Bijbehara, KASHMIR: At around sunset on Sunday, 38-year-old Noor Mohammad Dar, a driver from south Kashmir’s Bijbehara, left his home with a truckload of coal, heading to Budgam district some 70 km away.
While Kashmir has been facing severe restrictions since August 5, when the government announced its intention to abrogate Article 370, Dar had hoped that it would be a relatively easy ride to Budgam’s Chadoora in the evening.
Dar and his companion, a 25-year-old conductor, planned to return home by the dead of night.
But around 9pm on Sunday, two policemen on a motorbike reached Dar’s home and gave them some bad news.
“He had been hospitalised by the police officials and taken to Bijbehara sub-district hospital. From there, he was shifted to Srinagar. When we reached SKIMS Soura hospital in Srinagar, he was being taken out from the operation theatre. He was already dead,” said Dar’s elder brother Mohammad Aslam Dar.
Dar, the police said, was just 6km away from his house when he was hit by a stone thrown from a lane at Bijbehara”.
A police statement issued on Monday said that the alleged culprit threw stones at Dar’s truck because he thought it was a security vehicle.
“The stone pierced the pane and injured the driver in his head. He was rushed to nearby Bijbehara Hospital for treatment, wherefrom he was referred to SKIMS Soura Srinagar. He, however, succumbed to his injuries and was declared brought dead on arrival,” it said.
“While the police’s response was swift, Dar’s family isn’t entirely convinced by their version of events. One of their questions is about the role and statement of the conductor.”
A murder case was registered under the Ranbir Penal Code and the “stone pelter involved in the heinous crime was identified and arrested” within a couple of hours of the incident, they added.
While the police’s response was swift, Dar’s family isn’t entirely convinced by their version of events. One of their questions is about the role and statement of the conductor.
“He says he just saw a hand and head of a person who came in front of the running truck and pelted a stone on the front windshield. The question is how did the truck come to a standstill normally without hitting anything or swerving to the sides of the road? According to the conductor, Noor Mohammad fell backwards on his seat as soon as the stone hit him on the head. My brother weighed 90 kg. How did the conductor manage to move him away from the driver’s seat and control the vehicle in a fraction of seconds?” asked Mohammad Shafi Dar, one of Dar’s brothers.
On Tuesday, when HuffPost India met Dar’s family, the conductor had been summoned to the police station.
“Since the incident, the conductor has spent most of the time in the police station. He was allowed to come home for the night on Monday evening. Police had told us to present him again at the police station on Tuesday morning. They said they have to record his statement under Section 164 before a magistrate,” Shafi Dar added.
The conductor, he said, just began working with his brother a month ago.
HuffPost India saw the truck parked outside the Bijbehara police station on Tuesday. Apart from the broken windshield in front of the driver’s side, there’s no apparent damage visible on the vehicle.
The second unanswered question raised by Dar’s family is about the injury on his head.
“There was no stone pelting in the area during the day and the spot where the incident took place is on the highway. There’s no human population close to the spot… When I saw his body, he had a bleeding wound on the back of the head. His skull on the right side of his head was broken and had sunk inwards but there was no wound. Even after his death, he was continuously bleeding from his mouth,” said Aslam Dar.
Semthan, where the incident took place on Sunday late evening, is around 2km away from the Bijbehara police station. According to locals in Semthan, there were no clashes between protesters and security forces through the day.
“The incident took place at around 7:50 pm in the evening and it coincided with two gunshot-like sounds. Some locals had rushed to the spot when they heard the sound but all of them were picked up by the police,” a person who lives in Semthan told HuffPost India on condition of anonymity.
After Dar’s death, police took the body to Bijbehara sub-district hospital for post-mortem and other formalities.
“We waited at the hospital for the whole night. On Monday morning, the doctors came and carried out the autopsy. The dead body was handed over to us at around 9.30 am on Monday,” said Aslam Dar.
A police official at Bijbehara police station said they are “investigating the case.”
Noor Mohammad Dar is survived by his wife and three young children—two daughters and a son.
His eldest, Adeel Noor, a Class 3 student, remembers his father’s last trip clearly.
“I went after him on Sunday evening and pleaded with him to take me along but he scolded me and asked me to stay home,” Adeel, a class 3 student, said.
Dar’s family is yet to come to terms with the loss. They didn’t even know that the police had arrested the stone-pelter.
“We have so many questions. Only Allah knows what happened,” said Shafi Dar.