Eleven years after his rattling case shocked Kashmir, Kaleem Qadri lives on in his hometown walls and his sibling’s virtual identity.
It was the longest night at Qadri’s. The moon was out, the day had passed and no one knew where Kaleem had gone. The entire family sat together comforting one another and convincing themselves that there was nothing to worry about.
Each time Kaleem’s mother would anxiously dial his number, the computerized message—“The number you’re trying to reach is currently switched off”—would tear her heart apart. While she constantly hoped and wished for her son to pick up the call, deep down, dwelled within her, the dreadful question, whether or not Kaleem even was on the other side to pick it up.
Kaleem had always been a responsible boy. He had never been a matter of worry for his family or anyone ever. A loyal son, a protective brother and a kind 21-year-old whose innocence would charm anyone he met. While the women couldn’t help but cry in despair, Kaleem’s father, with his heart stormed with emotions and hands shaking with fear, had to put up a brave face.
Assumptions started to pile up and the women in the family began to grow uncontrollably unsettled. Kaleem’s father chose to lighten the air with a harmless lie.
Trying to calm his wife with a quasi-smile on his face, Kaleem’s father told the women that Kaleem had been arrested for causing an accident and would be released by the next morning. This short-lived lie undoubtedly unclutched the mother’s heart but was soon exposed when Kaleem’s sister overheard the men in the other room, discussing whether or not they should seek help from police and the whole family was back to square one.
As soon as the news of Kaleem’s uncertain disappearance spread among relatives and distant acquaintances, everyone would come up with terrifying theories of their own. While some would suggest, “what if he is into something illegal”, others would propose, “what if he has joined some militant organization”. All these assumptions would crush Kaleem’s family members who just wanted him to be back and put an end to their agony.
As time passed, the air grew thicker with apprehensions. The father had had enough. He finally mustered some courage and decided to report his missing son to the police.
The same day, Kaleem’s father received a ransom call from an anonymous caller masquerading as a militant of the Lashkar-e-Toiba militant outfit. He was told that his only son had been kidnapped and would only be freed after an amount of one crore was received.
Like every kidnapper ever, they warned him that the police must not be informed or the consequences would be dire. A call of that sort would crush a father’s will but Kaleem’s father was content that at least his son was alive and at least he would get to see him again but little did he know that truth wasn’t being told. He was hopeful that now police would be able to trace the kidnappers and free his son.
There wasn’t much the Qadri family could do that night other than praying, questioning, analyzing and taking guesses over who it could be. While the whole family stood clueless, Kaleem’s sister came up with a name—a name that turned out to be an answer to all their confusions. “I know it’s him, it’s Nazar! He was calling him again and again,” she stated and reiterated time and again. She could bet her life on it.
Kaleem was a tech-enthusiast. He would love to keep a check on what new gadgets had landed on the market. It was his fondness of modern-day gadgets that got him in contact with Nazar who ran a mobile shop and a computer centre. He would inform Kaleem about new mobile phones models, tablets and laptops and the friendship grew stronger, stronger enough for Kaleem to trust his friend with his whole heart and spend time with him.
Nazar called Kaleem on the day of his disappearance, and told him he had found a buyer for his iPad who was ready to pay a handsome amount.
At around 6 in the evening of October 28, 2011, Kaleem left home to get the inverter battery repaired. On his way out, he asked his 10-year-old cousin brother to accompany him but he refused and Kaleem went alone on the drive.
Following his mystery outing and mourning over his missing, the clue was eventually passed on to the police who started their hunt for Nazar only to find out that he had been admitted in a hospital on account of some sickness. His tracks were cleared, but Nazar was still under suspicion. The police kept an eye on him and Kaleem’s family too was reluctant to let go of the prime suspect who could possibly lead them to their son.
Days later as the investigation was in process, Kaleem’s uncle had to take sick Nazar to the police headquarters for questioning. Sitting next in car to a boy who could have possibly been involved in his nephew’s kidnapping, the uncle had his heart racing. While stuck in a traffic jam near Sempora, they both could see Jhelum. The flowing river agitated the uncle’s heart and he asked Nazar in a soft voice whether or not he knew anything.
“Have you killed him?” the question followed by a brief silence was answered boldly by Nazar negating any such accusation. The uncle rephrased the question, maybe to make it sound less difficult for Nazar to answer: “Do you know anything at all about him being kidnapped, if yes then I beg you to speak the truth. His whole family is going frantic.”
“You’re like my father and he was like a brother to me, I would never hurt him,” Nazar’s response hadn’t changed.
But after a thorough investigation, it was found out that Nazar was last seen with Kaleem that evening in his car. As the police interrogation started, Nazar revealed the harrowing truth about what in fact had happened to Kaleem.
That evening, Kaleem picked Nazar and they drove towards Srinagar to meet the buyer for his iPad. A little farther, near Lasjan Bridge, Nazar’s brother-in-law and a man who he said was the buyer boarded the car while the fourth accomplice, Nazar’s pregnant sister was home sewing blankets and bedsheets together, preparing a sort of shroud for Kaleem’s cold dead body while there was a life blooming in her womb.
Nazar, having the whole plan laid out asked Kaleem if he could drive his car as he was thinking of buying the same Ford Figo. Kaleem being a generous friend switched seats with Nazar who now had the steering wheel in his hand. Kaleem sat carefree as one does around friends, with no idea of what was about to happen when suddenly to his absolute horror, the men in the backseat strangulated him to death with his seatbelt.
The murderers tucked the dead body in the boot space of the car and began to drive around Bemina, Shalteng, killing time and waiting for the night to fall while Kaleem’s parents wondered why their son hadn’t picked up their call.
At around 9:30 the same night, Nazar and his two accomplices tied stones around Kaleem’s dead body, wrapped it with their homemade shroud and threw it in the river near Lasjan. The trio then parked Kaleem’s car near Jawahar Nagar Foot Bridge where Nazar made a phone call to Kaleem’s father and demanded ransom.
Later, Nazar would confess how fearing suspicion made him inject some medicine that made him sick.
As soon as this unfortunate news reached home, a massive crowd of over five hundred people flocked to Kaleem’s residence. There were people on trees, balconies, rooms and every corner of the residence, witnessing the horror Kaleem’s death had brought home. While some held their hearts with both their hands and some were too stunned to believe, Kaleem’s family had to live on with the memory of his beautiful short life and the nightmare of his gruesome murder too.
A decade later, when the crime has been forgotten and so have the criminals, Kaleem continues to live in the social media profile of his beloved sister, in every corner of his parent’s home and on the walls on his residential lane inked with his name all over them, the lane named after him, in his memory as “Shaheed Kaleem Lane”.
Aayat Tramboo is a writer and poet. She is a bachelor's student of Journalism and Mass Communication at the Cluster University, Srinagar, and is currently an editorial intern at the Mountain Ink.