SRINAGAR: A police officer was beaten to death by a crowd chanting pro-militant slogans outside the Jamia Masjid in Srinagar on Thursday night while most Kashmiris were engaged in nightlong prayers on the eve of the festival of Shab-e-Qadr when sins are forgiven and mercy is shown.
The circumstances leading to the murder of deputy superintendent Mohammad Ayub Pandit, 57, are shrouded in conflicting accounts. Some said he was on duty near the mosque and was clicking pictures, which led some in the crowd to suspect he was an intelligence agent, while others said they saw him step out of the mosque after prayers.
This is the first time in recent memory that a police officer has been singled out for lynching in an urban centre like Srinagar, that too near a place of worship in Islam’s holiest month.
Viewed alongside the security forces’ recent successes in hunting down marked-out trouble-makers – a stone-thrower who was among those known as “Chhota Geelanis” was killed in firing on Thursday- and a spurt in attacks on the police, the incident has led security analysts to wonder if Kashmir is slipping into an unfamiliar and unpredictable phase of targeted attacks on those representing the State.
The lynching prompted chief minister Mehbooba Mufti to warn people of serious consequences if the police’s patience snapped.
Police sources said that investigators had begun identifying the killers of Ayub, a member of the security wing that guards VIPs, and had arrested two men so far. Sajjad Khaliq, superintendent of police for Srinagar North, where the mosque is located, was removed tonight.
Dilbagh Singh, additional director-general of police, said Ayub and his team of about a dozen policemen had been part of a special security deployment for Shab-e-Qadr. “There was commotion outside (the mosque) and he had gone to see what was happening. This is when it (the lynching) happened,” he said.
But it remained unclear why the mob had turned on Ayub, who was in plainclothes, and why exactly it suspected him of being an Intelligence Bureau agent.
What is known is that Ayub, fearing assault by the mob, had fired from his pistol and injured a few young men at the mosque, where thousands had gathered to pray, triggering the attack.
Some reports suggested that moderate Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the head priest of the mosque, was praying inside when the incident took place around midnight. The Mirwaiz, however, said he had arrived a little later.
A man who said he was there but did not see how it all started claimed seeing the mob drag the “half-dead” officer towards the main road. “He had been stripped. People were punching him; some were hitting him with stones. They were chanting pro-militant slogans,” he said.
“People were saying he was an IB man and had injured several young men by shooting at them.”
A video clip shows a mob purportedly shouting slogans in favour of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Zakir Musa as a man presumed to be Ayub is being assaulted.
For quite some time after the incident, the police had no idea that the dead man was one of their own, let alone that he was a senior officer.
Mehbooba suggested that Ayub had asked his guards to go home for the night prayers for Shab-e-Qadr.
Ayub’s elder brother Mohammad Abdullah Pandit, former vice-president of the pro-independence high court bar association, said the officer had told the family on Thursday he had been assigned night duties at the Jamia mosque.
“We don’t know what happened and why he was killed. Some people said he was praying when some of those present spotted his pistol,” Abdullah told The Telegraph .
Hundreds of people – friends, family and neighbours – joined Ayub’s funeral. Abdullah said Ayub’s daughter, who studies medicine in Bangladesh, had come home a few days ago to celebrate Id. “Who knew she would have to mourn her father’s death during the visit?” he said.
Mehbooba said Ayub had volunteered to serve at Jamia last night. “DSP sahib considered it his own area (he lived a few kilometres from the mosque). He asked his security men to go home for the night prayers,” she said.
“There can’t be anything more shameful than beating a person to death while he is on duty to provide security to people.”
She added: “They (the police) are showing restraint in dealing with their own people but the day their patience wears thin, God forbid, those days will return when people used to flee at the sight of a (security force) Gypsy. There is still time to mend ourselves.”
-The Telegraph Calcutta