Irfan sahab? Calls out a tall man, dressed in black trousers, T-shirt and covering his face, who walks into a small grocery shop along with two other men. A young man wearing a green T-shirt is sitting behind a countertop counting his day’s sale. He replies with a greeting.
One among the three men asks him, ‘Tuhi tchuwa Irfan? Theek tchuwa?’ (Are you Irfan? Are you ok?).
The man takes Irfan’s phone and sits on a chair in front of him. This brief conversation of 15 September 2020 afternoon is recorded in the CCTV footage of the shop – run by 24-year-old Irfan Ahmad Dar, outside his home in Siddiq Colony of Sopore area in north Kashmir.
Within a few minutes Irfan and the trio walk out of the shop and someone rolls down the shutters. While the family was looking for him, three hours later a contingent of the government forces raided their house detaining his older brother Javid Ahmad too.
“They told me to confess that militants were at our house to get myself and my brother released,” recalls Javid. “I told them when nobody came to our house, how can I say this? They beat me and told me to come with them and I will confess it there at the SOG camp.”
Ahmad recalls that he wasn’t keeping well and he was beaten up but suddenly their behaviour changed. “I was released an hour before midnight. I was, however, not allowed to meet my brother,” says Javid.
Youngest among three brothers, Irfan was accused of being Over Ground Worker (OGW), providing logistic support to militants. Next morning, the police said that Irfan was found dead in Tujjar Sharief area of Sopore. The police said that he had “escaped taking advantage of darkness and terrain” when the police had taken him to a site for “some more recovery”.
It was also said that “two Chinese hand grenades were recovered from his possession”. An FIR number 257/2020 was registered at the Sopore Police Station under Section 18 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, the police said.
“Baseless allegations, killed in police custody”
For his brother, Javid, the statement was full of lies. “I could feel that they had killed him [Irfan] before releasing me. That is why the police’s behaviour with me changed and I was subsequently released,” says Javid, who now runs the shop that he had started jointly with his brother.
“We had offered them CCTV footage to see we had no involvement with militancy but no heed was paid to it. They knew they were at fault and allegations against us were baseless. Don’t know whether they did it for promotions or money but it was all fake.”
The family stresses that Irfan was not an OGW but a businessman running his shop, where eight others were also employed. “He was killed in police custody,” says Javid. “The shop is located near the house, how would he be involved in such activities [militancy] with us being unaware about it?”
Irfan’s death added to the mourning family as his killing followed the death of their father – Mohammad Akbar Dar, who had died of cardiac arrest two months ago.
“Our family was yet to come out of the stress and anxiety caused by the death of my father. Allah is witness to what we have been going through since then. It has been depressing and catastrophic,” says Javid.
Living on the banks of a small stream intersecting Sopore’s highly busy bye pass road that connects northern parts of Kashmir with capital city Srinagar, Irfan’s family has since been struggling to get justice for their kin.
‘Forgive us, we made a mistake’
The family says that “to hush up the case, the police even offered the family some money” but they asked the police to “publicly accept that they have committed a mistake, we would forgive you”.
“They [police] said forgive us. We made a mistake. How much money you want, we will give you. They would use middlemen to motivate us for money and a police job,” he claims.
The family eventually moved to the court seeking justice and accusing the police of harassment. This struggle hasn’t been easy either as Javid says, he was “detained by police last year and then on 29 December 2021 Army’s 41 RR came to frisk the house”.
Last June, Khalid Fayaz, the Station House Officer (SHO) of Sopore police station had told The Kashmir Walla then, they had taken Ahmad for questioning. “I can call a hundred people for questioning in a day, people who are connected with criminal activities,” Fayaz had said.
The officer, however, had refused to divulge more details about Javid’s detention or questioning.
Defense Spokesperson based in Srinagar Emron Musavi told The Kashmir Walla that the search was conducted, “based on the intelligence of movement of terrorists a search of suspected houses in the area was carried out which included the house of late Irfan Akbar Dar. During the CASO [cordon and search operation], the shop as it falls in the same complex of target house was also searched”.
Denying claims of harassment Musavi said, “the search party professionally carried out searches causing minimum inconvenience to the citizens and a clearance was also taken from the house owners”.
Irfan was buried by police at a government designated graveyard in Sonmarg area of central Kashmir – nearly 100 kilometres away from his home. After the killing the government had ordered a magisterial probe to investigate the death.
The then Baramulla District Magistrate G. N. Itoo appointed Baramulla Additional District Magistrate Mohammad Ahsan Mir as the inquiry officer and asked him to submit the report within 20 days.
In February 2021, the inquiry was completed as the inquiry officer and additional district magistrate Baramulla, Mohammad Ahsan Mir had told reporters. However, the family was never given the probe report, rather they were told that it has been shared with the government.
“We were told that you can get it through the High Court,” says Javid. “If they had been right they would have shared the report. It should be made public and let us know what their findings are.”
The Deputy Commissioner Baramulla Bhupinder Kumar when asked about the status and report of the Magisterial probe that was initiated following the death of Irfan, he said, “I will have to check”.
It has been five hundred days since Irfan’s death but the family says “justice is yet to be delivered”. Last March, the family filed a petition at High Court of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh to seek registration of FIR, copy of the magisterial probe report, implementation of suggestions if any made and post mortem copy.
“We moved to court as our last hope seeking action against the police personnels involved in the killing of our family member in cold blood,” says Javid. “If he would have been involved in any such [militant] activity we would not have approached court. Why would we approach the court if he had involvement? We are confident that accusations against him are false and baseless.”
Human rights activists believe that the probes ordered by the successive governments in Jammu and Kashmir are nothing but an “eye wash” to calm public anger and distract attention till events fade from the public memory.
The family’s counsel Shafqat Nazir told The Kashmir Walla that the case is pending as there is no effective hearing. “Police have submitted a reply reiterating their claim that he died after falling from the mountain top while he tried to flee away, however District administration is yet to file it,” says Nazir.
The family claims that if the police were not involved, they would have shared the report. Advocate Nazir added that a notice has been sent to the District Magistrate and “they are yet to respond”.
In quest for justice for their kin the family’s last hope has been the court. “Court is our last hope and rounds to the offices of authorities have bore nothing other than a trauma to the family,” says Javid, who waits to know how his brother died while he was also in custody on the same night.