Disillusioned with the slow process of investigation in my teenage brother’s killing during the Kashmir unrest of 2010, I Urzeeba Qayoom said that my family’s efforts to seek justice seem to be going in vain as the chargesheet is yet to be filed as the FIR was only registered in 2018 – three years ago – after years of trying.
My brother, Umar Qayoom Bhat, 17, a Class 11 student, was detained on August 20, 2010, following stone-pelting in Srinagar’s Soura area. When he was released on bail, he was vomiting blood and complaining of chest pain. He was shifted to the nearby SKIMS hospital – a government facility and Kashmir’s largest tertiary care hospital – where he died on August 25, 2010.
The lone brother among sisters, his death came as a shock to the family. Over the past many years, I had committed myself to the task of seeking justice for my brother’s killing. Besides, accompanying my father to the courts, I had also created a Facebook page where I posts reminders about the death of my brother.
“Failure of Justice System in Kashmir Valley. It took us eight years to register an FIR. Question to PM Narendra Modi about the new Kashmir in 2019. I always hope justice will come soon but in the end, a question always arises in my mind when will that day come.”“He died because he was ruthlessly tortured by police.
The summer of 2010
After finishing Friday prayers, protests had started in the area. To foil the protests, the police started chasing protestors to disperse the mob. The police caught Umar as he was passing by, and beat him before detaining him.
Soon his father, Abdul Qayoom Bhat, went to a nearby police station at Soura, to ascertain the whereabouts of his son. He saw his son lying on a floor of a cell, pleading that he be taken to a doctor.
“I am not being able to get up or walk,” his son had told him. Despite repeated requests to shift his son to a hospital which was just a stone’s throw away.
In the evening, when his father went with milk and bananas to help his detained son break his fast, he saw blood oozing from his mouth. Umar kept repeating his request to be taken to a doctor, Urzeeba said.
On August 21, 2010, though Umar had got bail from a local court around 1 pm, he was only released at 7 pm from the Soura police station lock-up,” she said.
Four days after he was released from custody, on August 25, 2010, Umar succumbed to injuries at the hospital as his internal organs had been “damaged after the police beat him during detention”, his sister asserts.
However, I believed that hospital authorities were complicit with the police in hiding the truth as during crucial emergency hours, they kept the family in the dark about the internal damage to his organs. “Initially, at the hospital, the doctors said he was fine and discharged him. The next day, when his condition worsened, we rushed him to the hospital again after which he was put on ventilator.
His killing triggered a wave of protests in Kashmir. As the protests subsided, the family’s slow and silent struggle to get justice started.
‘He was beaten mercilessly’
A daily wager, Abdul Qayoom Bhat lost his only son among three daughters. Undaunted, he continued to pursue justice along with his daughter. Besides the expenses of the legal process and the quagmire it entailed, Urzeeba says he lost many days of bread and butter to pursue the case.
In 2011, the family had moved an application before the court seeking an FIR into his death wherein they had mentioned that Qayoom was “arrested by the personnel of Soura police station and was beaten mercilessly”.
From 2011 to 2018, they struggled to get the FIR registered. “It took us eight long years to get an FIR lodged,” she said. In 2018, local court in Srinagar directed the Soura police station to lodge an FIR in the custodial killing.
In March 2018, the family hired lawyer Babar Qadri – who was later killed by two gunmen on September 24, 2020 – and within three hearings, an FIR was lodged she said. On September 9, 2018, an FIR into Umar’s death was filed at the Soura police station, on the directions of the Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM), under FIR No. 97 of 2018 under Section 302 RPC.
“The police were given 42 days to file a chargesheet, but nearly three years have passed since the FIR was filed on the directions of the CJM… the police has yet to submit a chargesheet in the case,” Urzeeba said.
A never-ending cycle
Custodial torture during detention and investigation is a long-standing problem in Kashmir, with a 2019 report by research and advocacy organisations stating that 70% of the 432 survivors of torture they studied, occurring between 1990 and 2017, were civilians. These survivors had been stripped, beaten, electrocuted, forcibly deprived of sleep, suspended from the ceiling and more. Police or magisterial investigations into these cases are rare.
“I am fighting for everyone and not just my brother. What happened with us can happen with anyone. “We cannot even afford a lawyer and need support. I am looking for a lawyer at the moment,” she said.
A postgraduate in social work, as a girl it is difficult to fight. I faced criticism and threats from many unknown people online who say that her family wants money and not justice. But she alleges that the family was offered money previously by the police to give up their fight for justice, but that they did not relent.
“It is because of my father I go on. He is the source of my strength.
Justice Can be Delayed but cannot be denied.