was full of bruises," Sofi said, while showing the photographs of his deceased son’s injuries clicked at the time of Kaiser’s funeral bath.

Kaiser’s medical records show that the immediate cause of his death was “cardiopulmonary” as a consequence of “assault and poisoning.”

A broken family

It was Kaiser's death which forced the family to migrate back to their ancestral house in Eidgah. Sofi said the migration was primarily driven by the concerns about their safety in Shalimar following the killing of Kaiser.

But more than the fear, it was the burden of memories and the scars of Kaiser’s sudden death which made the house uninhabitable for the family.

"The house in Shalimar looks haunting now. The weeds and grass around the house have grown as high as me," Sofi said. At his ancestral house in Eidgah, Sofi shares the old house with his two brothers and their families. “Here, I only have two rooms but I prefer it over my Shalimar house. We can’t bear to live there anymore.”

The Sofi family has lost on other counts too. Kaiser’s elder brother Tanvir Ahmad Sofi, a Class 12 pass out, was working at a fashion designing company in Chandigarh at the time of his brother’s death. Now, he drives a load carrier auto rickshaw for his survival.

"I would have been making Rs 1-2 lakh every month this time if I had not returned. After Kaiser’s death, I didn’t want to leave my parents alone," Tanveer said. Sofi chips in too: "Everything got burnt that day. My life, my dreams and my future. Kaiser was the most obedient among the three," he said referring to Tanveer’s decision to return to Kashmir.

‘No justice’

In November 2016, Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission took suo motu cognisance of Kaiser’s case. On 10 September, 2017, the commission passed an order in the matter, stating that the petitioner (government) has ordered an enquiry into the matter which is being conducted by the Additional Deputy Commissioner, Srinagar.

“The matter is adjourned till the enquiry is completed by the executive magistrate. He should submit a copy of the report to the Commission when he completes the enquiry,” the order said.

However, the government failed to submit the report to the commission. On 27 July, 2017, Sofi filed an application before the SHRC seeking direction from the commission to Additional Deputy Commissioner of Srinagar to submit the enquiry report before the Commission. Despite that, there has been no progress in the case.

In May 2019, the commission also ordered SSP crime branch to file a report in the case. This order was followed by another order by the commission to the Director General of Police, Jammu and Kashmir Police on 21 May, 2019, in which the commission sought the status of the enquiry.

“Despite several notices, no enquiry report has been submitted before the commission till date,” Tabish Latief, a lawyer working with JKCCS said. Personally, Sofi tried his best to get the copy of enquiry report through an Right to Information (RTI) application. But till date, no information has been furnished to the applicant.

Desperate for justice, Sofi also tried to reach the state’s and country’s top leadership with his plea.

“I even wrote letters to then Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but there was no response,” Sofi explained.

That any human rights violations at the hands of security forces in Jammu and Kashmir hardly ever ends in convictions or trials is not lost on Sofi and his elder son Tanveer.

“We know there’ll be no justice. After all, will police convict its own people?” Tanveer Ahmad, Kaiser’s elder brother, asked, adding “we are just fighting the case for our heart’s consolation.”

The next hearing of Kaiser’s case at State Human Rights Commission is scheduled on July 24. “We will definitely attend it,” Sofi said.

Updated Date: Jul 17, 2019 17:28:27 IST