A young man poisoned himself. But was it a suicide?

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Shoib Bashir Mir came home from a nearby orchard, frantically running from one room to another, distraught. Upon catching sight, he hugged his mother. “Why are we poor, mother?” Mir had asked her. “What did we do to deserve this?”

In a fainting voice, Mir sought forgiveness from her. His skin turned pale before he collapsed. “Poison had run its course,” his father Bashir Ahmad said, recalling the incident.

Earlier, on 28 May, Mir had shot a video, which later went viral on social media platforms, saying: “I’m sacrificing my life for all the teachers who haven’t received a salary for the past two and a half years,” he is heard saying in the video. … I’m giving my life so that their issues would be resolved.

Two days later, on 30 May, he succumbed in a hospital.

The death of the 24-year-old highlighted the plight of his father and dozens of other government-employed teachers, whose salaries were withheld by the department for their militancy records in the past.

His death, however, also started a conversation on the government’s ignorance, prompting the reactions from several parts of the society to question the circumstances that led up to the death of Mir.

Though his death led to the release of the held salaries within a week, in absence of accountability, the officials, with their phones switched off, escape the answers.

“J-K admin should be held accountable for his death”

In the 1990s, father of Mir, Bashir Ahmad Mir, a resident of Avil Noorabad in south Kashmir’s Kulgam, had followed Kashmiri men, who joined the insurgency against the rule of India.

However, after the first wave was on the verge of collapse six years later, a few militants like Bashir surrendered. He was arrested, and later acquitted of all charges three years later.

Since 2004, thousands of candidates have been appointed as Rehbar-e-Taleems (ReTs), a scheme that allowed them to work as contractual teachers for five years, following with an assurance that they will be regularised. Nearly 200 of them were former militants; Bashir was one of them. He was appointed in 2008 as a teacher at the Government Primary School in Gujar Basti area of the village.

In 2013, Bashir along with many other ReTs became permanent employees of the education department after, he said, the Crime Investigation Department (CID) gave the clearance, saying “they are silent and busy with their profession”.

Mohammad Riyaz Bhat, who is a teacher at the Middle School of Devsar area of Kulgam, gave a similar explanation of the events. ReTs would get 70 percent of their salary from the centre and the other 30 percent of it from the state, said Bhat.

“We were getting the salary smoothly till February 2019,” said Riyaz. “Then the government decided to streamline our salary. And then we were to get it from the state only.”

Following the decision, all of the teachers had to undergo re-verification and the Distinct Level Screening Community that included CID, said Bhat.

“The report was received by Younis Malik [former director education],” he said. “He declared the report unclear.” As per Bhat, “Malik withheld the salaries of 197 teachers with militancy background for over two years.”

The files kept on resting on the tables of one department to another, said Bhat, and the teachers kept knocking on the doors of authorities including then Advisor to the governor, Farooq Khan.

“The file was finally sent to the financial department after Malik said he doesn’t have funds to release salaries in October 2020,” said Bashir. “Then, 9.5 crore rupees were given to him for it.”

Bashir alleges Malik was “corrupted”. “Salary of at least thirty-six teachers like us was released on different dates during these years,” he said. “When we asked him about it he said it was a technical error.”

“He [Malik] kept ignoring us it till he got transferred,” said Bashir. Malik was transferred in April this year, replaced by Tassaduq Hussain Mir at his position of Director School Education, Kashmir.

The Kashmir Walla tried to reach Mir several times, however, refused to comment. Malik couldn’t be reached either. The story will be updated, as and when they reply.

Station House Officer Manzgam, Shalinder Singh said that “the First Investigation Report (FIR) has been filed in this regard under section 309 (Attempt to commit suicide)”. But he refused to divulge further into details of the case.

On 2 June 2021, Mir released 33 crore rupees to Chief Education Officers of Kashmir to pay the pending salaries of 630 teachers, reported first by a local news agency Kashmir News Observer. “The salary of these teachers was pending due to deficiency of documents and verification,” an unidentified official told the agency.

Many politicians expressed grief over Mir’s suicide including Omar Abdullah, the J-K National Conference Party Vice President. He called the incident a “visible manifestation of the misplaced policies” of the incumbent administration. “The drastic step taken by the youth is a direct fallout of the government policies and actions.”

Mehbooba Mufti, the last chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, said: “A man sacrificed his life to highlight the plight of teachers like his father, whose salaries have been stopped since 2018. J&K admin should be held accountable for his death.”

“It wasn’t suicide”

The plight of these teachers came into the spotlight when Mir’s video went viral on 29 May on social media.

A day ago, he had called his friend, Mohammad Abbas Chopan, asking him to upload a video from Shoib’s phone on social media. Little did Abbas know that it was his friend’s last message.

“He didn’t use social media,” said Abbas, adding that he never imagined that Shoib could commit suicide. “He was depressed but the step was extreme. I can’t explain how it impacted me.”

The young man, wearing a Kashmiri cloak in the video, looked fatigued and spoke in a drowsy tone. “Our lives are in such a worst state,” Bashir said, explaining the background..

At the end of the video, Mir asked his family to be patient. “They have already shown a lot of patience,” he said. “Allah is with them.”

Unlike Mir’s father, Abbas was aware that his friend was suffering from depression because of the financial issues that the family faced. And the loans, worth 6.5 lakh rupees, they had taken since Bashir’s salary was withheld.

“It was unfair to us,” Bashir lamented, referring to his salary being withheld. “If they had to do this, they shouldn’t have appointed us in the first place.”

Abbas, his friend for twelve years, is yet to come out of the shock. “It wasn’t suicide,” he said. “The education department is responsible for his death.”

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