‘Is fresh FIR filed, are accused cops arrested?’: Court seeks report on 1996 custodial killing

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At a time when all eyes are on the magisterial probe on the Hyderpora gunfight in which four people were killed, 57-year-old Jameela Banoo is pinning hope on a judicial system to get justice for her husband who was killed in custody on 31 May 1996.

On Thursday, Banoo saw a new ray of hope to fulfill her promise to her dead husband that she would fight to get justice for him.

After directing police to probe investigating officers, the district magistrate court on Thursday has sought the status report with respect to fresh FIR and arrest of the identified accusers into the custodial killing of a shopkeeper Mohammad Ramzan Bhat in Miskeen Bagh area of Srinagar in 1996.  

During a hearing on Thursday, the court sought the report from the Senior Superintendent of Police [SSP] Srinagar  that whether the then investigating  officer Sub-Inspector [SI] Mohammad Sabir, Azam Gujar and Abdul Majeed have been arrested or not and whether afresh FIR is lodged against them or not.

The court has also directed SSP Srinagar to file a detailed status report every Saturday as to what is being done in compliance to the directions passed by this court.

“The compliance report submitted by SSP Srinagar nowhere reveals that whether the identified persons (The then SHO Rainawari Mir Hussain, Constable Noor Ud Din 427 9BTN, Constable Ali Mohammad 2066 the then investigating  officer SI Mohammad Sabir, Azam Gujar and Abdul Majeed have been arrested or not and whether FIR is lodged afresh against them or not, as such, SSP Srinagar is directed to file a detailed status report every Saturday as to what is being done in compliance to the directions passed by this court,” the court said in its latest order copy.

After an elapse of twenty-five years, the district court Srinagar earlier has ordered the disposal of the closure report into the custodial killing of Bhat and has directed the police to constitute a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the role of then investigating officers after finding loopholes in the case.

The SSP in its submission report to the court said that an SIT team headed by Superintendent of Police [SP] North Zone Srinagar has been constituted. 

The SIT team would also include sub-divisional police officer [SDPO] Khanyar, Station House Officer [SHO] of police station Khanyar, SI Abdul Majeed of police station Nowhatta and HC Manzoor Ahmad [reader to SDPO Khanyar].

“In compliance to directions of court of 2nd  additional Munsiff Judicial Magistrate 1 class Srinagar passed in consonance to the closure report  filed by P/S Khanyar in case FIR no. 88/196 U/S 307, 121 A RPC, 7/25 I A Act, 4/25 Exp  Sub Act of P/S Khanyar , a special investigation team (SIT)  comprised of officers  which shall be headed by Superintendent of Police  North Zone  Srinagar is hereby  constituted and ordered to carry out the investigation of instant case as per directions of court,” the report submitted by SSP reads.

At a time when Bhat was killed, Banoo was 32-year-old and had three children aged 11, 6 and 4-year-to take care of.

“It was no less than a doomsday for us. But, I am determined to fight for justice and won’t give up till the killers of my husband will be booked for their crime. I have promised Allah that I will fight this case till the end and Allah is with us,” she said.

What is the case?

The case of Banoo is similar to many other cases that Kashmir has witnessed over the years, the latest being of the Hyderpora gunfight.

On 16 November 2021, during a joint cordon and search operation launched by police, 2RR and CRPF, after receiving inputs about the presence of militants in an illegal call centre rented for business in a commercial building, killed a foreign militant Bilal Bhai alias Haidar, and his local associate Amir Magray from Ramban district.

The statement said that Dr Mudasir Gul, who police said was an Over Ground Worker (OGW) and was running an illegal call centre in the building [which later turned in a gunfight site] and Muhammad Altaf Bhat, owner of the building were killed in crossfire.

However, the families of all the three slain civilians [Magray, Bhat and Gul] have rejected the police version that their kin were involved in the militancy, forcing the government to order a Magistrate probe into the incident and submit the report within 15 days.

In Banoo’s case, on 1 June 1996 Station House Officer (SHO) of Khanyar police station received a docket that at 11 pm on 31 May 1996 at Miskeen Bagh unknown militants who were hiding at hideout fired upon the police and government forces searching in the area.

As per the docket, a copy of which is with The Kashmir Walla, in the firing “the militant Mohammad Ramzan Bhat who was part of Zarb-ul-Mujahideen group got injured and killed, while rest of the militants successfully fled away from the place of occurrence due to darkness”.

Upon receipt of the docket the then SHO Khanyar lodged an FIR (no. 88/1996) and the initial investigation in the case was carried out by Sub-Inspector Mohammad Sabir.

During the investigation, Bhat’s body was taken for the postmortem and handed over to the family for last rites. And the case was closed as “untraced”.

However, in 2006, Banoo filed a complaint and following which the case was reopened by the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Srinagar and entrusted the matter to SIT. He directed them to complete the investigation on priority and furnish the detailed report in its office.

On 5 March 2021, the slain’s lawyer Advocate Tabasum Rasool asked for a status report from the district magistrate Srinagar. On 15 March 2021, the police submitted a closure report before the court. However, on 1 April 2021, the family filed a protest petition against the closure of the case.

According to the family, Bhat (a daily wager in the state power department) was on election duty for parliamentarian polls and returned home after three days, on 31 May 1996, when he was picked up from his shop outside his house.

Bhat’s wife Banoo in her protest petition stated  that the two armed guard personnel then posted at Social Welfare Department Miskeen Bagh namely Majeed and Azam Gujjar had borrowed essential commodities worth Rs. 7,500 from Bhat’s shop on credit.

The petition said that when Bhat demanded money both the guard personnel got annoyed and with the help of SOG [Special Operations Group] Rainawari they arrested Bhat.

“The guard along with several others took Bhat from his shop at around 5:30 pm on 31 May 1996 to Rainawari Police Station where he was tortured which resulted in his death,” the petition said. “The guards and SHO Rainawari Mir Hussein then threw the body of Bhat in nallah [stream].”

The petition said that thereafter, the guards and SOG Rainawari after killing Bhat conspired and involved him in a fake gunfight.

“It was late afternoon when he [Bhat] came home from election duty. He had tea and left for his shop. All of a sudden we heard an outcry and we rushed outside. There was a huge military presence and they were beating my husband ruthlessly. He felt unconscious and was bundled in a gypsy and whisked away to Vishwa Bharati College in the Rainawari area,” Banoo told The Kashmir Walla.

Banoo said the next day when the family was trying to find the whereabouts of her husband, his body was found in a nallah [stream] in Miskeen Bagh.

On 28 October 2021, the court while observing the grave loopholes in the investigation directed the SSP Srinagar to constitute a special investigation team headed by the officer not below the rank of DYSP to investigate the instant case.

As per the court orders, the SSP was further directed to investigate into the role of the investigative officer SHO Rainawari and other officials who played a key role in the investigation of the case, before the case was opened in the year 2006.

The court also directed SSP Srinagar to investigate into the role of SIT for sitting over the investigation for almost three years and not investigating the case. 

The court ordered the SSP to conclude the investigation in a time bound manner preferably within a period of six months.

 In 2007, the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) report, a copy of which is in possession of The Kashmir Walla, after going through the submission of the family, has also said that the police in the report have not justified as to how the label of terrorist could be placed upon the person of the deceased.

“The report of the police doesn’t inspire credibility because had there been any firing from the alleged hideout, some persons of the raiding party would have been injured. There is no such injury caused to the raiding party,” the SHRC said.

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