“I know there will be no justice but I am fighting this battle to just ensure that nobody else loses his son the way I lost mine,” said Mohammad Altaf Marazi.
It has been a year since his 17-year-old son Osaib Altaf Marazi died. Hours after Jammu and Kashmir lost statehood and special status on August 5, 2019, Osaib jumped to his death in the Jhelum river, allegedly chased by Central Reserve Force Police personnel. He became the first civilian casualty after the sweeping changes were announced by the Centre.
“We got neither an FIR nor his death certificate,” said Marazi, who drives a truck for a living. “For them [the government], no death happened at all despite thousands witnessing it.”
For four months, the police denied his death. In a submission to the Jammu and Kashmir high court’s juvenile justice committee, the police called reports of his death “baseless”.
In its submission to the committee in September last year, the police said: “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.”
The juvenile justice committee had been tasked by the Supreme Court to investigate alleged rights violations involving minors after August 5. The committee submitted two successive reports to the Supreme Court, dismissing all charges. Satisfied, the Supreme Court disposed of the petition.
In October, Marazi filed an application in a Srinagar district court, asking for a first information report to be registered and an investigation launched.
In December, four months after Osaib drowned, the police acknowledged the death. The Parimpora police station, close to the spot where the teenager died, told the Srinagar district magistrate that he had drowned in the Jhelum. The police’s status report claimed he was 24 years old and not a minor. It did not mention whether he was chased by CRPF.
In any case, it did not have jurisdiction over the area where the incident took place, the Parimpora police station contended. No police station has claimed jurisdiction over the area.
Losing faith in the courts
According to the Marazis’ counsel, Shah Faisal, there has been no hearing in the case since March because of the lockdown to contain the coronavirus. “The case was listed for hearing three times in all these months but it was not picked up for hearing due to the restrictions and lockdown,” he said.
Faisal said the last development in the case was in December, when the senior superintendent of police in Srinagar had requested the district magistrate to start inquest proceedings under Section 174 of Jammu and Kashmir Code of Criminal Procedure, which made it mandatory for a police officer to investigate any death where there is reasonable suspicion of foul play.
“After that there was one hearing and the honourable judge had given the prosecution time to file their reply,” Faisal added.
Osaib’s father has never gone to court. “It’s my elder son who follows the case and other formalities,” he said. “I knew there would be no justice and see? I have been proven right. Nothing has moved forward in the case even a year after his death. They might go unpunished in this world but I am going to drag them by the collar before the court of Allah in the afterlife.”
Marazi does not even hope for punitive action anymore, just an acknowledgment of wrongdoing. “If they accept it on their own that yes, my son died because of their actions, I might even think of taking my case back,” he said. “But still there’s no acknowledgment, no acceptance of their fault.”
His elder son, Suhail Ahmad Marazi, has not yet lost hope in the legal process. “I will fight it till the end,” he said. “After that, it’s Allah’s will but I am not going to stop pursuing it.”
The legal battle waged by him forced the police to acknowledge the death last December. “Now they need to answer the question of who forced him to jump into the Jhelum and get all of them punished,” said Suhail Marazi.
Filling the void
A few days before Eid ul-Azha, a pall of silence has fallen over the Marazis’ home in Palpora, Srinagar. “We don’t know when Eid is,” said Saleema Bano, Osaib’s mother, trying to speak of the sadness that has engulfed the family. “We go through the paces for the sake of society. There is not a single moment we don’t miss him.”
Osaib’s grandmother, Noora Begum, breaks down when his death is mentioned. “He was such a mature child,” she sobbed. “He used to make the bed for me every night. Whenever I needed medicine or to see a doctor, he would leave everything and go with me. There is no one like him in our entire clan.”
Marazi said he had trouble going back to work after his son died. “After his death I stayed home for four months since it was a shutdown,” he said. “When things eased a bit, I started work again but my heart was not in it. Since May, I have been home. My elder son goes to the fruit mandi in the morning and earns for the family.”
His son’s death has made him an angry man. “I get irritated by very small things and shout at my mother and wife – I was never like this,” he said.
To kill the yearning for his son, Marazi has filled his phone with videos and pictures of Osaib. The phone’s wallpaper is a picture of Osaib and him posing at Leh market some years ago. “I would always take him along on long trips,” said Marazi. “His last trip with me was to Zanskar in Ladakh last year.”
Mourning amid lockdown
Bano has stacked Osaib’s books and clothes in the attic of her two-storey house. “It’s unbearable to look at them,” she said. “We just can’t believe that it has been a year. It’s as if he was just here.”
For months after his death, Kashmir remained under one of the most stringent communications blockades in its history. For weeks, all phone lines were cut. The internet shutdown continued for months and high speed mobile internet is yet to be restored. Amid the communications blackout, many families mourned their dead in solitude, unable to inform friends and relatives. “Very few of his close relatives managed to see his face for the last time because we couldn’t inform them,” said Bano.
The Marazis still get visitors who do not know about Osaib’s death.“Many months after his death, his tutor asked Osaib’s classmates why he was not showing up for tuitions,” recounted Marazi. “When he came to know why, he visited us and broke down. He was very attached to Osaib.”
Earlier this year, the family had another visitor, someone they did not know. “It was his football coach,” said Marazi. “He broke down the moment he entered our house. He couldn’t believe Osaib is dead.”
This is the sixth part in a special series on the legacy of the sweeping changes made by the Modi government to the status of Jammu and Kashmir on August 5, 2019. Read the full series here.