SRINAGAR, India – A school teacher who was arrested over suspicions of links with militants allegedly died in police custody in the restive India-administered Kashmir, sparking protests in parts of the Himalayan valley on Tuesday.
A police source told EFE that Rizwan Pandit, 28, died at a police interrogation centre on Monday night in the main city of Srinagar.
Pandit, who worked as a teacher in a private school, was arrested three days ago from his south Kashmir home in Pulwama, some 35 km from the summer capital of the disputed Kashmir region, where a deadly terror attack in early February against the Indian security forces had killed over 40 troopers.
The police in a statement said Pandit was arrested “in pursuance of a terror case investigation.”
“He died in police custody,” the statement said, adding that a magisterial probe has been ordered into the death.
“Separately police investigation has also been initiated in the jurisdictional area of the incident,” the statement said.
As soon as news of the custodial death reached his home, hundreds of people gathered on the streets near the teacher’s hometown of Awantipora to protest the alleged killing.
The authorities also shut the Islamic University of Science and Technology in Awantipora as a precautionary measure, fearing student protests.
An eyewitness told EFE that some protesters threw stones at the Awantipora police station and the government forces retaliated with tear smoke shells.
The deceased’s brother, Zulkarnain, told EFE that Pandit was associated with Jama’at-e-Islami, a socio-religious outfit that was recently banned by India for radicalizing Kashmiri youth and supporting a three-decade long separatist movement in the state.
“Rizwan was arrested some days back and today morning we came to know that he has been killed in custody,” Zulkarnain said.
The police have detained hundreds of Jama’at activists since the ban was enforced and several of them have been jailed under the Public Safety Act, a controversial law that allows the police to imprison suspects for up to two years without charge.
Activists allege that government forces were committing grave rights violations under the pretext of maintaining law and order.
“Today’s killing happened in a context and the context is that of lawlessness which has ensured no prosecution or accountability in the last three decades,” Khurram Parvez of Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society told EFE.
“It is not the first such case in the disputed region but hundreds have been killed in the same pattern so far. Unfortunately, nobody has so far been brought to book,” Parvez said.
The disputed northern Indian state has been on the edge since the Pulwama attack when a suicide bomber, belonging to the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad, had rammed a car laden with explosives into a bus carrying paramilitary troopers on Feb. 14, killing 42, and bringing India and Pakistan to the brink of a war.
Although military tension had eased over the last few weeks, but the two armies have been intermittently exchanging artillery fire and mortar shells across the Line of Control, the de facto border that divides Kashmir between the two countries.
India and Pakistan claim Kashmir, one of the most militarized regions in the world, in its entirety and have fought two major wars and several minor skirmishes over the region.
India accuses Pakistan of supporting cross-border terrorism and provoking separatist protests in Kashmir, although Pakistan denies the allegations.