Head constable-driver Kanwarnain Singh of Singhpora, who was ferrying police training recruits back from Hazratbal to Baramulla after the conclusion of Eid prayers, was brutally stoned to death by unruly crowds gathered on the highway at Palhalan for a “demonstration” on Wednesday.
Earlier, police officials in Srinagar and Baramulla were tasked with making arrangements for Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s prayers “among thousands of Muslims” at Hazratbal. They had been asked to position 300 personnel in civvies in the first three ranks of congregational prayers to create an invisible shield around him.
Deputy Inspector-General J.P. Singh and Baramulla SP Zuber Khan deployed police personnel.
The Department of Information issued the following press release that day.
“Mr. Abdullah offered Eid prayers at Hazratbal amongst thousands of Muslims. He exchanged Eid greetings with the people, mingled with them and conveyed his wishes to them.”
Kanwarnain Singh, who had volunteered to drive one of the four buses of District Police Lines Baramulla, encountered an unruly mob on the highway. On sighting the police buses, the “demonstrators” began shouting pro-Azadi, pro-Pakistan and anti-India slogans, though they had no immediate cause.
Palhalan, though retaining the label of North Kashmir’s “most sensitive flashpoint” since 2010, had no police or paramilitary deployment to guard the government cavalcades that day. Even as two of the buses sped towards the destination and the fourth one managed to escape in the reverse direction, Kanwarnain’s vehicle was subjected to a barrage of stones. It took the mob less than five minutes to have him dead.
While no politician or official except Congress leader Saif-ud-din Soz condemned the murder, the police themselves underplayed the incident as “an accident”. There was no official statement, let alone a tweet of condemnation from Mr. Abdullah.
The Congrees leader’s son, Salman Soz, and the opposition People’s Democratic Party’s MLA from Baramulla, Muzaffar Hussain Baig, were the only leaders who called on the bereaved family, which held DIG Singh and SP Khan “directly responsible” for Kanwarnain’s murder.
“There was no police protection. Everybody knew that the residents of Palhalan would attack the government vehicles,” Kanwarnain’s elder brother Sarabjit Singh, a district officer in Baramulla, told The Hindu.
Kanwarnain, lone breadwinner of the family, is survived by his handicapped mother, wife Satnam Kaur and two children— Navpreet Kaur and Amanjit Singh — both school students.
As Sarabjit was enthusiastically greeting Muslim neighbours on Eid, he received the bad news from his friends in Palhalan.
“They gave us harrowing details of the assault. Kanwarnain slowed down and then attempted to speed away but the crowds blocked the road with a motorcycle and a car. Dozens of men jumped onto his bus from either side and broke his neck and shoulders with 5-kg stones. They dragged him out and trampled upon him till he died,” Sarabjit said.
“Some eyewitnesses told us that he was strangled to death with a scarf. We saw torture marks all over his front and back during the funeral bathing,” said cousin Rajbir Singh.
DIG Singh and SP Khan did not respond to phone calls.