‘She gasped to death’: In memory of love, a man’s quest for justice

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Mohammad Rafiq Shagoo and Fahmeeda had made a promise that whatever they do in their lives, they would do it together. Then death did them apart and broke their vow, leaving a heartbroken Shagoo on a quest for impossible justice as a memorial of his love.

A quiet summer’s evening, two years ago, was ended by the thuds of tear-smoke shells that had choked Fahmeeda who soon began to vomit blood and gasp for breath. As she was dying, she somehow managed to talk to her husband – for the last time.

“I think my time has come to an end,” she had whispered to Shagoo, her husband for twelve years. “Take care of our children.”

At the hospital, doctors “tried everything” to save her — from providing her oxygen supply to putting her on a ventilator but at 7:40 pm she had her last breath as her heart had failed.

Fahmeeda’s death didn’t end their love story. It made Shagoo more resolute to fulfill his promises to her. “She was everything to me,” he said, two years later, this week.

“I miss her a lot and there is no such moment that I have spent with her that I have forgotten,” he said.

Shagoo has a neatly trimmed beard, short hair and calm posture as he attended to customers at his departmental store in Bemina neighbourhood on the outskirts of Srinagar city.

He opened the store after his wife’s death, otherwise Shagoo had a business of Kashmiri handicrafts in India’s western coastal state of Goa. Shagoo and Fahmeeda would often travel the country together – sometimes for business and sometimes for vacation.

“She was my travel partner,” he said.

Shagoo, 42, now no longer travels anywhere and spends most of his time at home. “I chose this for my children. Have to look after them,” he said. “I sacrificed it for my children and I think every father should.”

She ran for air

For Shagoo, Fahmeeda – then 34 – was not just his travel partner but also a support system who he lost on 9 August 2019, four days after New Delhi abrogated Jammu and Kashmir’s limited autonomy, imposed a militaristic lockdown and made the region into a communication blackhole.

It was Friday when clashes had started between the civilians and government forces in their neighboring areas. “A boy in the neighborhood came to me and told me forces were smashing vehicles parked at the roadside,” he recalled. “I went out to park my car at some safe place.”

Back at home, the Shagoo family had started coughing and gasping but none of them ran out of breath completely like Fahmeeda did. She was doing chores in the kitchen when teargas shells were fired by the police and the government forces inside their house from three sides. As soon as it happened, smoke filled the entire house.

Fahmeeda rushed out of the kitchen and ran for an open, airy space. She fell near the gate. “When I returned after parking my car I saw her on the floor, gasping for breath,” he said. “She even started vomiting blood.”

Fahmeeda died at hospital and her funeral prayer was held at midnight with her children also in participation. “It was raining heavily …it was hard for me and my children. They wouldn’t stop crying.”

The initial months after her death were difficult for Shagoo. “It was so hard,” he said, “that I would run to my room crying if anybody would mention her … I would often ask what had I done to deserve this?”

Police refused FIR

Four days after her death, Shagoo went to a police station to file the First Information Report (FIR) into the incident. “I would go to [Parimpora] Police Station continuously for a month to file an FIR. But they kept dodging, saying the senior officer was not available,” he said.

“I was told by a police officer that they [police] can’t do it [file FIR] as they can’t go against their own people,” Shagoo added. “Do whatever you want to. Courts are there.”

In September 2019, Shagoo filed a petition in the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate Srinagar seeking directions to the Station Head Officer (SHO) Parimpora Srinagar for registering an FIR and investigating the cause of the death of his wife.

According to the petition, Fahmeeda died due to the inhalation of tear gas smoke fired by police and government forces at Shagoo’s residence during a protest in the adjoining areas.

“Due to heavy tear gas shelling the smoke (toxic gas) quickly engulfed the kitchen and the adjourning rooms. The deceased started feeling breathless and choking due to excessive toxic gas inhalation.”

At the hospital where Fahmeeda was rushed, doctors tried to “retrieve her, foam started coming out of her mouth and she died around the same time”.

Shagoo, as per the petition, approached the Police Post Bemina for registration of an FIR into the killing of his wife. “Initially the D.O of Police Post Bemina tried to delay the registration of an FIR but when the complainant kept on approaching the said officer, he refused to register the FIR saying he cannot register an FIR against his own police post,” it read.

Fahmeeda’s hospital admission card — that Shagoo got nearly after a week of requesting the hospital authority as they were reluctant to give him the card and the death certificate, scared of the police — read that the “Patient is suspected to have inhaled some toxic gas (alleged tear gas inhalation)”.

The cause of the death on the medical certificate was “sudden cardiac pulmonary arrest”. As per the certificate she had suffered acute Lung injury due to toxic gas inhalation.

As per the documents available with The Kashmir Walla, the Srinagar court noted that “the concerns of the petitioner that the reasons behind the death need to be addressed and the investigation is required to take all the subsequent developments”. The court also directed the police to investigate “the callous approach that resulted in non-registration of an FIR by the police agency concerned.”

Everything reminds him of her

Shagoo and Fahmeeda were maternal cousins and were married in 2007. They have two children – Mahir Rafiq, 7, and Mohammad Ayaan, 9. “They understand everything. They know what has happened,” said Shagoo, adding that Mahir and Ayaan are just like their parents, hiding their emotions while they still keep looking at photographs of Fahmeeda.

“But they never talk about it. I know they miss her but they don’t show us their feelings.”

Shagoo said that he would raise their children the way she would have raised them. “I might not be able to do it like her but I am trying my best.”

Ayaan, their elder son, resembles her mother and Shagoo has been mostly keeping him nearby to feel Fehmeeda’s presence as he sees reflection of his wife in him. “My elder son reminds me of her when he sits in front of me, it feels like she is sitting there and looking at me,” he said, fidgeting his fingers nervously.

Shagoo remembers Fahmeeda as beautiful and said he hasn’t “met anyone nicer than her ever”. “She was so good, how will I tell you?” he said. “Everything reminds me of her. She doesn’t leave my imagination.”

Shagoo has seen Fahmeeda only twice in his dream till now wherein she doesn’t talk but comes in front of him. “It is never possible for me to give her place to anybody in my life, nobody can take it,” he said, trying his best not to cry.

“I won’t stop thinking about her. Sometimes it gets hard for me to fall asleep,” he said. “I cry and think about her. I pray for her maghfirah.”

“We will reunite in Jannah, In sha Allah – if God wills.”

Even as Shagoo has filed the petition, he has little hope of justice. “It’s their own court and their own police. And then it’s them who have to investigate,” he said. “But it’s good that at least an order came out for an investigation, finally.”

He said he wants justice for his wife and believes that it might relieve his pain.

“I want justice and by that I mean it was a murder and I just want to see all of them behind the bars,” Shagoo said. “It might lessen my pain. I will keep fighting for it till the end of my being.”

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