Two Kashmiri families say tear-gas smoke killed their kin, police deny responsibility

20 February 2020
Rafiq Shagoo said his wife Fehmeeda was vomiting blood when they found her.
Shahid Tantray for the Caravan
Rafiq Shagoo said his wife Fehmeeda was vomiting blood when they found her.
Shahid Tantray for the Caravan

On the afternoon of 17 August 2019, Mohammad Ayoub Khan and his family had returned home from praying at a mosque and just finished their lunch, when Khan heard some noise outside. Khan stepped out into his Nawakadal neighbourhood, in Downtown, Srinagar, to see what was going on. According to his family, there was a protest nearby where the police was firing tear-gas shells at the group of protesters.

 “After some time, a driver of an autorickshaw came to our home along with my father,” Mehwish Ayoub, Khan’s 20-year-old daughter, said. “He told us that my father had inhaled excess smoke. He was feeling short of breath and couldn’t talk.” In shock and panic, the family rushed toward the hospital in the same autorickshaw. “But he died within ten minutes,” Khazira, Khan’s wife, told me, sobbing as she spoke.

On 5 August, the Indian government abrogated the special status to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution. The move was followed by a heavy security clampdown, marked by indiscriminate tear-gas firing, and widespread arrests and detentions. Three months later, Amit Shah, the home minister, stated in the Rajya Sabha that no civilians had been killed in police firing in Kashmir since 5 August. He also described the situation in Jammu and Kashmir as “fully normal.” However, in a report released in January 2020, two civil-society groups—the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society and the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons—have claimed that the security forces have killed six civilians since 5 August. According to the report, of these, three people died due to “inhalation of tear smoke shells fired by armed forces.” Last month, I spoke to the families of two of these individuals.

At Khan’s house, Mehwish sat with her family, trying to contact a friend to check on her twelfth-standard board-examination results, which were due to be announced that day. Khazira and her two younger sisters also tried to make calls to inquire whether Mehwish had passed her examinations. While Kashmir had been under lockdown for the past several months, Mehwish had remained focused on her studies. With the death of her father, she said she knew the responsibility of providing for the family was on her shoulders. Soon, Mehwish learnt that she did not simply pass the examinations, she cleared it with an 83.2 percent distinction.

Khazira said she was worried about the future of her three daughters—Mehwish, Muskaan and Mehreen. “We have no one to earn as my daughter is too young to do a job,” she told me, referring to Mehwish. “I want her to study and have a better future.” Mehwish said that after Khan’s death, her mother’s condition had been fragile. “When I look at my mother and sisters, I feel that I have responsibilities now,” she calmly told me.

Quratulain Rehbar is a freelance journalist based in Srinagar. Her Twitter handle is @ainulrhbr.

Keywords: Kashmir Article 370 Jammu and Kashmir Police Security forces
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