Sajad Ahmad Malik was killed on December 1 by the army in an “encounter” for “decamping with a rifle” from a police station. His family and locals dispute the official version of events with state Congress chief GA Mir terming the killing a “political murder” and demanding justice to family

just

|| ZAHOOR GULZAR

                      When the civilian unrest was at its peak in Kashmir this summer, five ex-village heads from Dooru constituency in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district denounced mainstream politics during a separatist rally in Veerinag. One of them was a staunch Congress loyalist, Sajad Ahmad Malik, alias Bitta. The announcements weren’t surprising. The Valley was in the grip of azadi protests and political workers from different parties had already quit mainstream politics and pledged support to the Hurriyat leadership. A few days later, Malik publicly vowed to start life “afresh” in a mosque in his village, Batagund, located in the lap of a hillock, recalls his cousin, Zaheer Ahmad. But that wasn’t to be. At the stroke of dusk on December 1, in the nearby Aagnoo village, less than two kilometers away from Malik’s house, the sound of gunshots created panic among locals. By the time darkness enveloped the entire area, the news had spread far and wide: Malik had been shot dead by the army. Though there was no official word from either the army or the police about the killing, an unnamed army official was quoted by some local newspapers saying that Malik was killed in an “encounter after he had decamped with a rifle from police”.

                In turmoil-hit Kashmir, which has a history of fake encounters, the killing was soon mired in deep controversy. But the twist came when J&K State Congress Pradesh Committee president and former minister G.A. Mir, termed the killing as “political murder”. “It is a politically motivated killing, a cold-blooded murder,” said Mir, demanding a judicial probe. Cries for justice While Malik had been associated with the Congress since 2002, rising to become sarpanch in 2011, his family lives in abject poverty, evident from his rundown house plastered with mud from outside and the barely furnished rooms inside. Since his killing, there has been no end to the rush of mourners at Malik’s house. “Oh my son, political rivalry consumed you. Who will look after the family now?” his mother Zareena cries relentlessly. Malik is survived by his wife, Shabeena Jan and seven children, including six daughters; the eldest of them is Kashap,who studies in the 10th grade, while the youngest is two-year-old Lukman. Besides his aged parents, Malik had been taking care of the two children of one of his elder sisters, Shabnam Ara, a widow, whose husband died of cancer in 2011. He was in the CRPF. The day after the killing, when inexplicable silence from the authorities gave rise to questions about the circumstances in which the 37-year-old was killed, the police released a detailed statement saying Malik had been killed in an “encounter” with the army.

              “He was a former militant and a history- sheeter who had decamped with a rifle from the police station before being shot dead by the army,” the statement said. “After firing some shots near the market, and taking advantage of the darkness, he managed to escape towards Zamalgam. On the way… he fired towards an army patrol. The fire was retaliated. In the exchange of fire, Malik got killed.” The family, however, refutes the police version. They say Malik was arrested almost two months back on charges of organizing anti-state protests and participating in stone pelting on security forces in the area. “Police had framed him in five cases. Though we had secured bail in all the cases, he wasn’t let off. Instead, we were being clearly told by police to get clearance from local PDP MLA first (Farooq Ahmad Andrabi) for his release,” said Nazir Ahmad, Malik’s cousin and childhood friend. In one of the cases (FIR No 122 of 2016), the court of judicial magistrate Dooru had granted bail to Malik on November 2 and in another case (FIR No 92 of 2016) he was given bail by the court of the principal session judge on October 22. Kashmir Leader is in possession of both court orders. “I represented him (Malik) in two cases but despite getting bail in both the cases, he wasn’t released by police,” said a local lawyer who pleaded Malik’s case. Shabeena claimed that less than an hour before her husband’s killing, she had met him in Dooru police station where he was jailed for nearly the past two months. “For the whole day I was pleading with districts’ top police authorities for my husband’s release.

              They assured me that he (Malik) would be released in the evening. Even when I went to see my husband later at police station, he too talked about his release,” said Shabeena. Congress’s Mir too questioned the police statement. He said he had spoken to the local superintendent of police on at least two occasions to know the reasons behind Malik’s “illegal detention”. He went on to claim that Malik’s family had informed him that a policeman had taken him to the hospital from the police station on the fateful day after he had complained of a headache. “The policemen had then dropped him near Aagnoo where he was killed in fake encounter,” alleges Mir. “On the way to the hospital, Malik was spotted by a number of shopkeepers and some of his friends on the motorcycle with the policeman. One of his friends even told us that he had a brief chat with Malik,” said his elder sister, Mehbooba.

At the stroke of dusk on December 1, in the nearby Aagnoo village, less than two kilometers away from Malik’s house, the sound of gunshots created panic among locals. By the time darkness enveloped the entire area, the news had spread far and wide: Malik had been shot dead by the army

              As the killing snowballed into a controversy with the opposition, including the National Conference as well as the separatists, accusing the government of killing Malik in a “fake encounter”, the police ordered a probe into the incident on December 4. K. Rajendra Kumar, the thendirector general of police, was quoted by local news agency as saying that “precautionary measures should have been taken while ferrying Malik home. Since he was killed in Army firing, we have initiated probe into it”. Hazy past Spread over 460 households, Batagund is divided between loyalties to the Congress and the ruling Peoples Democratic Party. But Malik’s family is counted among the old Congress loyalists. His father, Malik Muhammad Abdullah, now bed-ridden, was a sarpanch long before militancy broke out in the Valley. The only son in the family, Malik, began his life by trying for a job in CRPF, only to return home a few months later in early the 1990s when the militancy was at its peak in Kashmir. In 1999, according to his relatives, Malik was arrested by the police for his alleged links to militants and charged with violating the Public Safety Act. Two years later, when he walked out of jail, he joined the Congress and went on to play a role in Mir’s win from Dooru constituency in the 2002 elections. In the years to come, a burly-looking Malik became a go-to-man for the people in the village in times of need.

            He was the face of the party in the entire area and would never disappoint anybody knocking at his door, said a local. “He was framed in a fabricated case,” says Malik’s cousin. The arrest, however, didn’t diminish his popularity and when Mir returned to contest the 2008 assembly election, Malik was instrumental in his victory. In the years since then, his popularity only grew and in the 2011 panchayat elections, Malik defeated his archrival from the PDP by 500 votes, securing 530 votes. But when the killing of rebel commander Burhan Wani on July 8 triggered a bloody uprising in the Valley, Malik decided to give up his political life. “A few days later he was picked up by police,” remembers Malik’s brother-in-law Mudasir Bhat. “We want justice. We won’t allow authorities to shelve the case as a mere addition to the conflict statistics.” Meanwhile the Senior Superintendent of Police Anantnag Zubair Ahmad Khan said Malik had complained of illness and the police had decided to take him to hospital for a health check up. “However before being taken to hospital he had covered a gun under his cloak and tied it with a scarf. While being moving to hospital he had threatened the policemen to drive him to Batagund. But while moving towards the Batagund they were confronted by army which had resulted in a brief gunfight resulting in his (Malik’s) death,” said the SSP.