“If you want peace, establish justice,” wrote Rizwan Assad Pandit, from Kathua jail, Jammu, in his personal diary after being arrested in 2018 under Public Safety Act (PSA) for involvement in “anti-national activities.”
Next to these lines, amid a pile of scribbled poetry, lies one of his handwritten poems,
“Woh koi aur hai jo tumhari mehfilon mai khamosh chale aate hai,
ham aate hai toh aandhi toofan chale aate hai.”
After the seven days of a complete lull since the custodial killing of the 29-year-old school principal, Rizwan Assad Pandit, Sabir Abdullah Public School, reopened with dreadful faces and cold shoulders, asking one another with moist eyes—how to start this day?
Every student stood quietly in the queue, as the assembly gathered in the ground. Amid a teacher’s grieving condolence speech, and a pinch of try to motivate students in forgetting the tragedy and moving on—the assembly broke down. The educational institute functioning under a democratic setup had a tough time in getting over the custodial killing of Mr. Pandit after he was picked up by the Indian government forces a few days ago on suspicion of “militancy activities” on the intervening night of 18-19 March 2019.
“Since his death, teachers are having a hard time in running the institute as he (Mr. Pandit) did,” believes Farhan Shabir, a student of Mr. Pandit.
Other than Mr. Pandit’s heartfelt presence, students are missing, as they call it, a refreshing smile of their chemistry teacher. “Rizwan sir would pretend to be angry at us, but he would smile at our jokes while looking at the blackboard,” adds Mr. Shabir who showed a picture with a smiling face of Mr. Pandit that went viral on social media post his death, “That picture is from a school picnic.”
“I thought chemistry would be boring,
But you opened my eyes. So, now I have found my courage
And I wouldn’t be left behind
You helped me in understanding the chemistry
In ways, I couldn’t know. So, my thank-you goes to you
I wish you wouldn’t go.”
Wrote Taqwa, a student of Mr. Pandit, in eulogy addressed to him. Now, it found its place in the locker of Mr. Pandit’s room, rusting alongside other belongings of Mr. Pandit including a glittering card in the bunch stationary and handmade cards, reading: “You are the best teacher in the world”.
Mr. Pandit’s students were more than just this, they were his family, and vice versa, “and it was more evident when almost his every student kept his picture as their DP on WhatsApp since his killing,” said Mubashir Assad, the elder brother of Mr. Pandit.
But, amid these memories, the most haunting one being when Mr. Pandit had promised them a visit to Tulip Garden just a day before he was taken by government forces. “You will inaugurate the new buses that we bought,” Mr. Pandit had said.
Young, and lively
After the death of Mr. Pandit, a feeling of solitude looms over his home in Awantipora. “Since his death, our house doesn’t echo with the laughter anymore,” said the younger brother of Mr. Pandit, Zulkarnain Assad. “He made home lively.”
Sitting in their two storey-house, Mr. Zulkarnain remembers how his elder brother used to wake up early and nudge everyone in their bedrooms for namaz (prayers).
The loss of a human life drags the moments of a lifetime for the outlived ones. From his smile, talkative nature, to his urge to cook new things for the family now haunts the family. “We aren’t a happy home now,” said Mr. Zulkarnain.
His killing and the grave injury marks on his body left a deep scar on many of his admirers. One of his student, Yawar Hamid, who regularly visits their home, and used to call him ‘Rizwan Master’, is now suffering from psychological trauma. “I am unable to concentrate on my studies,” said Mr. Hamid. “Whenever I try to study, his face comes in front of my eyes. ”
The aspiring Rizwan
Mr. Pandit always dreamt of establishing an institution in his area, Awantipora. Being a scholar, he had also applied for PhD. in Islamic University.
Known as a social reformer, and an intellectual in his village, Mr. Pandit had campaigned against Drug menace, and anti-harassment in the society. In 2016, when the violence following the killing of a popular rebel commander Burhan Wani hit Kashmir, he had started free coaching classes in his town, where he, alongside his brother, would teach more than 300 students.
Talking to The Kashmir Walla, Mr. Pandit’s elder brother, Mubashir Assad, told that his campaign against drug menace in Kashmir impressed the then superintendent police of Awantipora, and offered a reward to him for it. “But, he said ‘I am doing it for the society, and I don’t need any fame in return.’”
On 18 May, his death will mark three months, and in contrast to Assistant Commissioner Revenue of Pulwama, Qazi Masood’s word of completing investigation in 28 days, as per Mr. Mubashir, “We didn’t even get the autopsy report which was perhaps to come after 48 hours of his (Mr. Pandit) killing.”
Mr. Mubashir, a teacher in private school, demands accountability, and capital punishment for Mr. Pandit’s killers. “This case needs no probing. It is clear that he was killed, I, myself, saw the brutal torture marks on his body,” said Mr. Mubashir. “Where on this earth someone is killed with such brutally?”
From 23 to 25 March, the family’s statements were recorded.
“They are now saying that we were busy with the elections so the case was delayed. I think they are delaying it deliberately. How many custodial killing ever received justice? This case will be like all those cases,” alleges his brother.
On 17 March, Mr. Pandit was detained by Awantipora police for questioning, after they had raided the house of Assadullah Pandit, Mr. Pandit’s father. According to the family, when they visited the police station, they were told that Mr. Pandit has been taken to CARGO, the counter-insurgency unit of Jammu and Kashmir police. However, on 19th March, the family came to know about his custodial killing through a local news portal.
Earlier in 2018, Mr. Pandit was arrested for “anti-national activities” and was booked under PSA, however, a few days after, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court quashed it.
The family alleges that police didn’t release him for the next fifteen days despite court orders back then. Following it, he went back to his normal life and would try to keep himself busy with school duties and tuitions. “He had started giving lectures to Polytechnic students in Islamic University students as well,” recalls Mr. Mubashir.
As Ramzan sneaks in, the family of Mr. Pandit woke up for sahoor (early-morning meal), as the mother spread the dastarkhawn (table cloth), she said, “One member is missing.”
Quratulain Rehbar is a Features Writer at The Kashmir Walla.