Awantipora: A night before Rizwan Assad, a school principal in Awantipora town of south Kashmir, was to turn 29, a police party raided his house on March 17. Assad was detained after the cops searched his house. On Tuesday, the police said that Assad had died while he was in their custody.
“They took him away and threatened us that they would shoot him if we raised a hue and cry,” his brother, Mubashir Assad, recalled. The police has not stated the reason for Assad’s death.
Assad’s family has alleged that his death was “a well-planned, cold-blooded murder.” According to police, he was arrested for investigation in a terror case, an allegation that his family has denied.
“On Sunday, a police party came at around 11:30pm and searched the entire house. They took away our mobile phones and two laptops,” Mubashir told News18. “Then they took Rizwan with them.”
Mourners gathered at Assad's home as the word of his death spread.
After Assad was picked up by the police, his family went to Awantipora police station.
“The police told us that he had been taken to CARGO, a counter insurgency interrogation unit of Jammu and Kashmir police, and promised us that he would be released a day later,” his brother said.
However, Awantipora SP Tahir Saleem denied arresting him. “A police party had come and they arrested him. We have no knowledge about it,” the SP told News18.
Assad had completed his Masters in Chemistry and Education. He was also preparing to pursue PhD, apart from working as a school principal.
In 2018, Assad was arrested for “anti-national activities” and was booked under the Public Safety Act (PSA). However, after some days, the J&K High Court had quashed the PSA.
But police didn’t release him for the next fifteen days, despite court orders, his family alleged. He had been leading a normal life since then, they said.
His death has escalated the tensions in Kashmir. Locals clashed with armed forces in Assad's home town and other parts of Valley witnessed a partial shutdown. The separatists have called for state-wide shutdown on Wednesday.
Clashes broke out in Awantipora while partial shutdown was observed in other parts of Valley.
Assad’s father, Asadullah Pandith, who has retired from government services, is a member of Jama’at-i-Islami, a socio -religious organisation which was recently banned in the state. Hundreds of its members were jailed.
The state administration has initiated a magisterial probe in the case and police have also started an inquiry. But Assad’s family have no hopes from the investigation.
“We don’t believe in these probes. No one will be prosecuted for the crime,” said his brother. “Justice will be done with us if the people who are guilty are hanged,” he said.
The family has refused to take Assad’s body from the Police Control Room in Srinagar.
“They took him from his home, killed him. Now they should get his body here,” said his family.
On March 10, the schools in Valley opened after a winter break of three months and Assad too returned to his school.
“He was a lively soul,” said Farhan Shabir, a Class 9 student of Assad’s school. He had just left his home for school when he learnt about his principal’s demise. Shabir was shocked and heartbroken.
“It is unbelievable that he is no more,” said Shabir, recalling the last lecture with Assad on “carbon and its compounds”. In school uniform, with moist eyes, the student seemed devastated.
Assad’s hometown Awantipora is 10 kilometers away from Lethpora, where a Jaish-e-Mohammad militant carried out a suicide attack, killing over 40 CRPF troops. The attack was deadliest militant attack on the forces in Kashmir.
Since then, police started a crackdown on the Jaish, killing its top commander. Besides, over two dozen people were picked up by police to investigate that how militants were able to carry out the attack.
The mainstream parties have condemned “the killing” and called for a timely probe.
“Innocent men hauled up from their homes for interrogation return home only in coffins now,” former Chief Minister of state, Mehbooba Mufti tweeted. “GoI’s repressive approach leaves young educated men vulnerable who are forced to take up arms. Stop using Kashmir to exhibit your sick chauvinistic nationalism. We have suffered enough,” she wrote.
The National Conference leader Omar Abdullah, alleged the previous government was to blame for the “muscular approach” in the valley.
“Midnight raids, crackdowns, rampant arrests, custodial murders, denial of democratic right to choose a government. Kashmir continues to suffer the fallout of the disastrous PDP-BJP alliance and from the Modi government’s muscular approach to J&K,” Omar wrote on the Twitter.