Protests after J&K teacher dies in custody

Woman protest the death of a 28-year-old school teacher at Awantipora in Pulwama district on Tuesday, March, 19, 2019.
  | Photo Credit:
Nissar Ahmad

more-in

The death of a 28-year-old schoolteacher in police custody in Srinagar on Tuesday sparked spontaneous protests and outrage from political parties in Kashmir. A magisterial probe has been ordered in the case. “Rizwan Asad Pandit, a resident of Awantipora in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district, was in police custody in pursuance of a militancy case under investigation. He died in custody,” a Srinagar-based police spokesman said in a statement.As news of Pandit’s death spread, protests broke out across the Valley. In Awantipora, youth clashed with security forces who used tear gas to control the crowd. A shutdown was observed in parts of Srinagar, especially in the Old City. Protests also erupted on the campus of Kashmir University. The police officially did not mention the cause of death or the specifics of the militancy-related case, merely saying the ‘death’ took place at the special counter-insurgency cell of the police in Srinagar. Pandit died during the intervening night of Monday and Tuesday, a senior police officer said.“An inquiry is underway under Section 176 of CrPC,” said the police. The section pertains to inquiry by a magistrate into cause of death, including when any person dies while in the police custody.Srinagar Deputy Commissioner Shahid Iqbal also ordered a magisterial probe “to be conducted by the Additional Commissioner Srinagar”.Pandit, a teacher and a visiting faculty at a local varsity, was arrested three days ago during a raid on his house. “All the family members were locked up in a room and he was arrested by the policemen. He has no connections with militants. Our family is associated with the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI), which is not a crime. It’s a cold-blooded murder inside custody and those responsible should be punished,” said the victim’s younger brother. According to the family, Pandit was earlier arrested under the draconian Public Safety Act (PSA) six months ago and was shifted to a jail in Jammu. “Later, despite a bail, two months ago Pandit was kept in police custody for two weeks,” a family member said.As news of Pandit’s death spread, protests broke out across the Kashmir valley. Several youth clashed with security forces in Awantipora. A shutdown was observed in parts of Srinagar, especially the old city. Protests also erupted on the campus of Kashmir University. Internet services were later withdrawn in parts of Pulwama. Political leaders across the spectrum condemned the custodial death. “I am distraught at the brutal custodial killing. It again exposes the helplessness, vulnerability and insecurity of the lives of Kashmiris, in the wake of growing impunity of the authorities,” said Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.Separatist Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL), comprising Syed Ali Geelani, the Mirwaiz and Yasin Malik, has called for a shutdown in Kashmir valley. Traders’ bodies have also supported the call.Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said, “I had hoped custodial deaths were a thing of our dark past. This is an unacceptable development and must be investigated in a transparent, timebound manner. Exemplary punishment must be handed out to the killers.” Peoples Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti said, “Innocent men hauled up from their homes for interrogation return home only in coffins now. The Centre’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.”