In yet another chilling incident of a probable homicide case, Rehana Begum, a mother of three was allegedly charred to death by her in-laws in Bandipora. The fresh fatality has once again brought forth the deepening domestic violence in Kashmir Valley and derides the fence-sitting societal approach over the mounting marital mess.
A day after Bandipora recorded the lowest poll percentage in the first phase of the ongoing municipal elections in Jammu and Kashmir, the town was on its toes—lamenting and dissenting in one go.
The mourners had spilled over to the streets demanding justice for a woman allegedly consigned to flames by her in-laws. Among the mourners were her co-workers, chanting—“Rehana ke katilun ko pesh karo (“Present before us the murderers of Rehana”)—while crying and consoling each other at the same time.
The raged justice campaign against the 33-year-old woman Rehana’s death was fueled by her in-laws’ ‘harassment history’.
At her parent’s home, her family members were taking turns to lament over the loss: Would she not have screamed? Would she not have tried to save herself? Was she tied? Why didn’t she run for help?
Rehana was born to Gulzar Ahmad Khan and Ayesha Begum in Nowpora Bandipora as a bright child. As the eldest child among Khan’s four daughters and a son, the deceased was the soul of the family, who grew up to become the head nurse at the Health Department.
“She got her job in the National Rural Health Mission as a contractual employee,” says Rehana’s inconsolable brother, Javed. “Her posting was in Panar, Bandipora, where she improved health facilities. People of that area are now out on roads demanding justice for her.”
Rehana’s ‘traumatic’ story goes back to the time when she was married to Mohammad Lateef Baba, a resident of Bandipora’s Ahamshareef village. Her decade-long marriage, Javed says, was a tormenting experience for Rehana and her family.
The dispute had begun 6 months after the marriage. Rehana would often come to her father’s place, crying. Meanwhile, she gave birth to three sons: Hanan (7), Manan (6) and Numan (3).
“For 10 years, she patiently dealt with the pain,” Javed says. “Since she had issues at home, we gave her a piece of land, so she could live separately with her husband and kids.” Among her children, Numan is a specially-abled child and would always remain close to his mother.
The fresh tensions had erupted three months ago, when Rehana’s in-laws had again cornered her. The recent fight was like the last nail in the coffin.
“I couldn’t take it anymore and confronted my brother-in-law over his spineless conduct,” Javed says. “My father scolded me. But to me, it was the time to act. I told him that she would only go back if he let her live separately in another house.”
Fighting hard against his tears, Javed, who owns a medical agency and runs an electric shop, says he even gifted his woebegone sister some land in Nowpora, Bandipora to live separately.
“We’ve around 8 kanals of land and orchards,” he says. “She wanted a separate house. I loved her and wanted her to have all the comforts in the world. I happily gave her as much land as she wanted. I asked her husband to tell people that he bought land from me, if he was hesitant to take it as a gift.”
Rehana’s husband had agreed and soon they were going to lay the foundation for their new home. “Earlier, she would not be allowed to open windows or talk to neighbours,” a tearful Javed continues to detail his sibling’s marital abuse journey. “But now, she was happy and peaceful that she was going to go away from that mess.”
Finally on October 6, she was going to temporarily shift to a new place near her under constructed house. It was all good, ‘away from the taunts and harassment’.
But in the evening, narrates Javed, the family got a call from an unknown number. “He asked us to reach the hospital as soon as possible,” he says. “We asked who was calling and the man did not reply. He hung up.”
On reaching the District Hospital (DH) Bandipora, the shocked family spotted their charred daughter on a stretcher. They cried and rushed her to SKIMS, Soura. “I followed the ambulance in my car. In Soura, she was taken to the Emergency Theatre, where doctors informed us that it was a 100 percent burn case. They told us if there was even one per cent chance for them to save her, they would have tried,” Javed says. “We waited. After around 30 hours, Allah took her.”
Since then, Javed says, her in-laws have changed many statements.
“From electric shock to cooking gas, they now say that she died of kerosene,” the sibling says. “One Doctor Sahiba at SKIMS told me that it looks like a homicide than a suicide. I asked her to give it in writing but she said that it did not come under her jurisdiction. But I already informed SHO Bandipora Gazanfar Syed that we suspect that her in-laws killed her.”
But Rehana’s family fears that her in-laws might get away with the crime, as some of them are cops and army men. “Therefore, we demand a Crime Branch Investigation but SHO Sahab has assured that he will fairly investigate. Looking at the condition of my sister, even he broke into tears,” says Javed.
Police is waiting for the post-mortem report, says SHO Bandipora. “As of now, we have called her husband, sisters-in-laws, mother-in-law and father-in-law for questioning. They are still in the police station and we are investigating the case.”
Her in-laws’ captivity prevented this reporter to reach to them for their comments on the deadly episode.
But among them, the sibling says, her husband is not a possible culprit. “He would stay away with Tableegi Jamat for months. It was four months later, he saw his newborn second son. She even had an accidental abortion once and he did not know about it,” Javed says.
“Even on the fateful day, he had been coming and going, despite having construction work going on. But she cannot commit suicide for this reason, as her in-laws want us to believe. She knew what the Quran says about suicide. She stood patient for 10 years. Why would she commit suicide now?”
Rehana’s death certificate reads, “Cause of Death: a) cardio-respiratory arrest and b) 100 per cent flame burn; with a tick on ‘alleged suicide’.” After conducting the post-mortem at District Hospital (DH) Bandipora, the body was handed over to her family in Nusoo village of Bandipora.
As an award-winning Female Multipurpose Health Worker (FMPHW), Rehana’s death has brought her department on the roads, seeking justice for her. “Our department lost a star,” Dr Ishfaq, a surgeon, says.
But as mourners are taking turns to wail over her brutal death at her parent’s home, Javed breaks down while recalling his sister’s torment.
“Lately when she had started living separately, her mother-in-law would taunt her saying that she had snatched her son away,” Javed says. “Maybe they feared the same now. And even before she could live separately in her new home, they killed her.”
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