“It was May 31, 1996, when my husband Mohd Ramzan Bhat came back from his duty in the afternoon. We had tea together and after that, he stepped out of the house to be at our grocery shop, adjacent to our house,” narrates Jamela Banoo of as if it took place a day ago.
Her husband was a daily wager in the state power department and was on election duty for Parliamentary polls. He had returned home after three days.
“I asked him to get soap and he gently threw it over a wall towards me. And I collected it and went inside to clean the house,” she says. At this very moment, a neighbour’s daughter started crying, “Police, police.”
The cries frightened Banoo and she rushed out and saw a police gypsy close to the shop.
“I could feel the policemen were beating my husband and I couldn’t bear it. I ran towards the police gypsy. It was a white gypsy. The policemen started abusing me and in the meanwhile, they took my husband in the lap and bundled him in the gypsy and drove off. I ran after it even though the policemen fired towards me and other neighbours,” Banoo said.
She said she reached the Rainawari police station and saw her husband being taken out from the gypsy and was moved to the police station. She adds soon they (police) brought him again out.
She said the gypsy sped away towards another area—Miskeen Bagh.
She waited along with other neighbours. But when the police didn’t respond, they moved back home in the evening at 10.30 pm. The next day she went to the police station asking the whereabouts of her husband. The police told her to visit the police station in the afternoon.
“I went to the policeman again. I took my headscarf and placed it at the feet of the policeman but the policeman didn’t move," she said.
Meanwhile, she said some children came to us saying there are two bodies at the Miskeen Bagh. Knowing well what it could be, Banoo told her sister-in-law that if one of the body will be of Bhat, then she shouldn’t come back. “If you will not see his body there, then do come back,” she said.
At the same time, one of the family acquaintances reached the spot and urged Banoo to accompany him. “Is Mohammad Ramzan among two bodies? I told him. He said yes,” she says.
When she reached Miskeen Bagh, she was hugged and consoled by women. “They had tortured my husband and then thrown his body into the lake,” she says.
She says the police took out his Bhat’s body on June 1, 1996, to Khanyar Police Station to the Police Control Room and then from there handed over his body to the family.
After 40 days of her husband’s “custodial death,” she went to the police station and sought an FIR copy. But the police didn’t give the copy initially. Since then she pursued the case.
“My children were very young. My eldest child was in fifth class and younger one was in the first class and another was an only a year old. But I made it aim of my life to pursue the case,” she adds.
Now after 25 years, the district court of Srinagar has ordered the disposal of the closure report into the killing of a shopkeeper Bhat and has directed the police to constitute a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the case and also the role of investigating officers who closed the case before it was reopened in 2006. The court directed the SSP to conclude the investigation in a time-bound manner.
The police had closed the case saying at 11 pm on May 31 1996 at Miskeen Bagh mentioning unknown militants who were hiding at a hideout fired upon the police and government forces searching in the area.
In the firing “the militant Mohammad Ramzan Bhat who was part of Zarb-ul-Mujahideen group got injured and killed, while rest of the militants successfully fled from the place of occurrence .” During the investigation, Bhat’s body was taken for the postmortem and handed over to the family for last rites. And the case was closed as “untraced”.
However, Bhat’s wife Jamela Banoo filed a complaint and following which the case was reopened by the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Srinagar in 2006 and entrusted the matter to SIT.
In her petition, Banoo said two armed guard personnel then posted at Social Welfare Department Miskeen Bagh namely Majeed and Azam Gujjar had borrowed essential commodities worth Rs. 7,500 from Bhat’s shop on credit.
The petition said that when Bhat demanded money both the guard personnel got annoyed and with the help of SOG [Special Operations Group] Rainawari they arrested Bhat.
“The guard along with several others took Bhat from his shop at around 5:30 pm on 31 May 1996 to Rainawari Police Station where he was tortured which resulted in his death. The guards and SHO Rainawari Mir Hussein then threw the body of Bhat in nallah [stream].”
The petition said that thereafter, the guards and SOG Rainawari after kilng Bhat conspired and involved him in a fake gunfight.
The Court in its order passed on October 28, 2021, said that the deceased was also shown involved in kidnapping, attacks of troops and killing of three civilians. However, the outcome of the cases registered in pursuance of those acts has not been placed on record. “There is no substantial evidence on record to substantiate the said fact,” the order reads.
“Therefore, from the perusal of the record and keeping in view what has been discussed it appears that the investigation of the instant case has not been conducted properly from the beginning,” the court said.
The court said that according to the report dated February 11, 2017, the main points reflect that SHO Rainawari Mir Hussein, Constable Noorudin 427 9th BTN, constable Ali Mohammad 2066 have misled the investigation agency and provided false details of the incident.
“The said public servants are liable to be prosecuted for commission of offences of abduction and murder,” the court said.
“It is very unfortunate that 25 years have elapsed since the case was registered in the year 1996 and till date, the case has not been taken to its logical conclusion,” the court said.
“My husband was only 33 when they took him and killed him. I ensured to fight the case and brought up my children,” she said.
. “I request the police that they should register the FIR against those involved in the killing of my husband. They accused should be arrested forthwith,” Banoo said.