One hopes that the Hyderabad police report on the death of Kashmiri doctorate student Muddassir Kamran Malla is an exposition of facts rather than a theory moulded around convenient conjectures. The Jammu and Kashmir chief minister has chosen not to disclose details of the report which he said could be done only with the consent of the family. The one safe inference to be drawn if the Hyderabad report is credible and based on sound evidence is that there could be aspects to the case which the victims family has a right to keep private and confidential. Nevertheless, the chief minister, who can be presumed to be privy to the entire report, has been categorical in ascribing the death to suicide. The immediate questions arising, given the bumbling ways of the police across the country, relate to the swiftness with which investigators in Hyderabad have arrived at their conclusions. And even if the suicide theory has substance, the circumstances leading up to the episode need urgent and thorough unravelling in the context of the deep suspicions harboured here about the treatment meted out to Kashmiris outside. Obviously, there are risks in according unqualified credence to the chief ministers implication that a certain set of circumstances, as yet undisclosed, led the student to go into depression and take the extreme step. But equally, the implication cannot be dismissed entirely. Usually the onset of depression of such a severe degree is not sudden but gradual, and can be the result of an accumulation of experiences over a period of time. This again makes it imperative for investigators to probe angles of harassment at the hands of officials or teachers at the students university. Such allegations have already been levelled, and have grave implications if the student was targeted for the sole reason of being a Kashmiri.
Clearly, neither harassment or persecution at the hands of varsity authorities, nor the family assertion that the student was murdered because he had led the funeral prayers in absentia of Muhammad Afzal Guru, fall into the category of purported details his kin would like to keep away from the public gaze. But this line of argument is relevant only in proportion to the credibility and sincerity of figures heading the Jammu and Kashmir government who, on the face of it, have shown prudence and sensitivity by deferring to the right to privacy of the family in question, even when confronted with a major law-and-order problem already coloured in the hues of Kashmirs troubled politics. Sadly, there is not much in the record of the states political executive to warrant unquestioned confidence in its intentions. If sweeping brushstrokes applied by the other camp without pausing to consider various possibilities in this case have escalated the situation, the fault evidently lies in the chronic absence of deterrence to wilful hounding of Kashmiris outside the state. As commentators often like to point out, politics is also a matter of perceptions. Visible, tangible and credible action over the many grave wrongs committed in Kashmir could have been of some help with respect to perceptions, but New Delhi has never been in the listening mood.
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