Over 10 days since protests broke out in Handwara, 80 km north of Srinagar, after the alleged molestation of a teenage girl, several broad narratives have emerged with regard to the incident.
While reams have been written about the alleged molestation, each validating one of the many narratives that have emerged, it may be time to remember that the truth was not the only casualty here. The firing by the police and army over four days to quell the protests triggered by the alleged molestation killed five people. The government’s response to the killings was to express its regret and condemnation, and Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti also met a few members of the victims’ families and assured them of justice. But the armed forces are protected by the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which gives them legal immunity for their actions.
The five people killed by the Army or police were an aspiring cricketer, a salesman, a digger of sand, a housewife and a student aspiring to become a doctor. Here are their stories.
Nayeem Qadir Bhat, 22
Aspiring cricketer. Preparing for a BSc in Forestry. Shot dead on April 12.
A few years ago, Nayeem Qadir Bhat became the first person from Kupwara to be chosen for the national under-19 coaching camp.
Weeks before he was to leave for Dehradun to begin a bachelor’s degree in forestry, as his mother wished, the police shot Bhat dead in Handwara during the first wave of protests that broke out after the minor girl’s alleged molestation. Bhat has three sisters and two older brothers, one of whom is a journalist.
Sitting next to the gleaming awards Bhat won for his exceptional performance in cricket, Subi Begum said she wanted Bhat to study outside Kashmir. “I had withdrawn GP fund [Government Provident Fund] of Rs 100,000 to pay for his studies in Dehradun,” she said. “All the documents were ready. I told him, ‘You don’t study here so go outside and study well’. He had started playing cricket as a kid and used to be in the [cricket] grounds the whole year.”
On April 12, when protests started in Handwara following reports of the girl’s molestation, one person was killed in firing by the armed forces. Bhat’s journalist brother Zahoor Qadir, who was at the site of the protests, then called home and asked for his camera to be sent to him.
Bhat went to drop off the camera. His mother said that Bhat then picked up some vegetables from the market and started out for home with his maternal uncle Ali Mohammad Dar. After some time, the family at home heard gunshots, but Bhat’s father thought it could have been the sound of firecrackers as it was Baisakhi the next day.
But they found out later that they were mistaken. Just a few meters away from their house, in the main market, police and army were shooting at protestors, and Bhat and his uncle were caught in the melee. “In the chaos, his uncle turned back and saw Mohammad Rafiq, a policeman whom he knew, trying to open fire,” said Begum. “He shouted at him, ‘Don’t shoot at us’ but he shot. The bullet hit Nayeem’s abdomen.”
Injured, Bhat was taken to hospital on a horse cart, where he died.
The family wants action to be taken against the assistant sub-inspector, Rafiq. “We don’t need any job or money. Nayeem’s life will not come back,” said Begum. “But are we here to die? It has been 10 days and no justice. Today, he has been killed and tomorrow they will kill others.”
Iqbal Farooq Peer, 23
Salesman. Shot dead on April 12.
When protests started at the Handwara town centre, Iqbal Farooq Peer, a salesman at a shop in the market, was watching the situation to see whether he needed to down the shop’s shutters. At some point thereafter, three bullets hit him in the head, abdomen and chest.
At his home, one of his cousins Rafiq Ahmad, points out Iqbal in a mobile phone photograph of the scene of protests. “See, he is standing right here near his shop, and on this side are protestors,” said Ahmad.
That evening, Peer’s family in Drugmulla – around 100 km north of Srinagar – recognised his body from photographs shared on social media. His body was covered with a blanket and lying on the road near Bhat’s body, surrounded by people.
Peer’s father has been suffering from gallbladder and heart ailments for two years. Peer then decided to work and help the family – his parents, two younger brothers and a sister. He earned Rs 5,000 a month. He had a diploma in computer education and also taught youngsters in his neighbourhood.
“He would never stop smiling,” said his uncle, Rafiq Peer. “He was one of those boys who would always be ready to crack a joke. We didn’t know he was dead until we saw his photo on Facebook. He wanted to go to the Middle East to take care of the growing needs of the family. He looked after me and my kids too.”
Peer had also applied for the post of a constable with the Jammu and Kashmir Police, and was awaiting the results. We reached the spot where his body was lying around 5 pm, said Rafiq Peer. “His body was lying on the roadside. We couldn’t retrieve it until 11pm. There were protests and shelling still going on.”
Raja Begum, 55
Housewife. Shot on April 12, succumbed on April 13.
On April 12, Raja Begum, 55, went to her vegetable garden with a tin of pesticide solution along with her husband Mohammad Jamaal Mir, 60. The garden is a five-minute walk from their two-story mud brick house in north Kashmir’s Langate – around 2 km from main Handwara town. After having eaten their lunch that Begum cooked, they left for the vegetable patch around 2.30 pm. Mir was unwilling to go. “I told her let’s go tomorrow instead, but she said today is a sunny day,” said Mir.
