Abdul Rashid Sheikh was cradling his infant grandchild, at their home tucked in Nunar village of Ganderbal district in central Kashmir, when the family heard continuous banging on the gate on 18 August. As the 62-year-old walked up to inquire, armed men from Special Operations Group (SOG) stared at him, his family said.
The government forces personnel “barged inside and smashed everything” and pushed Sheikh’s wife and daughter into their neighbour’s house. Sheikh was held back. “I pleaded with them to leave my husband but they didn’t listen. They kept him inside the house for nearly thirty minutes,” Khadijah Bano, his wife, told The Kashmir Walla. “All through the time, we heard loud thuds and the consistent sound of things being scattered.”
The family accuses that these raids had become a norm for the family since their younger son was killed in a gunfight with the government forces in April 2019. But the police have denied any such raids, saying he was only called for once.
On 20 August, two days after the alleged raid, Sheikh’s family found him moribund inside his room. He was immediately rushed to the district hospital, where his condition deteriorated and was later referred to Srinagar, where he breathed his last at 8:30 pm.
The hospital record accessed by The Kashmir Walla from Ganderbal notes that Sheikh had consumed a poisonous substance. But the family is in disbelief and allege that his health had heavily suffered after the beating up.
Sheikh’s 28-year-old son, Rizwan Sheikh, wasn’t home when the personnel raided. “I received a call from my sister and I rushed to my home,” he later told The Kashmir Walla. “I took my father to SKIMS hospital [in Srinagar], where he was treated for a day. The incident impacted his physical health but it mainly affected his mental health.”
In 2019, Sheikh’s younger son Rahil, a student of masters in techonlogy joined militant outfit Hizbul Mujahideen. Rahil, codenamed Adnan Bhai, was killed within 60 hours in a gunfight with government forces in Padguchi village of Imam Sahib Area of Shopian district on 6 August 2019.
“Rahil had received his character certificate from the local police station just ten days before joining the militant outfit so his death came as a shocker to our family as well as the security agencies,” said Rizwan.
Since his killing, the family claimed to have been often harassed by the SOG personnel. The family alleged that Sheikh was frequently called to the SOG camp and was interrogated several times about his family’s links with the militant outfits.
“My father and I were detained more times than I can count. We were beaten innumerable times,” Rizwan recalled. “The humiliation that followed our regular arrests and beatings made our lives miserable. My father was suffering from severe depression for a year.”
After Sheikh’s death, The Kashmir Walla accessed the records at District hospital in Ganderbal. Dr. Azka, who treated Sheikh, said that consumption of poison was a cause of his deteriorated condition.
“There was pungent garlic ordure, which is distinct when a person consumes poison. His Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) and blood pressure were very low. All these features established that he had consumed some poisonous substance,” Dr. Azka told The Kashmir Walla.
“His condition was so grave that we were hardly able to perform his gastric pumping. As his symptoms worsened, we shifted him to SKIMS immediately.”
Abdul Majid, Deputy Superintendent of Police, Ganderbal, told The Kashmir Walla that Sheikh died by suicide. “We have lodged an FIR in the incident. We also tried to get his statement but due to his critical condition we were unable to do so,” he said.
However, Majid denied the family’s claims that Sheikh was repeatedly harassed and beaten by the SOG personnel. “He was only called once. There is no record of him being called to the police station or any harassment other than that,” he said.
One of the Sheikh’s acquaintances, who requested anonymity out of fear of reprisal from the government forces, said: “Rashid was very disturbed… he wished for death.”
Now, in a graveyard near their home in the village, Sheikh and his son lie in graves.
“Rahil’s decision to join the militant outfit was his personal but my husband’s death is persecuted,” Bano said. “I fear for Rizwan’s life now. I’m unable to sleep at night thinking he’ll meet the same fate as them.”