J&K Police Acknowledges First Death After Article 370, DM Starts Inquest Proceedings

SRINAGAR, Jammu & Kashmir—The Jammu and Kashmir Police has quietly acknowledged the death of 17-year-old Osaib Altaf who drowned in the Jhelum River in Srinagar on 5 August while fleeing a contingent of CRPF personnel.

On 2 December, 2019, the J&K Police made a written submission before the Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) in Srinagar, stating that Altaf “allegedly drowned” in the Jhelum. The District Magistrate of Srinagar, Shahid Iqbal Chowdhary, told HuffPost India that he is looking into matter ahead of an inquest. 

Until 2 December, neither the J&K Police nor the Indian government acknowledged the fatality. 

On 7 August, 2019, amidst a complete information and communication blackout, HuffPost India was the first news outlet to report the death as the first casualty after the Narendra Modi government’s snap decision to revoke J&K’s special constitutional status on 5 August. 

On 1 October, 2019, the J&K Juvenile Justice Committee,  a group of four sitting judges of J&K High Court, told the Supreme Court that reports of Altaf’s death were “baseless as no such death has been reported to the police authorities.” 

Altaf’s family reported the death to the Parimpora police station in early October. After the Parimpora police station refused to register a complaint in connection with the death, Altaf’s family approached the Jammu and Kashmir High Court with a petition seeking registration of the First Information Report (FIR) and a subsequent investigation. The J&K High Court directed the petitioner to approach the CJM of Srinagar for the registration of the complaint.

On 16 October, 2019, Altaf’s family filed a petition with the CJM. This decision was in part driven by  the authorities at the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh hospital in Srinagar refusing to issue a death certificate with the name Osaib because his name had been taken down as Osaid.

On 26 October, 2019, Home Minister Amit Shah said “not a single bullet has been fired nor a death reported in Kashmir” as a consequence of the abrogation of Article 370. 

On 27 October, 2019, in his first submission before the CJM court in Srinagar, Javid Ahmad,  the Station House Officer (SHO) of Parimpora police station, said that no report regarding the death of Osaib was received on 5 August. 

On 29 October, 2019, HuffPost Indiareported that at least 10 eyewitnesses saw Altaf jump into a river as he was pursued by security forces. Ahmad said the case did not fall under his jurisdiction. 

On 2 December, 2019, Ahmad made a written submission before the CJM in Srinagar, stating that Altaf “allegedly drowned” in the river Jhelum, but the case doesn’t fall within his jurisdiction. 

The police submission, which HuffPost India has perused, also states that the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) of  Srinagar Dr Haseeb Mughal has requested the District Magistrate (DM) of Srinagar to initiate inquest  proceedings in his case.

“We would be relieved once the court directs registration of FIR,” said Suhail Marazi, Altaf’s brother, a fruit seller in Srinagar.

The Marazi family lawyer, Shah Faisal, said the police’s admission has opened a window of justice for the family.

The issue of jurisdiction, Faisal said, did not matter because the J&K police had to take the case following the inquest proceedings carried out by the DM. 

“In case the investigating agency comes to the conclusion that the place of occurrence doesn’t fall in their jurisdiction, they can refer the complaint to the concerned police station they deem appropriate,” he said. 

Asked about the status of the inquest proceedings, the District Magistrate of Srinagar, Shahid Iqbal Chowdhary, told HuffPost India that he knows about the case and the wheels are in motion. 

“We have received reports from the tehsildar, medical and police. Further reporting has also taken place,” he said. 

While Home Minister Shah maintains that no one has been killed as a consequence of the abrogation of Article 370, two human rights organisations ― the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) and Association of Parents and Disappeared Persons (APDP) ― link six deaths to state action. 

In Altaf’s case, the JKCCS annual report said, “He was beaten and pushed into the river.”