Rizwan Asad Pandit, a 29-year-old principal who ran a privately owned school, was killed in police custody in Indian administered Kashmir’s Pulwama district. He died two days after he was picked up by the government forces for questioning. His body was brought to his family on March 19, triggering violent protests across the region.
As the news of his death spread, thousands of people gathered outside his ancestral home in the Awantipora region to participate in his funeral, and took out a march. They were intercepted by government forces, which triggered stone pelting clashes in different parts of the region.
Hundreds of students also carried out a huge procession inside the Kashmir University main campus, shouting slogans of azaadi (freedom) and condemning the innocent killings. “No one dies in custody. My brother Rizwan was killed in custody. It is a cold blooded and planned murder,” Mudasir Asad, brother of school teacher Rizwan, said.
“He was killed inside the Air Cargo camp, controlled by the notorious Special Operations Group of Jammu and Kashmir Police. Police has ordered investigation, but apparently not filed First Investigation Report for murder under section 302,” Khurram Parvez, noted human rights activist, said.
“In the past, he was arrested and despite obtaining bail, he was kept in illegal detention for 20 days. This is not the first case of custodial killing. Perhaps it won’t be the last too, as the government continues to provide complete impunity to armed forces in Jammu and Kashmir,” added Parvez.
According to a report by Amnesty International, more than 715 detainees have been killed in custody in Kashmir between 1990-1994. No army personnel was arrested during the investigations in relation to these killings. In 2014, Mudasir Ahmad Sofi from northern Palhalan region was also killed by government forces in custody, according to his family. Police had claimed his death as suicide. Similarly, in 2011, 28-year-old Nazim Rashid Shalla of northern Kashmir’s Sopore region was killed in custody after being picked up by government forces from his grocery store. Manzoor Ahmad Baig, a 40-year-old car dealer was killed inside the notorious Cargo camp over some property dispute in 2009.
Activists say that torture is the least reported human rights violation in the disputed region. After the armed revolt against Indian rule began in the 1990s, the state has been using “policies of intimidation and harassment by police, SOG and other Indian investigative agencies, arbitrary arrests, slapping of draconian PSA (Public Safety Act), summoning political activists to SOG camps, and thus creating atmosphere of fear in Jammu Kashmir,” the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL), comprising of Syed Ali Geelani, Yasir Malik, Mirwaiz Umar, noted. Calling the custodial killings “state-terrorism”, the pro-freedom leader Mirwaiz Umar said that the brutal killing once again exposes the vulnerability and insecurity to the lives of Kashmiris as the impunity granted by the authorities keeps rising.
In a statement, the joint leadership explained how the killing of innocents is not a rare occurrence in the state. “Hundreds and thousands of young and old Kashmiris have been killed in similar manner by government forces,” it said. A comprehensive protest program was announced by the JRL for March 21, asking people to observe a complete shutdown against state-terrorism.