Family of 21-year-old Muslim staging a demonstration outside their residence in Srinagar
Human Rights India Kashmir

Lawlessness in Police Custody- Custodial Killings in Kashmir

An alleged custodial killing in Kashmir yet again. It stirred unrest in the Kashmir valley after 21-year-old Muslim Muneer Lone died in police custody earlier this month. Kashmir’s Srinagar witnessed an appalling demonstration on 10th July by an aggrieved family along with the dead body of a young boy. Muslim was the sole bread earner of his family.

The Jammu and Kashmir police arrested him on 9th July for his alleged involvement in a case of theft. While being in police custody he died the very next day. Muslim’s father Muneer Ahmad Lone was an employee in the Army’s Srinagar Cantonment. His passing away a few years ago plunged his family of a wife and two sons into abject poverty. Muslim had recently purchased a load carrier vehicle, which he used to support his family and earn some money. Muslim’s death has left his mother and an unemployed brother shattered.

The family alleges that Muslim died in police custody due to unknown circumstances. The police, on the other hand, have denied any responsibility for his death. Instead, the police accuse Muslim of being a drug addict and claim that he died due to drug overdose. “During questioning his health condition got worse as he had taken heavy drugs and was not responding well. After that, he was handed over to his family members. They took him to hospital where he had died,” Senior Superintendent (SSP) Rakesh Balwal told Rising Kashmir.

Also, read Police Attach Properties in Kashmir for Harbouring Militants

Died due to Torture in Police Custody, Family Alleges

Muslim’s family has denied the allegations of the police and claim that he died of torture in police custody. “They are trying to cover up the crime. Has the police ever caught him with drugs? There is no police case against him anywhere in Kashmir. They are justifying his death by saying that he was a drug addict. We demand an impartial probe”, alleged Zeeshan, Muslim’s cousin.

Muslim’s fifty-three-year-old mother Shafiqa recalls the occurrences one after the other. Post the arrest of her son, she recalled the insensitive and inhumane behavior of the police officials. “A policeman (name withheld) told me that Muslim was being probed in a case of theft and that they will set him free soon. Had I known that he was going to get killed, I would have never let them enter the house,” said Shafiqa, weeping inconsolably.

Shafiqa reported that the same police crew returned in the afternoon. She claimed that they arrived in a private vehicle with only male police officers present in it. After which they informed her that Muslim had lost consciousness and that she needed to report to the police station. Narrating the horror she said the car came to a complete stop around 15 minutes into the trip. “The policeman instructed me to switch to another vehicle that was parked on the side of the road, where after entering I saw Muslim lying unconscious on the middle seat”, she said.  While opening the knot of her scarf she shows Rs 400 which she said the police had given her. After making her sign some paperwork the police took them to their residence instead of rushing them to the hospital. 

The police authorities are unclear on why they didn’t take a detainee who lost consciousness straight to the hospital. After rushing her son to the hospital, the doctors declared him brought dead.

Read here India Bans Falah-e-Aam Trust (FAT) schools in Kashmir

The Cycle of Custodial Killings in Kashmiris

On March 17, 2019, Indian security personnel took a young school principal from his home in south Kashmir’s Awantipora area. People in the Valley learned of his passing three days after his arrest. The 29-year-old school teacher Rizwan “died in police custody,” according to a statement released by the state police. They took Rizwan to the dreadful ‘Cargo’. Cargo is an infamous detention center in Srinagar that bears testimony to Kashmir’s brutal past of torture and custodial killings.

Rizwan’s body came in a temporary tent for the funeral service on March 19. Mubashir, Rizwan’s brother said that it was impossible to not notice the injury marks on his brother’s dead body. 

“It was as if a saw was used on him during torture. Pieces of flesh were plucked from his body as if by tongs. I have never seen such brutality in my life. His legs had turned blue due to brutal lashing,” Mubashir told The Quint.

Also, read India Gags-up Media in Kashmir

During a raid in September 2020, the Jammu and Kashmir Police ‘unjustly’ detained 23-year-old Irfan, a resident of Sopore. He also died while in police custody. Irfan’s family claimed that his body had severe injury marks and they suspected foul play by the police. “We don’t expect justice” Irfan’s family said.  

Targetted Custodial Killings of Kashmiris

There have been several incidents of custodial killings of Kashmiris that have taken place outside the valley. Police have targeted Kashmiri students, small shopkeepers, and businessmen and taken them into police custody in different states of India. One such Kashmiri student was Mudasir Kamran, who died in 2013 under mysterious circumstances immediately after being in police custody.

Read here Gendered Violence in Indian Administered Kashmir

Torture as the Defacto Cause of Custodial Killings

According to the Indian National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), there were 14,236 deaths in detention between 2001 and 2010 (1,504 in police custody and 12,732 in judicial custody), or 4.3 deaths on average each day. The majority of fatalities are a direct result of torture during detention. The National Human Rights Commission lacks authority over the armed forces (section 19 of the Human Rights Protection Act (NHRC, 2011)). Therefore, there are not many registered cases of deaths in custody by law enforcement and correctional facilities. These deaths either result from government incompetence about food hygiene standards and denial of medical care, or from illegal, protracted incarceration and torture.

Since the turmoil began with the insurgency in the Kashmir Valley in the 1990s, the Indian government has consistently employed armed force and police to try to get the local populace to submit. It has become a common practice of the police and army officials to detain common Kashmiris in order to identify suspected militants. Since police use suspicion as the reason for an arrest rather than solid proof, they have been abusing their authority and custodial killings have become a lived nightmare for the Kashmiris.

Also, read The Rise of Hybrid Militants in Kashmir

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