Shutdown and protests in Kashmir Valley after custodial death

Indian Kashmiri villagers shout anti-Indian slogans following the death of school teacher Rizwan Assad Pandith, in police custody in Awantipora of Pulwama district, south of Srinagar on March 19, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 20 March 2019

Shutdown and protests in Kashmir Valley after custodial death

  • Rizwan was one of six siblings and was planning to do a doctorate
  • A police statement said Rizwan had died in police custody and that he had been taken in for a “terror case investigation”

NEW DELHI: There have been protests and a shutdown in Indian-administered Kashmir following a custodial death, as residents warned that local anger over police brutality cannot be contained.

Rizwan Asad Pandit, 29, was declared dead on Tuesday by police after he was picked up late on Sunday night from his home.

His brother, Mubashir, said Rizwan had been taken to an interrogation center known locally as Kashmir’s torture camp.

“Police should tell us what the charges against Rizwan are and why he was killed in this manner,” Mubashir told Arab News.

“I could not look at the body of my brother when I saw it for the first time after his death. There was a cut on his forehead, his thigh was cut open, his eyes have been gouged out, his vital organs were damaged, it was such a gory sight to see.

“These security forces don’t have any human values, human compassion. Who treats a normal human being like this? What crime has Rizwan committed? I want justice for my brother. The whole of Kashmir is shocked by this inhumanity.”

A police statement said Rizwan had died in police custody and that he had been taken in for a “terror case investigation.”

Arab News contacted the inspector general of Jammu and Kashmir, S. P. Pani, but he refused to take questions related to Rizwan’s death.

India and Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir, which they both claim in full but administer in part, and rebels have been fighting Indian rule for decades, demanding that Indian-controlled Kashmir be united either under Pakistani rule or established as an independent country.

According to a report from a rights group, the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, 2018 was the deadliest year of the past decade in the Kashmir Valley.

It said a total of 586 people were killed in 2018, of which 160 were civilians. The remaining numbers comprised 267 militants and 159 members of the Indian armed forces and Jammu and Kashmir police.

“In Kashmir, custodial killing has become normalized with overlapping tragedies,” Khurram Parvez, a Srinagar-based activist, told Arab News. “The incident has created anger. The issue is that when the prime minister of the country says that he has given free hand to the soldiers, this emboldens the soldier on the ground who feel that he is not accountable to anyone.”

Nobody was saying what the charges were against Rizwan, he added, or who arrested him. He asked what kind of investigation could be expected when basic information was not being provided. 

“The tragedy is that all these killings and human rights violations are escalating tensions among the people. I feel it will further increase the frustration of young people in the valley.”

The valley observed a complete shutdown in response to calls for a strike by the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL), an alliance of separatist leaders from the area.

There have also been protests since news of the custodial death became public.

Mubashir said that late on Sunday police came to the house and locked family members in one room while separating Rizwan from them. “Then the security personnel seized all our laptops and mobiles and took away Rizwan without telling us what the charges against him were.

“We came to know about his death only through social media. Police didn’t have the courtesy to inform us.”

Rizwan was one of six siblings and was planning to do a doctorate. He was a principal at a local private college and nurtured ambitions to be a professor.

“When you push the Kashmiris to wall, they will also push you back and react. The anger such kind of brutalities create among Kashmiris cannot be easily contained,” Mubashir said.

Dawood Riyaz lost his sight in his left eye following a pellet attack in 2017. He accused the Indian government of being “hell-bent” on destroying the young generation of Kashmiris.

“We are also human. We have the right to dissent. You cannot crush dissent with this level of brutality. Youngsters are really feeling frustrated with the regime in Delhi and its insensitivity,” he told Arab News.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, a separatist leader and member of the JRL, said Rizwan’s death exposed the “helplessness, vulnerability, and insecurity” of Kashmiri lives even as the “impunity of authorities” kept rising.

Kashmir’s former chief minister, Omar Abdullah, tweeted: “I had hoped custodial deaths were a thing of our dark past. This is an unacceptable development and must be investigated in a transparent, time-bound manner. Exemplary punishment must be handed out to the killers of this young man.”


Muslim woman accuses McDonald's franchisee of discrimination

Updated 14 August 2020

Muslim woman accuses McDonald's franchisee of discrimination

  • The general manager prohibited Powell from praying in a quiet spot at the airport
  • He told her to to pray in a dirty stock room instead

SILVER SPRING: A Muslim woman who worked for a McDonald’s franchisee in Maryland claims managers and co-workers sexually harassed her and subjected her to religious discrimination after she converted to Islam.
Diamond Powell, 28, of Baltimore, sued her former employer, Susdewitt Management LLC of Lanham, Maryland, on Thursday with the backing of attorneys from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights group.
The Morgan State University graduate was Christian in 2016 when she started working for the company, which operated two McDonald’s locations at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. Powell converted to Islam in February 2017 and began wearing a hijab, a religious head covering, to work.
A manager told her to “take that hoodie off” her head while another manager told her, “You don’t have to wait for God to wake up for you to pray,” Powell’s federal lawsuit alleges.
Powell has a religious belief that she must pray five times a day at prescribed times. A general manager initially granted Powell’s request to take short prayer breaks during her shifts, according to her lawsuit.
“Her prayer breaks lasted no longer than a typical bathroom break,” the suit says.
But the general manager prohibited Powell from praying in a quiet spot at the airport and instead told her to pray in a dirty stock room, the lawsuit alleges. After Powell continued praying outside the restaurant, the general manager eventually revoked her request to take a prayer break, saying, “God will understand,” according to the lawsuit.
“By doing so, the general manager forced Powell to choose between continuing her employment with McDonald’s or sacrificing her sincerely-held religious beliefs,” the suit says.
Powell resigned from the job in April 2018. Her suit accuses Susdewitt Management of violating the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Susdewitt Management owner Isaac Green disputed the lawsuit’s “characterizations” but said the company is reviewing Powell’s allegations and will “respond accordingly.”
“We pride ourselves on our diverse workforce, and we have policies in place to provide a welcoming workplace and to respect the accommodations employees may need for religious reasons,” Green said in a statement provided by a McDonald’s corporate spokeswoman.
The suit also claims Powell was sexually harassed at work, with several managers and co-workers asking her if she was a virgin and a shift manager making sexually explicit remarks.
“No Muslim woman should ever, ever experience what I went through, and I hope this lawsuit will help other Muslim women,” Powell said Thursday during an online news conference with her attorneys.
Zainab Chaudry, director of CAIR's Maryland office, said the group has seen an uptick in the number of incidents in which Muslims have experienced hostile work environments because of their faith.
“Unfortunately, this disturbing case is a glaring reminder of the challenges that Muslim employees often face within the workplace,” she said.