With another dead-body being found in river Sindh, the list of those drowning in the gushing waters of Ganderbal continues to grow. While the family of Balti cries foul play, the problem is much bigger
As one enters the Balti Mohalla of Kullan-Gund village, in central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district, grim faces of the villagers hint on something unusual that the area might have witnessed lately.
In the centre of the Mohalla, surrounded by maize fields, is a single-story house which belongs to Akbar Ali Balti, whose dead body was found weeks after he went missing.
His wife Zareena, with her two daughters on her lap, has been speaking to the reporters about her husband’s mysterious death.
Balti was a driver of a self-owned load-carrier and used to make his living by ferrying belongings in the vehicle.
On June 22, at around 8:30 in the morning, Balti received a call from an unknown number while he was having breakfast with his family.
“The caller, unknown to me, was asking him to reach someplace as soon as possible,” recalls Zareena, who married Balti three years ago.
Within a few minutes, Balti hurriedly left and told his family that he will return once his work is finished. Like other days, the family thought that he might have been called by a customer and will return till evening.
According to the family, Balti would regularly keep them informed about his customers, business partners, and even everyday work schedule.
“He always used to keep us updated about his whereabouts. He would let us know whenever he used to travel for work,” Balti’s mother Fatima says.
But this time when Balti did not contact his family for the entire day. They got concerned and tried calling him.
“At 7:30 pm, we called him. He sounded quite normal and told us that he will be back soon,” Balti’s elder brother Ghulam Haider, 30, said.
However, when Balti did not return until the next morning, Haider started contacting other people. But their relatives and acquaintances had no information about Balti.
Soon after, the family approached the Gund police station and lodged a missing report.
Now both, police and the family, began searching for Balti. Their relatives in Kargil and Drass were also contacted but they too had no clue about Balti’s whereabouts.
On August 4, Police station Gund received communication that an unidentified dead body had been recovered from river Sindh near Sumbal Bala area of Gund.
Later, Police called Balti’s family to identify the body.
“Few of our relatives and family members identified the body,” the deceased’s brother, Haider, said.
After all the medical and legal formalities, the body was handed over to the family for last rites.
Since Balti’s body has been identified, the entire family is in shock and shattered. They desire nothing but justice.
They believe that Balti was killed and thrown into the river for reasons unknown to them. “We at least want to know the reason, and the person behind this murder,” Fatima said.
On August 9, family and relatives of the deceased protested against the alleged killing and blocked the traffic movement on Srinagar-Leh highway for hours.
Demanding justice, one of the protesting relative said that their Balti has not died a normal death, “he was killed”, and they demand a thorough investigation into the matter.
Holding banners that read, “Justice for Akbar”, “Qatilon Ko Be-Naqaab Karo”, the protesters sought a time-bound investigation, and justice.
A police party from Gund Police station reached the spot and assured the protesting family members that the investigating was going on, and police would surely take actions against the culprits.
Back home, the situation is more distressing. Mourning her husband’s death, Zarina could not come to terms to the loss of Balti, who had become her safe haven, after her father’s death.
“What will I do now? How will I feed my young daughters?” said Zareena, who has become inconsolable.
Zareena says that her husband, a small businessman, and had no animosity with anybody.
His mother Fatima shares the same opinion, saying that her son was a very gentle and warm person. “People who did this to him must be punished, my son was innocent,” she said.
In this regard, Station House Officer, Gund, told Free Press Kashmir that police is investigating the matter. He said that there were few suspects who were questioned earlier. He added that anybody found guilty will be strictly dealt with.
Balti’s neighbour said that a dark cloud of gloom has descended over the village since Balti’s body was found.
Pertinently, Balti’s is not the only case. There were few more deaths reported earlier in the month and all of their dead bodies were recovered from the Sindh river.
Keeping in view the back to back incidents, administration in Ganderbal later imposed a blanket ban on swimming in river Jhelum and in its nearby tributaries, nallahs, streams and other water bodies.
Umar Khurshid is a staffer at Free Press Kashmir.
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