A photograph of the young man lying on a hospital stretcher – bandaged and bloodied – shocked residents of Srinagar. The 21-year-old was stabbed in his stomach and died en route to the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) hospital on Monday evening.
The victim Ziyaan Chisti was stabbed to death by his long-time friend Zahid Bhat in full public view.
Three days later, his maternal cousin Nazim Siddiqui stood in shock outside the Chisti residence in Srinagar’s Rainawari. “Leave aside that he is my cousin, these things don’t happen in Kashmir,” he said, with moist eyes. “I can’t believe how it happened. Everyone is shocked.”
Ziyaan and Bhat attended the same school and have been friends for the past six years. Later the two pursued the trade in garments. Ziyaan had dropped out of the tenth standard to join the garment business of his uncle, Ashraf Chisti, who had adopted him soon after he was born. Ashraf is the brother-in-law of Ziyaan’s biological father.
While Ziyaan dealt with wholesale garments, Bhat, a retailer in the nearby Gojwara area, was his regular customer. In their close-knit social circles, Ziyaan’s and Bhat’s friendship was hailed as an example which made the murder more shocking.
Vilaf Qadri, Ziyaan’s biological brother, recalled an incident from 2020 when Bhat had left his home after a quarrel with his family. “Ziyaan gave him home, fed him, and gave him expenses,” recalled Vilaf. “Their friendship was like this and this is the man who killed him.”
Ashraf Chisti and Rifat Qadri, a well-off couple, had adopted Ziyaan after they lost an infant daughter to cancer, the family members told The Kashmir Walla. Ziyan often visited his biological family’s residence in the nearby Nowhatta area.
A few weeks before the murder, as per the family, Ziyaan had sold Bhat about half a dozen pairs of apparel. Last Monday, Ziyaan’s father, Ashraf, went to Bhat’s store to shop for a jacket. Though he didn’t buy anything, he asked Bhat’s younger brother: “Son, did you clear the balance?”
An argument broke out as Ashraf further explained the remaining balance that Bhat owed Ziyaan. Bhat’s younger brother replied: “We have paid. Don’t come here now.”
Feeling let down, Ashraf went home to confront Ziyaan.
Ziyaan denied that the balance was settled and called Bhat. “There was another argument and [Bhat] hurled abuses,” claimed Vilaf.
That evening, as the family sat down for dinner at the Qadri residence, Ziyaan left with his youngest brother and a friend to meet Bhat at 9 pm, said Vilaf. “They said they were going out to buy grapes.”
In Khanyar, the three young men confronted each other and Bhat carried a knife while his brother carried an iron rod. “Zahid (Bhat) came towards Ziyaan, he had a commando-style knife of nine inches, and then stabbed him in the stomach and tried to run,” Vilaf claimed.
Ziyaan pulled out the knife from his stomach and tried to chase Bhat but he couldn’t and fell down, “his interiors spilled on the road,” said Vilaf. Coincidentally an ambulance that was passing nearby was stopped and asked to ferry Ziyaan to the hospital.
Killed for what?
Talking to The Kashmir Walla, the Station House Officer at the Khanyar police station, Parvaiz Ahmad, said that the police have so far arrested three accused in the case, including Bhat. “We have enough evidence including eye-witness accounts and CCTV footage,” he said.
On Wednesday, Ashraf sat among a group of mourners.
“Their souls have been buried with Ziyaan,” said Vilaf. “They are merely bodies, waiting for their own deaths. They had everything till they had a son. Now, despite a big house and wealth, they have nothing.”
However, Vilaf — and many others in the city — still wonder: what exactly was he killed for? “[Bhat] consumed my brother for 4,000 rupees,” an angry Vilaf said. “People will think they were enemies but he was a friend.”