The tense silence that hung over New Theed village was broken by the wailing of women. A tent was erected for mourners who kept pouring in. The streets were deserted and paramilitary forces stood guard on the main road of New Theed, nestled in the Zabarwan mountain range, on the outskirts of Srinagar.
Two days earlier, on Friday afternoon, 11-year-old Nasir Qazi had gone to a nearby Dar-ul-Uloom (seminary), which lies across the stream from Dachigam wildlife sanctuary, to offer midday prayers. That is when he went missing. By 9.30 pm, his pellet-riddled body was found by local residents who had organised search parties. As the news broke, violent protests spread through New Theed and neighbouring areas.
In the immediate aftermath of the incident, the local police had tried to insist that Qazi was mauled to death by a bear. Now, a senior police official in Srinagar said that the police will investigate the matter.
“We have started the investigations and are looking for clues,” said Amit Kumar, senior superintendent of police, Srinagar. “It is our endeavour to complete the investigations as soon as possible.”
The Central Reserve Police Force said that it had been deployed in the area, but denied firing pellets on Friday.
Mohammad Shafi, Qazi's father, first checked at the local police station, in case his son had been picked up after the protests and stone-pelting that had taken place nearby that day.
Qazi was not there. When he could not be found in the homes of relatives living in the area, an alarm was raised. At 8.30 pm, the loudspeakers at the village mosques announced that the boy was missing.
Residents then ventured out to look for the boy. They reached the seminary by 9 pm, from where they split into smaller groups and spread out, carrying torches. Half an hour later, Qazi's body was found by the stream, facing downwards and with his right arm twisted behind his back.
A 16-year-old boy from the village, who was a member of the search party that found Qazi's body, who declined to be identified, said, “his nose was bruised and there was a bootprint on his chest.”
As word about Qazi's death began to spread, the local police contacted the imam (prayer leader) of the village mosque, said Mohammad Shafi, instructing him to bring Qazi's body to the police station.
Qazi's body was then shifted to a nearby government school, where his family and local residents kept vigil through the night. They wanted to delay the burial so that the nature of the wounds may be seen and documented by the press in the light of day.
Earlier that day, there had been clashes between protesters and security forces. According to local residents, security forces lobbed teargas shells at people as they came out of the seminary mosque.
As the forces began the shelling, people rushed to safety. “The children got frightened and ran into Dachigam. [Nasir] lagged behind and was shot,” said Mohammad Shafi. Qazi's body was found by the stream, some distance from seminary, leading away from the main road.
The stream, according to village residents, is a watering hole for animals in the hills. They now speculate that the police dumped Qazi's body there to hide the fact that he had been killed by firing.
Mohammad Shafi said that his son was beaten up and stamped on after being hit by more than 400 pellets. “He was weak after being hit and then the police left [Nasir] there so the animals would eat him.”
The family alleges that security forces tried to seize the deceased’s body the next day. According to Mohammad Shafi, the security forces “wanted to take the body away to hide their crime. They resorted to shelling at the funeral procession after they saw a huge crowd of lakhs.”
The death toll after two and a half months of protest in the Valley now stands at 85.
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