Militant for police, innocent for family: A curious case of killing in Kashmir

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Mohammad Amin Malik was 19-years-old when he was first arrested in 2002. The government forces had raided his small mud house in south Kashmir’s Tral at the dead of the night that summer, and whisked away Malik in their vehicle.

Worried about her six other children, all minors, Malik’s mother Mughli, who wished to be identified by her first name, waited till morning to approach the forces seeking his release but the forces arrived again before she could. “They came back around 8 in the morning and told me that my son had run away,” she said.

Malik remained missing for six days before he was found nearby in a jungle. “His front teeth were broken and he had marks all over his body,” said Mughli. “After this incident, he joined Hizbul Mujahideen.” This was Malik’s first and, as per the family, last tryst with the militancy.

But he had surrendered within months and took up daily wage work. Malik got married to Riffat, who also wished to identify by her first name, in 2007 and together raised two children till he was killed under mysterious forces inside a force’s camp circumstances on the night of 3 June.

“Malik took total control of room”

Mughli’s past trauma came to haunt again when government forces raided their house on 23 May, this year. They were looking for Malik, who was now known as a surrendered militant who had been arrested in 2003 as per the police statement. “Furthermore, his brother Shabir Malik was also a militant of the AGuH outfit who was eliminated at Brenpathri in 2019,” the official said.

Malik had slipped out from the house at the time of the raid and, unable to find him, the forces had been angered; the family was directed to produce Malik before the Deputy Superintendent of Police, said Zahoor Ahmad Malik, his younger brother.

During the raid, the police claimed to have recovered an “unlicensed gun” and “gunpowder”. The police had, however, twisted the facts, as per Zahoor. The gun was “a broken hunting rifle that belonged to our father who was a hunter and [what was claimed to be gunpowder was] bleaching powder for purifying water.”

The family had no contact with Malik for days. When he returned, Zahoor told him that he was summoned to the DSP’s office. On 30 May, Zahoor and Malik went to meet the DSP at the local Special Operations Group, the police’s counterinsurgency unit, camp in Tral.

Malik was detained at the camp for two days before being shifted to the Tral police station on the third day. “The DSP kept asking me to convince my brother to hand over his weapons. He had none,” said Zahoor.

On 1 June when Zahoor went to the police station, he found Malik limping and his arm swollen, he said. “He told me that he was being taken to the SOG camp every day from 11 am to 2 pm and was being tortured there. He wasn’t asked anything but just tortured and sent back to the police station after losing consciousness,” said Zahoor. “He said that his leg and arm were locked in the chair during the torture and he felt that his bones were broken.”

Malik’s condition caused fear and panic among his family members who now regret handing him over to the police, said Zahoor Ahmad Malik. “We should have killed him at home. At least, he wouldn’t have gone through so much pain,” he said. “It would have been an easy death.”

As per the Jammu and Kashmir police, Malik was an “active militant operative” who was killed in an overnight operation on 2/3 June, jointly conducted by Awantipora Police, 180 battalion Central Reserve Police Force and 42 Rashtriya Rifle of the army at Police Component Complex, Tral, an unidentified police official told a local news agency, Kashmir News Observer.

Malik, as per the police official, was arrested on 30 May along with incriminating material including explosives “viz. arms, ammunition and explosives including unlicensed twelve bore guns, live rounds, explosives, iron/steel balls, nine feature phones and other warlike stores used in fabrication of IEDs”.

A case FIR No. 48/2021 under relevant sections of law was registered at police station Tral. “The operative (militant) was on police remand and on June 2, 2021, he was brought from the Police Station, Tral, to the Police Component, Tral, for further interrogation. During the interrogation (he) got hold of the service rifle (AK-47) of CT (constable) Amjad Khan and fired indiscriminately with the intention to kill the police personnel.”

The police official added that Malik then took total control of the interrogation room and engaged the police personnel by firing intermittently from the snatched weapon. “Sensing grave danger to the lives of police personnel and that of the (militant) operative, his mother and the executive magistrate were brought on the site and sincere and repeated efforts were made to persuade him to throw down the weapon and surrender.”

As per the police, Malik not only refused to surrender, but continued to fire upon the police party. “One of the police personnel was hit with a bullet on the chest and survived because of the bulletproof jacket he was wearing.”

After all efforts to persuade Malik to surrender had failed, he was engaged in a gunfight “following the rules and SOP of such engagement and was neutralised,” the police official added.

The call

At nearly 3 pm on 2 June, 85-year-old Mughli was called to the Tral police station by the Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP). With the fear of seeing her son dying, she rushed to the police station along with her other two sons.

Amidst the cordon, Mughli was allowed to enter the police station where she was escorted to a police vehicle and was taken to the SOG camp.

