A closure that opens old wounds?

Funereal trigger Tufail Mattoo’s death led to five months of unrest in the Valley in 2010

THE KILLING of a teenager, Tufail Mattoo, in 2010 had triggered a five-month unrest in Kashmir. Two years later, the Special Investigation Team (SIT) set up by the state government to probe the killing has filed a closure report in the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, declaring its failure to reach any conclusion.

On 11 June 2010, Mattoo, 17, of Saida Kadal in downtown Srinagar, was killed when a teargas shell fired by the police allegedly hit him while he was returning home from a tuition centre. Initially, the police claimed Mattoo died after being hit by a protester’s stone, but later accused those who took him to hospital of murdering him.

The closure report filed by the SIT has upset the relatives of Mattoo as well as Kashmir-based human rights activists. Many of them had been hoping that justice in Mattoo’s case would help in ensuring progress in the investigations into other deaths allegedly due to police excesses during the 2010 unrest.

“It is a huge setback,” says Mattoo’s uncle Muzaffar Ahmad. “In Kashmir, the system seems to be under no obligation to dispense justice.” Khurram Parvez, the convener of Jammu & Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, says, “We hoped Tufail’s case will be an honest exercise in justice and reconciliation, but the decision to close the investigation is disappointing.”

In its report, the SIT blamed lack of evidence for its decision to close the case. “All the possibility of collecting evidence in this case was explored to reach some evidence. But the SIT was not able to find any conclusive evidence,” says the report. “The investigation into the case has been closed as untraced.”

“The law and order situation in 2010 was very grim and violence erupted at every nook and corner. In this particular incident, the violence erupted at more than one point. Therefore, in such a… situation, it becomes impossible to contain the situation at one place and multiple points get affected,” the report reads. “However, the secret search will continue. If anything comes to knowledge, the investigation shall be reopened.”

The report also says that the eyewitnesses failed to identify the policemen allegedly responsible for firing the teargas shell that killed Mattoo. In an identification parade, a woman who claimed to have seen the person who fired the projectile is said to have pointed at a policeman who had not been deployed in the area on the day of the incident. Besides, the SIT could not reach any valid conclusion from the media footage of the incident, nor did the splinters of the projectile found in Mattoo’s head match the shells fired by the policemen on duty.

According to Khurram, it was “funny” for the SIT to close the case as “untraced”. “Tufail was killed near Gandhi Memorial College. The police would know which personnel were deployed in the area at the time and who fired the shell,” he says.

Five more cases of excesses by security forces in 2010 are currently under investigation. These are the cases of Zahid Farooq, 17, killed by the BSF in February at Brain Nishat on the outskirts of Srinagar; Wamiq Farooq, 12, allegedly killed by the police in January; Shujaat-ul-Islam, Ishtiaq and Imtiaz, allegedly killed by the police in Anantnag in June; besides the Humhama killings in September and the Machil killings in March.

“Closure in Tufail’s case will affect all these cases. Already, in the Brain Nishat and Machil cases, the paramilitary forces that were involved have claimed protection under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act,” says Khurram.

However, Mian Qayoom, the counsel for Mattoo’s family, says he will file an objection to the SIT report. “We are examining the report for its legal value and will contest it in the court,” says Qayoom. “We will also wait for the court’s response to the SIT’s closure report.”

Mattoo’s family is in no mood to give up. Following Mattoo’s death, the people of Saidakadal had formed the Tahafuz Insaniyat (Protection of Humanity) Committee. The committee will discuss the latest turn in the case. “We will continue our struggle to get the guilty punished,” says Ahmad.

Riyaz Wani is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.


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