After spending some time helping her, Mir wanted to leave. “She told me to leave, to walk slowly, as my leg had little pain,” said Mir. Begum continued with her work, removing weeds that had grown around some garlic plants.
As Mir returned home, he saw other women from the village also heading towards their vegetable gardens in the same area. Mir says that around a kilometer away from the garden, paramilitary forces were engaged in clashes with some protestors. They soon opened fire, and one of the bullets travelled far enough to hit Begum.
“The bullet was fired from around a kilometer away,” said Mir. “Neighbors called each other and word that she had been found lying on ground reached us. We thought she might have passed out due to tiredness.”
By the time Begum was found, she had been lying on the ground bleeding for 30-45 minutes.
A relative of Mir’s carried her to the main road on his shoulders, and she was taken to hospital. But she succumbed to her injuries late that night.
The couple has a son and a daughter.
Begum, a pious woman, would spend most of her time in the kitchen. Now buried in the village graveyard, her death has left her husband distraught. The couple had been married for more than three decades. “I can’t talk things with anyone now that I used to with her,” said Mir. “Losing her has caused more suffering to me only. I had spent decades of my life in comfort with her.”
Jehangir Ahmad Wani, 24
Sand digger. Killed after a teargas shell fired from close range hit him on the head on April 13.
At their windowless three-room cracked mud-brick home in Drugmulla, the family members – parents, two brothers and a sister – of Jehangir Ahmad Wani mourn intensely.
Wani was working as a sand-digger to support his abjectly poor family. Till last February, he was in Punjab working as a shawl salesman, but returned home after the Pathankot attack because his family thought it was unsafe for him to stay on there.
Wani died when a teargas shell hit him on the head. He was to be engaged to be married three days later.
Though there were no protests in the area, people were returning from the funeral procession of Iqbal Farooq Peer, whose village is nearby, when a police vehicle came across Wani and his cousin, said his father Ghulam Din Wani.
“Two policemen shot a tear gas shell at him from around 15 feet distance at around 2 pm,” said the senior Wani. “He fell down and was taken to a nearby hospital were they declared him dead. When his body was brought home blood was oozing out from his nose.”
Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti met the family. “She told me they will punish the culprits and asked me to send documents of my other son, who would be provided with a job,” said Wani’s father, adding that the chief minister couldn’t ensure justice. “They have made laws such that humans are being killed and they give them [police] rewards. If anyone had been prosecuted [earlier], then no one else would have done it today. Someone who is herself holding hands out [Mehbooba], what can she do?”
Wani’s mother Zareefa Begum walked into the room and sat next her husband. “We have been made to writhe, may he [the policeman who shot the teargas shell] also writhe,” she said. “What did he achieve? The killer has to answer to God. The killer brought hell upon us. Allah will do it to him too. Allah should compensate us, not the government.”
Jehangir Wani now lies buried in the village graveyard. A river where he laboured digging sand to earn a living quietly flows between the spot he was shot at and his final resting place.
Mohammad Arif Dar, 18
Class 11 student. Shot dead on April 15.
Mohammad Arif Dar was one of five people injured in firing by the Army on April 15 and may have been saved if he had been brought to hospital on time, say his relatives, who allege that the Army didn’t allow them near his body, which lay in a field for hours.
Originally from Awoora, 120 km north of Srinagar, Dar was living in his sister’s house in Nutnoosa village near Handwara for several years as his economically-weak family wanted to give him better education by admitting him to a Handwara school.
His parents, three other sisters and a brother still live in Awoora, where Dar is now buried.
On April 15, Dar returned home after offering Friday prayers but left again to play with some friends. By then protests had started again against the killings in Handwara, and Rashtriya Rifles personnel came down from a hilltop camp to chase some protestors. Five people, including Dar, were injured in the subsequent firing.
While all the injured managed to leave, Dar was unable to move as he had been shot in his legs. He lay injured in the field. “Two bullets had hit his legs and when some boys went to get him the army didn’t allow it,” said Bilal Ahmad Dar, his brother. “Blood loss caused his death. At hospital the doctors declared him dead.”
“He was a down-to-earth boy,” said Ghulam Mohiudin Dar, his father. “After Class 10, he wanted to study medicine to become a doctor. I told him that medical is so common now, so study commerce. I dreamt of providing better education to them and make him something in life.”
Dar’s father met chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, and said she told him that the government would investigate the boy’s death. But Ghulam Mohiudin Dar added that Mufti told him: “He won’t come back, it was his destiny.”