On television and in the courtroom, the young lawyer could be a force. Babar Qadri stood as a rare, pugilistic voice arguing on behalf of his native Kashmir, the rocky region long torn between India and Pakistan, on India’s combative and increasingly nationalistic talk shows, The New York Times reports.
Shouted at, he would shout back. More than once, an angry host kicked him off the air, according to The NYT.
On Thursday, Qadri, 40, was shot to death in his home, making him one of the most high-profile casualties of the violence wracking Kashmir, the report says.
Family members were quoted to have said an assailant posing as a potential client shot him in the head and chest in the courtyard of his home in the old part of Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir. The identity of the assailant was not clear, the police said, The NYT reports referring to to local media. They reportedly declined to answer questions from The NYT on Friday.
Kashmiris on Friday mourned Qadri as a rare public advocate for his home in a troubled time. One year ago, India tightened its hold on the Kashmir region, and local activists say speaking out has become increasingly dangerous, according to the report.
“The lion was killed in his den,” Majid Hyderi, a longtime friend of Qadri, citing a common nickname for him, was quoted by The NYT as saying. “With his killing, we have lost a roaring voice for peace.”
Long volatile, the predominantly Muslim Kashmir region has suffered growing violence since the Indian government last year revoked the region’s semi-autonomy and increased its security presence there, according to the report.
The move reportedly hardened the attitudes of militants who have fought for years for independence from India and sidelined moderate voices calling for ways to improve relations with the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has taken an increasingly hard line toward India’s Muslims,
Qadri’s death is part of a wave of political assassinations that have shaken the region in the last few months. It was the first killing of a prominent civil society member since the killing of Shujaat Bukahri, the editor of a local daily newspaper, two years ago, according to The NYT.
Qadri had said in recent weeks that he had received death threats. On Twitter this week, he said police should investigate people who had accused him of being a man of “agencies,” implying he worked secretly for Indian intelligence, the report points out.
“The sense of tragedy is all the more because he warned of the threat,” Omar Abdullah, a former chief minister of the region, reportedly wrote on Twitter. “Sadly his warning was his last tweet.”
Qadri’s round, bespectacled face was famous in the region and throughout India for his vociferous criticism of New Delhi’s increasingly stronger hand in Kashmir. In person, he could be shy and retiring and would rarely interrupt others, unlike when he was on television. He also had sharp words for Pakistan, which India accuses of supporting pro-independence Kashmiri militants and other armed groups, according to The NYT.
Both countries, Qadri was quoted to have said in an interview with The NYT about a month before his death, “play with the dead bodies of Kashmiris.”
Qadri grew up in Srinagar speaking Kashmiri, Hindi and English, which later made him an effective spokesman in polyglot India. He studied law in the city and became a human rights lawyer. He was a common sight in Srinagar, driving around the city in a gray hatchback with his two young daughters, the report says.
He rose to prominence in 2012 when Indian police forces accused a number of children of attempting to kill officers and burning police vehicles. A photo of him wearing a gray suit, perhaps a size too large, while trying to comfort a terrified boy being led away by a police officer went viral on the Kashmiri internet. When the boy was set free, his family members said Qadri had argued in court on his behalf “like a lion,” giving the young attorney the nickname, it goes on saying
As security forces put more Kashmiris in prison, Qadri was widely sought after, and he became known for his ability to win the freedom of children in particular. He also became a frequent guest on Indian television, where he sharply criticised the Indian forces for their harsh oversight of Kashmir, according to the report.
Qadri kept up his television appearances even as Indian media became increasingly nationalistic after the election of Modi in 2014. As Indian forces stepped up their enforcement efforts in Kashmir in the name of fighting terrorism, he faced an increasingly difficult reception. Other panellists often called him “Mr Traitor,” the report notes.
Late Thursday, according to the report, as the dust settled in the city, Qadri’s body, covered by a red blanket, was put in an ambulance and taken to his ancestral home in north Kashmir, where family and friends lowered his body into the ground and bade him farewell.
Friends and relatives beat their chests. During the procession, one of Qadri's daughters — Zahera, 4, asked her mother where her father was, according to Surat Shakeel, a family friend, the report says adding that Qadri’s wife told her that he had gone to perform the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. Kashmiri parents often tell their children that the dead have gone to hajj.
Burhan Ahmad Bhat, a university student who participated in the procession, was quoted to have said he wondered whether Qadri’s killers would be found and whether they would continue to be labelled “unidentified,” like the killers of so many other Kashmiris.
“All we know is that they are killed by unidentified gunmen,” Bhat reportedly said. “But we never come to know why.”