Congress activist becomes victim of PDP-BJP coalition’s first 'political murder' in J&K
GA Mir demands judicial probe in ex-Sarpanch's death; Police claim he snatched away SPO’s gun, fired on Army, got killed in retaliation; family calls it cold blooded murder
Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
SRINAGAR, Dec 2: Custodial killings and fake encounters have been unheard of in Kashmir since the day then Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad put an officer of the rank of SSP behind bars, alongwith a dozen-odd Policemen of operational background, in the year 2007. But, shrouded in mystery, a Congress activist’s death in Army’s firing, in the Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee (JKPCC) President Ghulam Ahmad Mir’s home constituency of Dooru in Anantnag district on Thursday evening, has stirred a hornets’ nest in the political circles. Key opposition parties have invariably called it “custodial killing” and demanded judicial enquiry.
For 24 hours after the shootout, Army did not issue any statement even as some newspapers quoted unnamed officials, claiming that Sajjad Hussain Malik (37) of Batgund, Dooru, got killed when he opened fire on troops from his AK-47 rifle. Even J&K Police chose to ignore all reports until Friday morning when a spokesman of Zonal Police Headquarters in Srinagar claimed that the detainee Sajjad alias Bitta Malik “decamped with an AK rifle along with one magazine from Police Station Dooru”.
“After firing some shots near the market, and taking advantage of the darkness, he managed to escape towards Zamalgam. On way near Cherikari, he fired towards an Army patrol. The fire was retaliated. In the exchange of fire, Shabir Malik got killed. The deceased was a released militant and a history sheeter, who was already arrested in militancy cases in various Police Stations”, said the Police statement.
DIG South Kashmir, Nitish Kumar, in a telephonic conversation with STATE TIMES, maintained that Malik snatched away a Constable’s AK-47 rifle, fled, fired upon an Army patrol and got killed in retaliation. “Under the current circumstances, nobody among forces or Police can even think about killing a detainee in custody or a fake encounter. These allegations are nothing but rubbish”. DIG added: “There were FIRs against him. He had been called to Police Station for questioning and yesterday arrested”.
Malik’s family offers an altogether different story.
According to the family, and many of the residents in Batgund and Dooru, Malik had been detained some 15 years back on the allegation of being a “militant helper”. “He never picked up a gun or went underground. One day, he was arrested and booked under PSA. High Court quashed his detention and he was released. Nothing was recovered from his possession”, said Malik’s elder sister Mehbooba, who is married in Nowgam village.
Father of one daughter and six sons — the youngest, Luqman, being just one-year old — Malik played key role in the election campaign of Congress state chief Ghulam Ahmad Mir in 2008. Mir defeated PDP candidate and former Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s close relative Syed Farooq Andrabi who reversed the defeat in 2014 and was subsequently inducted by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti as a Minister of State early this year.
Malik joined Congress formally in 2009 and later contested Panchayat election in 2011. With a thumping majority, he was returned as Sarpanch from Batgund (A).
The July 8, 2016, encounter at Bamdora (Kokernag), in which three militants including Hizbul Mujahideen’s poster boy Burhan Wani, got killed, generated an unceasing spell of turbulence in the Valley. Towards the end of August, the separatist leadership, prominently led by hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani, called for “total social boycott” against all the pro-India political leaders. MLAs, MPs, as also the people having served as Panches and Sarpanches, were threatened by the separatist leaders and militants to quit politics and apologise publicly or else face the consequences.
Malik was among the five ex-Panches and ex-Sarpanches, who announced on a dais in Verinag quitting pro-Indian politics for good. Like hundreds all over the Valley, they pledged their “support” to the “freedom movement”. Days later, he was booked under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. In September, when a school building was torched by unidentified persons in his village, he was booked for the charge of arson and arrested.
“In both the cases, courts granted him bail as Police didn’t have any evidence to establish the charges levelled against him. Our relatives, accompanied by some local PDP leaders, went to SHO to seek Sajjad’s release. He made them shuttle for weeks. Every time, he expressed his helplessness and said that he could not release him until he would get a letter or telephonic order from the local MLA of PDP (Minister Farooq Andrabi). He was subjected to severe physical and mental torture for two months of his illegal detention and pressurised to shift his loyalty to the PDP MLA. When he declined, they apparently hatched up a plan and executed it yesterday evening. They eliminated him in cold blood”, Mehbooba said.
Malik’s businessman friend Mohammad Iqbal said that even the two teenage sons of his sister Shabnam Ara — Owais and Nasir — were booked and arrested in false cases during the current turmoil to add pressure on the family. Shabnam’s husband Mohammad Shafi Wani had passed away in 2001 and she has been living with her parents. “This poor family was forced to sell off entire land around their house to generate the money they spent on securing bail from the court. Still, Sajjad was never released”, Iqbal added.
The family members, and all of their neighbours who spoke to this newspaper, claimed invariably that on Thursday evening SPO Mashoq took Malik out of the Police Station at Dooru, put him on the pillion of his motorcycle, handed over his AK-47 to Malik and drove him to the Sub District Hospital. Malik is said to have complained of headache. Previously too, he had been carried to the same hospital twice but five to six armed Policemen had escorted him.
On the hospital premises, SPO Mashoq fired a shot on the ground. It was followed by three or four gun shots near Azam Shah Sahib Masjid, in close vicinity of the hospital. The SPO drove towards Malik’s village Batgund. At Aagnoo, both were stopped by Army. While as the SPO was let off and allowed to return to the Police Station on his motorcycle, Malik, according to the family and many residents, was "eliminated in a fake encounter".
DIG Nitish Kumar, however, insisted that Malik was not in detention for two months. He said that he had been released on bail and had been called for questioning on Thursday. “After he was formally arrested, he snatched away a constable’s AK-47, escaped, fired on Army and got killed in retaliation”, DIG asserted.
“A judicial enquiry will bring out everything. If the Government has nothing to hide, why don’t they concede our demand and order a judicial probe. Had the Army opened fire, mistaking them as militants, the SPO too would have died. They have been spotted by scores of eyewitnesses on the SPO’s bike in and around the hospital and later on the road to Aagnoo”, G.A. Mir told STATE TIMES. Yet another resident claimed that the real culprit, who was involved in torching of the school building in Batgund, owed allegiance to the PDP. "The MLA got him released in just three days", he asserted.
Meanwhile, National Conference, CPI (M) and Geelani-led Hurriyat have also expressed doubts on the Police version and demanded independent inquiry into the Congress activist’s killing in a controversial shootout.