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Thursday, October 20, 2011

(Published in The New Indian Express, School Edition, on 20 October, 2011, retrieved from

NOTE: This does not contain opinion. It's a factual summary of the controversy surrounding the alleged custodial death of Syed Mohammad Yusuf

Omar Abdullah, who hasn’t had an easy time since he took over as the youngest Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir in 2009, is now embroiled in the row surrounding the death of National Conference (NC) worker Syed Mohammad Yusuf.
The 61-year-old retired teacher had been with the party for decades, and was said to be a close aide of both Omar Abdullah and his father Farooq Abdullah. He was summoned by the Chief Minister on September 29, along with several others.
Sources later told the press the meeting was to sort out allegations of money transactions for political favours. Two other NC workers, Abdul Salam Reshi and Muhammad Yusuf Bhat, had alleged that Yusuf had taken Rs. 1.18 crore from them in return for securing them ministerial berths and senior positions in government.
A day after the meeting, the body of Yusuf was handed over to his family. The state has maintained that he died of health problems, while the family says he was tortured to death.
What Happened to Syed Mohammad Yusuf?
Yusuf’s brother Mohammad Shafi said minister Nasir Aslam Wani had called Yusuf at 10 am on 29 September, asking him to come to his house. After Yusuf returned to his own residence, Wani called him again at 6pm, summoning him to the Chief Minister’s house for an official meeting. A relative who called him soon after said he heard heated argument, and then the phone was switched off. Yusuf’s family was not able to reach him after 7 pm on his phone.
Family members said that when Yusuf did not return the next morning, they approached the SSP Srinagar, Ashiq Bhukari, who told them to go to the crime branch. He had reportedly been taken in for an hour, for questioning by the crime branch, on the instructions of Wani.
Yusuf’s relatives said the Inspector General at the Crime Branch, Raja Aijaz Ali, said whatever had been done to Yusuf was done at the residence of the Chief Minister. They also said a witness had told them Yusuf was vomiting blood when he came out of Abdullah’s house.
Finally, they were told Yusuf had complained of abdominal pain and was taken to hospital. He developed complications, and passed away that morning from cardiac arrest. His family said he had no history of heart ailment.
When the body was handed over, his relatives took photographs, which they later gave to the press, showing injury marks on Yusuf’s face and neck.
Immediately, the government ordered a judicial probe headed by a sitting Judge of the High Court, and suspended five personal security guards of Omar Abdullah, including two Deputy Superintendents of Police.
Who Says What?
The family said police refused to register a First Information Report (FIR), saying they needed direct orders from higher-ups. An FIR was registered only after three days. They alleged foul play in the death, as they were not allowed into the hospital, and the body was handed over only after the post-mortem was complete. They said the custodial death had resulted from torture, and called for a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe.
The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) went further, saying the death could have taken place in Abdullah’s or Wani’s residences. Party President Mehbooba Mufti demanded the resignation of Omar Abdullah, to ensure a fair investigation into the matter, saying the Chief Minister acted as “the interrogator, the judge and the executioner.”
A statement by the government said the Chief Minister had called Yusuf to his home on September 29, to inquire into the allegations of corruption. It went on to say that Yusuf was later handed over to Crime Branch for an investigation and died the following day of cardio respiratory arrest. It said no external injuries were found on his body.
Omar Abdullah said no one had “laid a finger on” Yusuf at his home, and he would “like to believe” no one did after he left. He has maintained that he sees no reason to resign, and has found support in his main ally, the Congress. Speaking to media, Abdullah expressed his willingness to appear before a committee probing the incident, and said “I would like the judicial enquiry to be completed in weeks, not months.”
The Impact
The row came to a head on October 3, when pandemonium broke out in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly after PDP sought adjournment of the House over Yusuf’s death.  Speaker Mohammad Akbar Lone and PDP leader Moulvi Iftikhar Ansari traded abuses, and Ansari threw a table fan at the Speaker.
The house was adjourned thrice. PDP MLAs chanted “Qatil ko pesh karo” (Present the murderer), tore files and stormed the well of the house.
PDP has organised demonstrations and rallies regularly since the death, both in Srinagar and Jammu. The marches have been led by various wings of the party, including the women’s and student’s wings.
Despite the Congress’ vocal support for Abdullah, the latest controversy involving him fuelled rumours that they may ask for the Chief Ministership to be rotated, as they had done with former ally PDP. Some press reports claimed sources said the Congress would replace Abdullah with a Chief Minister from the party in January, though the Congress has officially denied it. All has not been well between the NC and Congress of late, with State Congress President Saifuddin Soz saying corruption was rampant in Jammu and Kashmir.


29 September
Omar Abdullah calls Yusuf and two others to his house, to hear out both sides in a charge of corruption and bribe-taking.
30 September
Yusuf’s body is handed over to his family, which stages a protest at the Press Colony. Government orders a judicial probe into the death.
1 October
PDP holds its first rally in protest, calls for Omar Abdullah’s resignation
3 October
J&K Assembly adjourned three times; unprecedented havoc in the House.
6 October
Omar Abdullah tells a news channel no one “laid a finger” on Yusuf, and that he will not resign.


2 days after he was sworn in as Chief Minister, a deaf-mute man was shot dead by the Army near Omar Abdullah’s residence. A series of civilian killings that followed made people dubious of Abdullah’s promise to seek the revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.
In May 2009, 2 women – Asiya (17) and Nelofar (23) – were found raped and murdered in Shopian. Omar Abdullah changed his position on the incident several times, first saying it was not rape and murder, and later saying it was and he would punish the guilty. Protests against inaction in the case went on for 2 months, paralysing the state.
On July 28, 2009, Omar Abdullah submitted his resignation over allegations that his name figured in the list of 102 offenders in the 2006 sex scandal that shocked Srinagar. The resignation was turned down by Governor N N Vohra. A furious Abdullah had marched out of the Assembly, despite his partymen physically restraining him and begging him not to resign. He shouted at his supporters, “allow me to take this first step!”
The biggest challenge for the young CM came in 2010 – street protests caused a shutdown in the valley for over 4 months, after a student Tufail Ahmad, 17, was killed by the police when they were chasing stone-throwers.


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