On late Thursday evening, thousands of faithfuls were inside Srinagar’s historic Jamia Masjid offering prayers on a night which is the most auspicious in the Islamic calendar. According to the holy Quran, the prayers during this night are equal to those performed over a thousand months. On the night of Shab-e-Qadar, which falls in the last week of the fasting month of Ramadan, every devout Muslim forgives others to earn God’s mercy and forgiveness. It is a night when people help the needy and serve food to poor.
A group of youth outside the mosque on Thursday had other things in mind.
They were shouting slogans of Islam and Zakir Musa, the face of radical militant ideology who wants to enforce Shariah in Kashmir and make it a Khilafat. Obviously, none of these Shariah seeking exuberant youth offered Namaz or observed Shab-e-Qadar in the mosque. They did what Kashmir has never seen before.
At around 11 pm on Thursday, this gang caught hold of a man in plainclothes, some say because he was taking pictures. Dozens pounced at him like wild animals attacking their prey. The man was 57-year-old Deputy SP Mohammed Ayub Pandith, a resident of downtown Srinagar. To save his life, he fired from his service revolver. Three men were injured after being hit by bullets. After half an hour, Mohammed Ayub Pandith lay dead and his body was unrecognisable.
Till about 8.15 the next morning (Friday), even the police had no inkling that their own officer had been murdered by a lynch mob. Once his identity was established, there was a sense of disbelief. We provided updates online and on air. Bestiality of this kind is unheard of in Kashmir despite decades of conflict and violence. There are in fact so many encouraging stories of upholding human values even when society was and is in the middle of turmoil.
In the middle of the 2016 agitation, when nearly 100 people were killed in security forces’ firing and thousands were injured, society was still at its benevolent best. Three security personnel were also killed during this time in militant attacks during clashes. People rescued army jawans when their vehicle met with an accident on the outskirts of Srinagar. They came to the rescue of injured Amaranth Yatris on July 13 at Bijbehara when their vehicle plunged into a gorge. People defied curfew and shifted injured Yatris to hospital where they donated blood to needy pilgrims.
Since last morning, there is an intense debate on social media about why this senior police officer was killed. Did they kill him just because he was a policeman? Mr Pandith must have said that he is a local from the same neighbourhood. But the savages heard nothing.
Recently, when some ruffians tried to heckle CRPF jawans during the Srinagar by-election, the videos that went viral clearly shows how it was again local youth who scolded the miscreants and helped the CRPF men reach a safe location. It was the day when nine civilians were killed in security forces’ firing.
But on the Shab-e-Qadar, there was no one with mercy in his heart to save Mohammed Ayub. Police say 200 to 300 people were involved in lynching.
It seems something has gone seriously wrong in Kashmir after the April by-elections which witnessed the lowest and humiliating turnout of 7 percent and 2 percent in different areas. After Farooq Ahmad Dar was used as a human shield by the army, many more videos that supposedly show troops abusing youngsters have been leaked online. We don’t know the veracity of this footage. While some say it may give the impression that security forces are teaching “anti-nationals” a lesson, in the Valley, it has badly impacted the psyche of the common man. After the April 8 elections, Kashmir is facing an unprecedented situation. The large students’ unrest has added a new dimension to an already volatile scenario.
After the recent attack on the police in Anantnag on June 16 where six policemen including an SHO were killed, the cops are shocked over how militants could carry out such a major attack in an area where every hamlet has many police families. None of them were alerted about the presence of large group of militants. The gap and mistrust seems to be widening by the hour.
It’s true that police have not covered themselves with glory with regular reports of custodial torture of youth involved in stone-pelting, the humiliation of families and allegations of ransom. They have become judge, jury, and some would say, hangman. There is not a single case of stone-pelters involved in serious offences where the police have built a case before a court of law and ensured the guilty is punished. This has created an army of youth whose hatred towards the police knows no boundaries.
In 2011, a shopkeeper Tariq Ahmad Bhat died near Jamia Masjid after a man hit him on his head with a cricket bat for defying a strike call in the area. The police failed to prosecute the case and today the murder-accused is moving around freely. There are numerous such cases where police complacency has given confidence to law-breakers that they can get away with anything including murder.
The selective condemnation and selective outrage is another reason for growing brutalisation of the society. No side can claim the moral high ground. Political groups, government, separatists, and of course, some news channels.
The lynch mob who killed DSP Ayub deserve to “burn in hell” as Omar Abdullah has put it, but only those can talk of justice who have themselves upheld the values of justice. From Omar to Mehbooba Mufti, both have miserably failed Kashmir on the human rights front.
When the picture of the murdered police officer was circulated on social media, it evoked shock and disbelief – and then came the reply of counter-images of the body of a 14-year-old militant and two others burnt to death during an encounter in Pulwama on Thursday morning. Killing of militants can be justified in encounters, but these images are impacting people. They may be terrorists for rest of the world; in Kashmir, militancy is riding a popular groundswell, representing anger against the state.
A senior police officer has rightly put it that whoever is killed, militant, policemen or a civilian, it’s only a Kashmiri who is getting killed. The bloodshed will not take Kashmir anywhere except pushing the boundaries of brutalisation even further.
Serious introspection is needed by all sides. Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who is the head priest of Jamia Masjid, has strongly condemned killing of Dy SP Ayub and termed the crime as unpardonable, but can he muster the courage to tell his followers from the pulpit of mosque that enough is enough? That savagery can’t be allowed and the killers who did it and those who support such acts should be ostracised. To begin with, he has to liberate Jamia Masjid from senseless stone-pelting crowds on Fridays and during every religious occasion including Shab-e-Qadar. If he doesn’t take a stand, the Mirwaiz’s pulpit is their first target. Cheerleaders of Zakir Musa had literally taken over Jamia on Thursday night. Last month, Musa threatened to slay Hurriyat leaders including Mirwaiz and hang them in Lal Chowk if they come in his way of enforcing Shariah.
The gruesome murder is a wake-up call for all stakeholders, an unforgivable tragedy. Muscular policy and military methods by the state have provided no relief; the street thuggery, the militants acts of violence, the senseless agitation calendars by separatists are equally to blame. Only careful handling can retrieve some lost ground.