Srinagar killing
Photographs by Pirzada Shakir and The Kashmir Walla. Illustration by Asif Hamid.

The house of the Tota family was under construction as their home crumbled under the rifts. Construction material is scattered on the lawn and a big lock is hanging on the iron gate after the police arrested the entire family for “conspiring and killing” the head.

The street has rather fallen silent while the murmurs continue in the neighborhood since the police fished out a body from Srinagar’s famous Dal Lake, on Foreshore road, on 7 April. He was identified as 62-year-old Khursheed Ahmad Tota.

The preliminary medical report, as per the police, revealed marks around Khursheed’s neck. 

Originally from the downtown area of the capital city Srinagar, the Tota family of four moved to the locality nearly seven years ago. “But in between, they left the locality to live at their another house at the Bilal colony Soura [a few kilometres away],” said Firdous Ahmad who runs a departmental store in the locality. “After selling out the house at Bilal colony, some 4 months ago they returned to the locality to live and subsequently started construction of the second storey of the house.” 

But the mysterious death of Tota has left the residents of the area in a deep shock. “Different people guess different reasons for his death but what actually transpired that day is known to the four members of the family,” said 80-year-old Ghulam Ahmad Mir, the family’s neighbor.

The Kashmir Walla spoke with the residents in the locality and the police officials, who interrogated the family members, to weave what happened behind the killing of a father that shocked Kashmir.

Mysterious disappearance

Khursheed Ahmad Tota was last seen in the locality on 5 April — the third day of Ramazan — offering Esha prayers in the local mosque. The family members, including his two sons Junaid and Umair, had told the neighbors that “he went missing after he returned from the mosque”, telling them to have dinner.

“We rushed to his house to offer sympathy and inquire if they had eaten anything,” recalled Mohammad Shafi, 73, who had visited the house the next day with other neighbours. 

Shafi was standing next to Khursheed during prayers. Now a sudden “disappearance” had prompted the neighbours to know: “where was he?” Shafi added: “I asked them, ‘if he went missing yesternight why didn’t you inform us,’ but they did not give a proper response.”

Shafi and others were told by the Tota family that Khursheed could have gone to visit his mother, who lives in Bilal Colony. “We thought [Khursheed’s] mother had died that’s why he didn’t return,” the family members told the visitors. “When we learnt that she is alive then we registered a complaint at Soura Police station [on 06 April].”

The evidence

After Khursheed’s body was fished out and had marks around his neck, the police registered a case and started an investigation into the murder of the 62-year-old.

A team from Nigeen police station recorded statements of the local residents, followed by checking the CCTV footage of the Al-Jannat departmental store, located at the entrance of the lane where the Tota family lives.

The footage shows Khursheed entering his house after offering prayers at around 9:07 PM. “The footage of the entire night was analysed but there were no signs of him leaving the house,” said another local resident. The footage didn’t corroborate the statement of family members. And the suspicion heightened.

The police officials told The Kashmir Walla that they kept on looking to find a clue of what happened but “there was no movement in the CCTV [footage]”. After analysing hours of footage, the police did find a clue: the Tota family’s newly bought car leaving the house in the evening the next day.

“The officers investigating the case did not sleep for two nights to check every second of the footage to ensure that there are no loopholes in the investigation of the case and culprits are put behind the bars,” a police official said, wishing anonymity. “[The Tota family] tried hard to conceal the facts.”

Then the police tracked the vehicle from one CCTV camera to another along the road as it moved towards the Hazratbal area, where Khursheed’s body was eventually dumped in Dal Lake.

But why?

Khursheed is remembered as a soft-spoken gentleman in his locality. He lost his job several years ago in the HMT area when the industries turned dysfunctional. And stayed home since they returned to the Elahi Bagh, caught up with the construction of the house. 

“A few days ago while purchasing cups from my shop, he told me that he had to put slabs on the house,” recalled Shafi, who runs a crockery shop at the entrance of lane-6. “I was told in the morning that he had died. I was taken aback.”

“The body was afresh as if it had remained in the water for just a few hours,” Shafi said and added: “When nobody came, local residents performed ablution along with a few relatives.”

Police had said that through circumstantial evidence, oral witnesses, CCTVs, and technical analysis it came to fore that the deceased was “killed by his family members” at their home on the evening of 5 April after “some altercation”, and the dead body was kept at home for the night.

“Arguments at the house were almost a routine for the past some time that led to the murder of Khursheed by his family members,” another police official, familiar with the investigation told The Kashmir Walla. “On 5 April, there was a heated argument between the younger son of Tota and him that might have given rise to the plan for commission of the heinous crime.” 

As per the officials, the broken relationship between Khursheed and his family was due to property issues. “Khursheed had sold the property for a good amount of money,” he added.

The officer said that the “plan to kill” Khursheed was “most probably” hatched after he refused investment of the money as per the wishes of his two children and wife. All three have been arrested by the police. “Investigation is still on and all angles are still being investigated and it is premature to come to the conclusion,” he commented. 

However, the locality is still in disbelief and a lot remains unanswered. The Tota family’s neighbours still wonder what could have gone so wrong that it led to the murder of a father?

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