Death of Chembarikka Qazi: First ever 'psychological autopsy' knocks the bottom out of CBI's suicide theory

Chembarika Khasi CM Abdulla Moulavi

By about sunrise on February 15, 2010, the body of C M Abdulla Moulavi, a highly revered Muslim spiritual leader, scholar and social reformer popularly known as Chembarikka Qazi, was found floating belly down in the sea some 100 metres off the Chembarikka beach in Kasaragod.

The Qazi's torch, walking stick and slippers were found on the elephant black rock on the sea shore. 

The police quickly concluded it was a suicide. Later, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), too, came to the same conclusion.

But the Qazi's family and the locals refused to believe that the man who had never strayed from Muslim beliefs would take his own life. For, suicide is forbidden in Islam.

The Ernakulam Chief Judicial Magistrate Court was also not convinced about the CBI's suicide theory and on February 12, 2016, just three days short of the Qazi's sixth death anniversary, asked the CBI to conduct a 'psychological autopsy' of the Khasi by analysing his medical records and interviewing relatives and friends who knew him closely during the last few months of his life.

'Psychological autopsy' report

This was the first 'psychological autopsy' ordered in a suicide case in Kerala. The CBI handed over the task to Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education & Research (JIPMER), Puducherry.

JIPMER formed a five-member team of its top psychiatrists, forensic experts and clinical psychologists for the task.

The autopsy was completed last November but the family could access the report only last week. Just as the family had insisted, the 'psychological autopsy' concluded that 'suicide is unlikely'.

The CJM Court is yet to pronounce its verdict on the basis of the 'psychological autopsy' but the family has already called for a fresh CBI probe with officers from outside Kerala.

There were three factors that led the police and, later the CBI, to call the Qazi's death a suicide. 

One, the Qazi had liver cancer. Two, a detailed note on his assets and liabilities, suggesting that he had drawn up his will, was discovered from his room.

And three, he had closed a car loan two weeks before his death.

In pain, but unfazed

The JIPMER team found that the Qazi indeed had serious health issues.

Diabetes, hypertension, ischemic heart disease, enlarged prostate gland and, to top it all, he was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2009, a year before his death.

But these, the autopsy found, had not broken his spirit.

Here is what the gastroenterologist who treated the Qazi told the JIPMER team, as stated in the autopsy report. "In my opinion, there is no chance that the Qazi would have been depressed due to his health problems."

The report said that there was a rupture in the liver, which was surgically managed. "Subsequently, the ailment had no visible impact on his physical or mental health and he was active, cheerful and in relatively good spirits when the doctor last met him a couple of months before his death," the autopsy noted.

The way the Qazi received the news of liver cancer was yet another sign of the man's mental strength. "He took the news in a calm and composed manner and did not even once show any trace of emotion, which left even the doctor surprised," the report said.

Moreover, chemotherapy, which could have medically weakened his inner steel, was not done on him.

Pious and level-headed

The detailed interviews the JIPMER team conducted also could not spot any signs of 'imminent suicidal risk' in the Qazi like suicidal ideation, substance use, purposelessness (the Qazi had big plans for Malabar Islamic Complex, an education enterprise he had founded), anxiety, withdrawal, anger, recklessness or mood changes.

The report also suggested that the Qazi derived his fortitude from his spirituality. "Suicide is proscribed in Islam and the Qazi, being a religious preacher, would have been fully aware of the implications of his action," the autopsy report said. He was a former vice-president of Samastha Kerala Jamiyyathul Ulama, the most influential scholarly body of Muslims in Kerala.

Rock climber with a worn knee

The report also found that some of his physical infirmities did not square with the suicide angle.

"The Qazi was suffering from a degenerative knee joint problem, which made it hard for him to bend his knees. As such, it would have been very difficult for him to climb on the rocks of the beach to reach the top where the walking stick and slippers were found as per photographs with the police," the report said.

According to the CBI, the Qazi went out of his house after midnight, walked for nearly 300 metres, and climbed an amphibian rocky reef, half in the sea and half in the shore. The rock formation does not offer an easy path to the top. It is an unruly formation, made up of unshapely pointy-edged granite blocks that seem to have been dumped in the area by someone shockingly ignorant of symmetry and order.

"It is hard for even young people to walk up the hillock without falling down or hurting themselves," said Saleem Deli, the Qazi's grandson. "To say that my grandfather walked up this treacherous slippery path in the dead of the night without his spectacles and then to remove his slippers and place his torch and walking stick on the rock and jump headlong into the sea beats reason," the grandson said.

A suicide's common sense

The JIPMER team, too, found the CBI version equally silly.

"If at all the Qazi wished to commit suicide, as he was a highly educated man, he could have chosen other low-burden modes to commit suicide than going through the grind of climbing the rocks to reach the point from where he could jump to his death," the report said.

Further, the "psychological autopsy" noted that if at all the Qazi wanted to drown himself, he could have chosen a part of the beach nearer to his home.

Blind guess

That the Qazi had left his spectacles at home was another aspect that, according to the autopsy report, undermined the suicide theory.

"The Qazi was never seen without his reading glasses outside the house. This was corroborated by almost all the people interviewed," the autopsy report said. 

"As per police records, at 12.30 a.m. (on February 15, 2010) he was in his house. It is highly unlikely that an elderly man, dependent on his reading glasses, would leave the house after 1 a.m. on a new moon day without his glasses and risk the possibility of slipping and injuring himself on the rocks, which he is alleged to have climbed," the report noted.

Qazi's Will

Almost on all counts, the JIPMER team found suicide unlikely.

However, it has not been able to satisfactorily account for the will found among his possessions and the advance settlement of the car loan.

"One factor, which can be considered as pointing to possible suicide is the settlement note written by the Qazi himself," the report said. Though written and signed by the Qazi, it has no date. No one had seen the Qazi write the settlement note either. "Nevertheless, this note and the fact that he used his personal funds to pre-pay and close the car loan about two weeks before his death can be viewed as possible factors pointing to a person planning a suicide," the report said.

But for the Qazi's family, the 'appearance' of the 'settlement note' is highly mysterious. "This paper was found in grandfather's room three days after his death," Saleem said. "The family members had made a thorough search of his room and the entire house after his death in the hope of finding some clue of what could have happened. Nothing was found. But on the third day, the family members were virtually led to this note in the Qazi's room by someone very close to the family," he added. He agreed that the note was in his grandfather's handwriting.

"This requires a deeper probe," Saleem said. "The closure of the car loan too is puzzling. It must have something to do with affairs in the Malabar Islamic Complex (MIC). It was MIC's car, which he re-registered in his name and paid up the loan in full. This should also be probed," the grandson said.

Poetic suicide note

He said right from the start the police were eager to pass off his grandfather's death as suicide. "The DySP who first came to the site barged into the locked house and after some search held up a paper and declared that it was the suicide note," Saleem said.

As it turned out, it was a portion of an Arabic poem the Qazi was translating at the time.

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