It has been two and a half months since 17-year-old Osaib Altaf Marazi died in Srinagar. But in the eyes of the state, he is not dead.
The teenager jumped to his death in the Jhelum on August 5, just hours after the Centre announced it was revoking special status for Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 and split the state into two Union Territories.
According to his family and at least three eyewitnesses interviewed by Scroll.in, he had been in a group of at least 10 boys who were being chased by Central Reserve Police Force personnel in Srinagar’s Parimpora area. He jumped into the river when he was allegedly cornered by CRPF personnel, closing in on him from two sides.
But the Jammu and Kashmir Police refuse to acknowledge the death and file a first information report. The Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital, where he was taken, will not issue a death certificate in “medico-legal cases” without an FIR.
The family has now moved the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, seeking an FIR and a police investigation on Osaib Marazi’s death.
His mother, Saleema Bano, is filled with rage and grief at the stand taken by the police so far. “They are lying. If Osaib didn’t die, where is he? Is his grave lying too?” she asked.
Death under lockdown
Saleema Bano remembers the last time she saw her son alive on August 5. “He left home around 11:45am to go to a nearby playground,” she said. “He told me to give him breakfast. So I gave him bread and a dish I had prepared for lunch. After finishing breakfast, he left.”
The family lives in Palpora, on the banks of the Jhelum, in the Noorbagh area of Srinagar. Around 1:30 pm in the afternoon, Saleema recounted, some boys from the locality banged on their windows. “They told us directly: ‘Osaib gov shaheed’ [Osaib has been martyred]. They told us that he had been shifted to SMHS hospital. It felt like the sky had fallen on me,” she said.
While Saleema Bano was still in shock, her husband and mother-in-law were driven to the hospital by a neighbour.
Osaib Marazi’s grandmother, Noora Begum, remembers the scene at the hospital. “They had already wrapped his body in a shroud and the people were putting it into an ambulance,” she said.
The death occurred under a pall of silence. On the night of August 4, the government had cut all communication channels to the Valley, including mobile and landline phone connections, mobile and broadband internet, cable television. While security forces flooded the Valley, there were severe restrictions on movement, cutting off one neighbourhood from another.
This reporter only found out about the death on a visit to Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital on August 6. Such was the communications blackout that even local newspapers could not report the death until a week later.
At the hospital
There seem to be no available records of the death. “When we went to the hospital to get Osaib’s death certificate, they told us to get an FIR of the incident from the police,” said Suhail Ahmad Marazi, Osaib Marazi’s elder brother.
It is not clear if the boy was brought dead or died in the hospital. When Scroll.in tried to access hospital records of August 5, officials at Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital said they were “were not authorised to provide them.”
In cases where the patient is brought dead, said the hospital’s medical superintendent, Nazir Choudhary, they will not issue a death certificate at all.
‘No death in our area’
Still, the Marazi family approached two police stations for an FIR. Mohammad Rafiq Marazi, Osaib’s uncle, has made four visits – two each – to both Safa Kadal and Parimpora police stations. “At Safa Kadal police station, they told us to go to Parimpora police station as the incident in which Osaib died falls in the jurisdiction of Parimpora,” he said. “And when we went to Parimpora, they told us that the case falls within the jurisdiction of Safa Kadal police station.”
Palpora, where Osaib Marazi lived, falls under the jurisdiction of Safa Kadal police station. Across the river from Palpora lies Parimpora, under the Parimpora police station. The two areas are connected by a footbridge.
According to eyewitnesses and family, Osaib Marazi and the other boys had crossed the bridge into Parimpora on the afternoon of August 5. They were chased by CRPF personnel after they reached a curve on the road in Parimpora.
“Osaib didn’t know how to swim so he was afraid to jump into the water,” said Suhail Marazi, who claimed to have spoken to the boys who were with his brother the day he died. “Before jumping into the river, he had tried to hang on to the river bank by gripping some shrubs but the CRPF men hit him on the hands. He lost his grip and fell into the river.”
Scroll.in visited both Safa Kadal and Parimpora police stations. Both denied the death took place in their jurisdiction. “We came to know about the death two days later since there was no communication service functional that day,” said an official at the Safa Kadal police station who did not wish to be named. “We heard about a boy’s death by drowning but it didn’t happen in our jurisdiction.”
The official also added that they would have “taken notice” of the incident had anyone from the boy’s family filed a complaint.
Suhail Marazi confirmed that the family had not filed a complaint with the police in the immediate aftermath of the incident. “We just assumed that they filed an FIR in his death on their own,” he said. “So, we directly went there to ask for a copy of it.”
At the Parimpora police station, a senior officer dismissed the case: “No such incident has happened within the jurisdiction of our area.”
The police repeated its denial to the juvenile justice committee of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court. The committee had been instructed by the Supreme Court to submit a report in response to a petition against the alleged illegal detention of minors since August 5. The petitioners, who are child rights activists, had flagged a number of incidents, based on media reports, including those on the death of Osaib Marazi.
The committee sought answers from the Jammu and Kashmir Police, which responded to specific incidents cited in the petition. On the death of Osaib Marazi, the police had this to say:
“The incident as reported has been found to be baseless as no such death has been reported to the police authorities as per verification report received from the field formations.”
In the final report submitted to the Supreme Court on September 26, the juvenile justice committee echoed the police claims. The Jammu and Kashmir Police, it pointed out, had “categorically refuted the assertions and allegations made in the media reports and, consequently, in the writ petition.”
Back to the courts
The Marazi family has turned to the courts once again. On October 16, they filed an application before the chief judicial magistrate at the district sessions court in Srinagar.
The family sought an FIR under Section 302 of the Ranbir Penal Code, which deals with punishment for murder. The application also cited Section 156 (3) of the Jammu and Kashmir Criminal Procedure Code, which deals with the “investigation of cognisable cases”. The provision gives petitioners legal recourse, should the local police refuse to investigate cognisable offences. It also empowers the magistrate to order a police investigation.
“The Chief Judicial Magistrate has directed the Parimpora police station to file a report in the matter by or before October 28,” said Shah Faisal, counsel for the Marazi family.
According to Faisal, police had not followed standard legal procedures. “Section 174 of the [Jammu and Kashmir] CrPC makes it mandatory for a police officer to investigate any death where the circumstances suggest that there’s a reasonable suspicion the death was caused by some other person,” he explained.
The provision directs the officer to “immediately give intimation [of death] thereof to the nearest magistrate empowered to hold inquests”. It also says that the concerned officer should “proceed to the place where the body of such deceased person is, and there, in the presence of two or more respectable inhabitants of the neighbourhood, shall make an investigation, and draw up a report of the apparent cause of death.”
As Faisal put it, “In Osaib’s case, the police has literally done nothing at all.” The next hearing in the matter is scheduled on October 28.
While the police continue to deny the incident, the Marazi family struggle to come to terms with their loss. His grandmother, Noora Begum, says she finds it hard to sleep at night.
“He was so young that he was afraid to sleep in his own room. So he slept in my room, next to me. They have snatched my prince from me,” she said.