A family from Karnah in Kupwara travelled around 150 kilometres to save the life of their mother, but died a mysterious death last week inside their rented room. While “asphyxiation caused due to gas leakage” is said to be their possible cause of death, the pending post-mortem report is yet to ascertain the real cause.
It appeared a routine visit to some Bemina locals, when a man from Kashmir’s countryside had walked in to find shelter for a brief period, near JVC Hospital. A few days later, when the tenant was taken out dead, along with his four other family members, it unsettled the entire locality where motley group of people have come to dwell in the last three decades.
It was the last week of December 2018, when that man in his early forties from Karna, Tanghdar—the northern Kashmir’s hinterland known for a sizeable military footprint—was compelled to travel the long distance from Batpora, Karna to Srinagar in an ambulance to get his 60-year-old mother Resham Jan treated at JVC Hospital, Bemina.
She ought to be operated upon in the coming days. And for the fear of snow-blocked route and long distance, she had to stay around. Besides her son, Khursheed Ahmad Sheikh, his 35-year-old wife Gulshan Begum and two children—Furqan, 6, and Faizan, 4—also accompanied her.
Khursheed knew it wasn’t a matter of a few days. He started looking for a rental accommodation near the hospital. After approaching many people, he finally ran into Nazir Wani, a landlord from Khag, Budgam, now one of the landlords of Bemina.
Wani had shown his two-storey house in Mansoor Colony, Bemina to Khursheed, and made a deal with him.
“We settled on Rs 2,000 rent for 10-15 days,” Wani says. “His mother was to be operated upon. She had some issues with her leg.”
Without digging in much about Khursheed, Wani let him stay at his house that is a short distance away from where he lives with his family.
Opposite to where Khursheed was staying with his family, is a baker’s shop. “People keep coming and going,” says Nisar Ahmad Rather, the baker making a Tchwor. “I did not notice much. But they had been staying here for around three days.”
Recalling the fateful morning, the baker says that he was busy with his work, when a man had approached him, asking, “Their family from Karna has been calling them since last night and they are not answering the call. Do you have any idea where they live?”
The baker had pointed to the opposite side and the man had followed the directions. “That man was also from Karna,” Rather, the baker, says. “He was also here to get someone treated. Some of Khursheed’s family members from Karna had called him, saying that they are not able to contact any of his family members in Srinagar.”
Meanwhile, the man from Karna had reached Khursheed’s rented space in Bemina. He had knocked the doors, but there was no reply.
“He came back to my shop,” the baker continues recalling that fateful morning. “I decided to accompany him. We knocked again and there was no answer. Then we broke a windowpane, opened the door and entered.”
Inside, Rather says, a shocking sight awaited us.
The baker froze seeing the family, including children, still wearing their Pherans, lying in a line, dead on the floor.
“I could not bear the sight,” he says. “I did not go inside the room. We then called the Mohalla President and others.”
The President Manzoor Ahmad had entered the room and switched off the cooking gas, says the landlord, Wani, adding, “they had then called the police. The official on call had asked the locals to go inside and check if anyone is alive and take him/her to the hospital.”
The Bob-Ton (cooking vessel) was on the gas stove and had water in it, the landlord says. “The vessel had turned black. The President had switched the gas off,” he says.
Asked if it was cooking gas or a gas heater, Wani confirms, “It was cooking gas, not a heater.”
Soon as the police arrived, and started examining the scene, the five lifeless family members were taken to the hospital, where they were declared ‘brought dead’. Their bodies were sent for post mortem. The reports are still awaited.
“Till the time, we don’t get the reports from the Medical College, we cannot comment on what had happened,” a police official answering SHO Bemina (JVC)’s contact number told Free Press Kashmir. The police, on the next day, had taken the cooked food from the family’s room including Lamb’s feet to get it checked.
After being kept in a mortuary at Pantha Chowk and then in Police Control Room, the bodies were shortly airlifted to their native place due to unavailability of road transport to Karna, where they were finally buried at their ancestral graveyard, after the Admin in Srinagar intervened.
Since then, a photograph of the family lying dead on the floor has gone viral on social media networks. While the man who had approached the baker Rather has said the family wasn’t receiving calls, the phone can be seen lying on Gulshan’s side in the photograph. The family is wearing Pherans and the Bon-Ton on the cooking gas makes it clear that the family wasn’t intending on sleeping.
Usually, the cooking gas is kept on for hours while cooking, and it does not cause any evident harm. Moreover, its smell can be detected, in case of leakage.
“It can be anything,” says a local, while awaiting the post-mortem report to ascertain the real cause of death.
But whatever the outcome of the report, the landlord Wani and the baker Rather still shudder over the deadly fate, which compelled a son along with his family to rush their ill mother to the city hospital, miles away from their hometown, only to return home in body bags.
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