A descendant of saints from central Asia, who settled in Kashmir centuries ago to spread Islam, prominent lawyer and human rights defender Syed Babar Qadri would feel honoured to post pictures of their shrines on his social media accounts. Today, he lies buried next to one such mausoleum of his ancestors, right outside his native home in Dhobiwan village in Tangmarg area of Baramulla district, a 40-minute drive from the summer capital of Srinagar.
Nestled on the heels of famed ski-resort of Gulmarg, the village wears a gloomy look as mourners keep pouring in. The cool autumn breeze makes flower petals showered on his grave shimmer. Shrieks of the bereaved family, including those of Babar’s younger brother Zaffar, continue to reverberate and add to the gloom.
Lawyer and human rights activist, Syed Babar Qadri. (Photo: Twitter)
At around 6 pm on September 24, 41-year-old Babar was shot dead by unidentified gunmen at his residence in Srinagar, where the family had migrated in the 1990s. Days on, there’s still no end to mourning.
Killers wore a smile
On the fateful day, Babar had reached home with his brother Zaffar, who is also a lawyer, in their car after day’s work at the court. Recollecting the incident, the younger brother says that he saw two men waiting at the main gate of their residence in Hawal locality, where a lane barely wide enough for a car to make way, leads to the house. The assailant-duo disguised as clients seeking legal consultation.
Over the last two years, Babar had been complaining of a threat to his life, especially since the day a terror portal linked to journalist Shujaat Bukhari’s assassination had spewed venom against the lawyer. Since then, Zaffar says, he would try his best to be the ‘guard for the eleder brother’ who was popular for his fearless utterances on Kashmir issue, especially on TV debates. Initially, as usual, he was alert about the presence of the two strangers, who appeared disguised as clients.
One of them was speaking Kashmiri and sought consultation with Babar. “The other one, with a dark complexion, who was sporting a short haircut was holding a diary in his hand. He didn’t utter a word but kept smiling unusually.” Babar, who was wearing a brand new blue suit, asked them to wait for a while till he freshened up. In a short while Babar returned to his ‘clients’ and asked Zaffar to get tea for them. “I went upstairs to get tea but ensured that I was looking down from windowpane facing the lawn and saw them conversing,” he recollects.
Merely 30 seconds passed and four gunshots changed everything. Zaffar rushed back to the window only to find Babar running to the drawing-room in the ground floor. The two assailants were nowhere in sight, but a few more gunshots were heard. Zaffar instantly came downstairs hoping that Babar had escaped the attack, but found him lying in a pool of blood. Bullets had pierced his head and chest. “Brother, they have shot me,” Babar had said and fallen unconscious on the younger brother’s lap. He was rushed to the hospital, where he was declared brought dead. Babar is the father of two toddler daughters.
As per the family, the unidentified assailants were so bold that they voluntarily removed their Covid-19 face-masks that could have concealed their identity. “They looked confident. Especially the non-local man who wore that unusual smile.”
As per a senior official, both the assailants had fired two bullets each on Babar.
Two ‘death warrants’
In 2018, a Pakistan based terror portal linked to the assassination of veteran journalist Syed Shujaat Bukhari had also targeted Babar in its venomous write-ups. Interestingly, while the terror portal had posted only one article against Shujaat before his assassination, two similar hate pieces had been pitched against Babar back-to-back in June that year.
On June 18, 2018, Babar had claimed to have escaped a life bid when his car was intercepted by unidentified gunmen. He had filed a complaint with the police. Ironically, though Babar had the time and again complained of threat to life, police didn’t provide him security. Even two days before his killing, he complained of new threats following his dispute with some top lawyers in the JK High Bar Association. Now, however, the Jammu and Kashmir Police have constituted a Special Investigation Team to probe his killing. While the Director-General of Police, Dilbag Singh is confident to crack the case soon, the family says it has no hope for justice.
In the past two years, the Jammu and Kashmir government has been facing severe criticism for failing to provide adequate security to those facing threat to life. Let alone others, the BJP leadership in Kashmir itself has been at the forefront of such protests. The BJP leaders often accuse the senior officials in civil and police administration of playing with the lives of people. Shockingly, in some cases, the security of even high profile persons like globally acclaimed academic Prof Amitabh Mattoo has also been withdrawn.
At the grave
As the mourners from across Kashmir keep pouring in to meet the bereaved family, paying homage at Babar’s flower-clad grave nearby, is a religious obligation. With moist eyes, some mourners shower petals on the grave.
Amid recitation of Islamic scriptures seeking Jannat Ul Firdous for the fearless Babar, he is remembered as the lion who was killed in his den.