On her way to the SOG camp, Mughli was informed that her son had apparently snatched the rifle from a police officer during the interrogation and had managed to escape from the police custody after injuring two police officers.

Soon, at the camp, Mughli was handed over a mic and was told to ask her son to surrender.

Unaware of the future, she continued calling out her son’s name, with the sole hope of taking him home.

“On calling his name, I heard a voice but I couldn’t recognise it,” said Mughli. “They told me that he was not agreeing to come out and took me back to the police station.”

Mughli said that the process was repeated five times before she was told to ask her son to surrender one final time with no sign of Malik. “This time the DSP came himself and instructed me to ask Amin to throw out the gun and surrender,” she said.

This time Mughli again heard a voice, unsure if the voice was actually her son’s, she said. “The voice from the inside asked them to let me out of the vehicle,” Mughli said. “I was not allowed and was sent home after this.”

The long night of waiting came to an end for the family when they were shown a picture of Malik, dead, with his face covered in blood and bandages as he had been hit right in his head. “I wept as much as I could. I had lost my other son too,” said Mughli in a cold, piercing tone.

As the first ray of morning light glimmered the village, his younger brother Zahoor Ahmad Malik rushed to the police station to bring home Amin’s body.

He was informed that the body had been sent to the police control room in Srinagar. “His brother-in-law had somehow managed to accompany the army to the place of burial along with my grandson Abrar,” said Mughli.

In the darkness of the night, Malik was buried in Zachal hamlet of Handwara in north Kashmir’s Kupwara district. “I could not see his face for one last time,” Mughli sighed.

Two brothers, same fates

Sitting in the kitchen of her mud house located on the foothills of Brenpathri hill, Mughli pointed toward the spot, two kilometers away from her house where her younger son, Shabir Ahmad Malik was killed by the government forces in 2019.

Throughout that June night, the family kept hearing gunshots and finally heard the loud noise of a blast as smoke started emerging from the jungle, she said. “We kept praying all through the night for the safety of whosoever was trapped there. We were unaware that it was him,” said Mughli.

Shabir, then 26, had run away to Jammu from home after constant questioning by the army. He was later arrested there and taken to Kot Bhalwal for the next seven months as a First Information Report (FIR) had been filed against him, said Zahoor. “They made him a militant,” he said.

Later released on bail, Shabir came home and continued working as a baker in Pampore while the army kept questioning the family about his whereabouts, added Zahoor.

One day when he went out to buy medicines, Shabir disappeared. After waiting for his return for two days, the family finally lodged an FIR.

Before the family could even hope for his return, their youngest son was killed on the morning of 26 June on the hill behind his home.

Soaked in blood, his body was later returned to his family with his foot cut off and kept at its position with bandages. “We buried him here outside our home. Thousands of people came to attend his funeral,” said Zahoor.

For Mughli, losing her two sons was like two bullets that hit his mother, believes Zahoor. “This loss freshened up the previous wound that was still healing,” he said.

Mughli saw Shabir’s face the final time and fell unconscious but later made herself understand that her son had “chosen this path for himself.”

But for Amin Malik, Mughli is left with regrets and the unfulfilled desire to see his face one last time. “Amin had not chosen this path. I just keep thinking about what was done to him,” she said. “I cannot forget.”

“Return the body”

Since the evening when Abrar Amin, 12-year-old son of Malik, returned from the burial of his father, he has gone quiet. He is yet to open up about what he witnessed at the graveyard.

The final glimpse of his father’s bloodied face, covered with bandages at the graveyard in Handwara, in north Kashmir’s Kupwara district — more than 100 kilometers away from his home in Machama village of Tral — has left Malik’s son in distress.

“He has realised that his father is gone,” said Riffat, Abrar’s mother, wailing.

Unable to bear the mournful cries of his 35-year-old mother and the people visiting his paternal home — where the family of four lived temporarily in a small room — Abrar has been sent to his maternal home in the village. “He does not stop crying. He doesn’t talk at all,” she said. “He has gone mad.”

Unlike his elder brother, for 6-year-old Nouman Amin, his father is still alive.

Nouman keeps enquiring his mother about Malik’s return. When promised to be taken to meet his father soon, he finally sleeps with teary eyes and a hundred rupees note in his hand to buy cigarettes for his father. “I give him promises. But where will I take him?” asked Rifat.

On the night of 3 June, Abrar and Nouman were orphaned. Their 37-year-old father, Malik was killed in “an overnight operation” at police component complex Tral in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district.

With Malik’s killing, Rifat lost her husband, the father of her two children and the only breadwinner of the family. His death has left Rifat with just one question about where her sons will go to see his grave.

“I beg them to return his body [to be buried in their ancestral graveyard] for my two sons… for their memory,” she requested, with folded hands. “They will never know their father.”

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