Plea seeks probe into teacher's custodial death

The High Court Wednesday asked the Union Home Ministry as well as the Jammu and Kashmir government to respond to a petition seeking an impartial probe into the custodial death of a teacher from southern Awantipora area in March this year.

Jammu and Kashmir Reconciliation Front (JKRF) has petitioned the High Court through its chairman, Dr Sandeep Mawa, seeking probe into the custodial death of Rizwan Asad Pandith of Awantipora, Pulwama. Pandith, a post-graduate in Chemistry, worked as a principal at a local private school.

After hearing advocate Pirzada Salih on behalf of the JKRF, a bench of Justice Tashi Rabstan issued notice to the Ministry of Home Affairs, Jammu and Kashmir government through its chief secretary, principal secretary, Home department, and director general of state police.

While the Front has sought registration of case against persons under whose custody the victim had allegedly been killed, it has also sought a direction for an investigation into the matter by an impartial agency.

The Forum also sought a compensation of Rs 50 lakh to the victim’s family, saying the same may be “recovered from the erring officials under whose custody Pandith was killed”.

“J&K Reconciliation Front has taken various steps for the welfare of the people of state and tried its best to stop the ongoing bloodshed in Kashmir, but due to the present custodial killing, there is anger, pain and agony amongst the people of Kashmir and the efforts for communal harmony launched by the petitioner are becoming sterile,” the Front has pleaded.

The Front has submitted that the court may constitute a committee to look into the matter regarding increase in militancy-related incidents in J&K and restrain the authorities to use force on the people.

It also seeks direction to the Member Secretary, State Legal Services Authority (SLSA) for taking steps to provide legal aid in terms of the provisions of the Jammu and Kashmir State Legal Services Authority Act to the victim.

Underscoring that the death of Pandit had “created a chaos across Kashmir”, the Forum has pleaded that the “custodial death needs to be investigated in a transparent and time-bound manner under judicial monitoring”.

“If the killings of youth will occur like this, then it is very difficult for the governments, both state as well as union, to control the situation in Kashmir”.

The Forum has pointed out that the frequent incidents of killings in Kashmir need to be stopped so that the people have “faith in the democratic set up”, saying the confidence in administration of justice among the people is restored in case the “culprits and their mentors are brought to book”. 

Otherwise, the Forum has submitted, the fate of “rampant customary magisterial enquires is known, which have not at all proved helpful for crime detection, especially custodial violence”.  

“Due to indiscriminate incarceration of the people in general, the younger people are taking to guns and due to continuous use of force by the security and administration, the people are deprived of their vested rights,” the Forum has pleaded.

“People of Kashmir have lost faith in the democracy, therefore, to restore the faith in the Constitution on which this country stands and the established democratic norms, the instant matter needs to be investigated in a transparent and time-bound manner through an impartial agency under the supervision of this court,” it said. 

The Forum has submitted that the “situation in J&K is different, where the police are using power against the public in general and the civil lives are in danger which is running against the Constitution of India as well as the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir (sic)”.

“Therefore, the court may intervene in the matter and issue direction for constitution of Special Investigation Team to look into the custodial killing of Pandith, who was a teacher by profession”.

“It is a general notion in the public nowadays that the people do not die in police custody but are killed in police custody,” the Forum said.

The Forum pleaded that the Supreme Court has invariably held in many cases that the custodial violence and highhandedness, including torture and death in the lock-ups, strike a blow at the rule of law.

“The same is aggravated by the fact that it is committed by the persons who are supposed to be the protectors of the citizens,” the Forum said, citing the apex court. 

“The Supreme Court in a latest judgment in ‘Extra Judicial Exec. Victim Families Association v. Union of India’ on July 14th, 2017, held that if the people of our country are deprived of human rights or cannot have them enforced, democracy itself would be in peril,” the Forum said.

“If at all he was associated with any organisation, the killing of the person in custody is not the solution,” the Forum pleads.