When the body of engineering student Owais Bashir Malik, 21, was found near a railway bridge on the outskirts of Srinagar, police had little to go on. The victim had no known enemy and there was no clear motive or suspect.
His family had filed a missing person’s report on January 13, a day after he went missing, and a day before his body was found. “They were worried about his safety but hopeful he would return home. The next day, we found his body,” said Senior Superintendent of Police, Budgam, Fayaz Ahmad Lone.
The murder sparked immediate protests. “There was a lot of pressure to crack the case. Owais had no enemies. There were no suspects,” said Deputy Inspector General of Police Ghulam Hassan Bhat. “But we had one clue. Owais had been in touch with a girl for a year and had gone to meet her. His sister said her name was Umaira and that she was from Wanabal neighbourhood. She, too, had spoken to the girl several times on phone, including once after Owais went missing. But nobody felt she had any role in the case.”
Then came the revelation.
“We checked Owais’s phone records and found he had been speaking to Umaira for hours every day. There were nights when they wouldn’t sleep,” said Bhat. “We wanted to question Umaira. That’s when we discovered that Umaira wasn’t a girl, but a boy.”
Umaira, Bhat said, was an identity assumed by Owais’s childhood friend Ishaan Majeed, 21. The two used to be in the same school till Class V. Then, about a year ago, their paths crossed again.
“Ishaan hadn’t been in touch with Owais since class V. He created a Facebook page under the name Umaira and put up actor Shilpa Shetty’s photo as the profile picture. He got in touch with Owais on Facebook. His family, especially two of his sisters, were quite fond of Umaira. His sister told us that whenever Owais’s phone was switched off or if he didn’t pick up the phone, Umaira would call her and plead with her to pass the phone to Owais. Owais’s cousin Tanveer had also spoken to Umaira on phone. Things were so intense that Owais wouldn’t even eat with the family — he would take his food to his room as he was always on the phone with Umaira,” said Bhat. “Owais’s family was aware of this relationship. They didn’t have a problem. His sister told us they thought it was a serious relationship, and there was no reason to disapprove of it.”
The two, Bhat said, had not met in person. “Recently, Owais said he would continue the relationship only if Umaira met him. On January 12, Ishaan relented and decided to meet Owais. They met near the railway track. Ishaan told us that once he revealed his true identity to Owais, he was shocked. He got angry and slapped Ishaan,” said Mir. “They had a scuffle and Owais fell down and was hit on the head. Ishaan told us he kicked Owais but once he saw he wasn’t moving, he got scared and fled. He destroyed two of his SIM cards and went to his aunt’s home in Bandipore. He also deleted Umaira’s Facebook page,” he added.
When Owais’s sister called Ishaan, she was told her brother had left for home after their meeting.
According to Lone, Ishaan, a student of Business Administration, was “confused” about his sexual orientation. “He would behave like a girl. He told us he loved Owais and wanted to be close to him. He has been crying, saying that he didn’t want to kill Owais, that he committed a mistake,” said Lone.
Bhat said three Railway Police personnel have also been arrested in the case. “They found the body but instead of informing the police, they dragged it and threw it away from the track. The body had scratch marks. It was lying near the track for two days and there is a possibility that an animal, perhaps dogs, might have come that way,” he said.
The autopsy report is awaited to ascertain the cause of death.
“Ishaan took us to the spot where they had a scuffle. Our findings are corroborated by phone records. We made him speak to Owais’s sister and cousin on the phone and they instantly recognised the voice,” said Bhat.
Ishaan’s family had migrated from a village in Bandipore to Srinagar city, where his father Abdul Majeed is a government employee. He had three siblings, all of whom died when they were children. “We are shocked. We can’t believe Ishaan could do such a thing. He isn’t physically capable of killing a person. How is it possible that he did not receive a single bruise if he had a scuffle that led to the other boy’s death,” said Abdul Majeed.
He said the family has not been allowed to meet Ishaan. “We don’t believe what the police are saying. We want to speak to him and check ourselves,” he said.