As narratives build around civilian's death, a Kashmiri family grieves
Before I Could Make Sense Of The Images Flooding Social Media Of A Dead Man With A Young Boy Sitting On His Body, My Mother Barged Into My Room. “Bashir Sahab From HTM Has Been Shot Dead,” She Said. He Was My Uncle.
Pictures of Bashir Ahmed’s lifeless body lying on the tarmac were all over social media. A child was strangely seen sitting on it, forlorn. Pictures of the distressing scene from multiple angles were all over the place. The ethics of journalism, and of preserving a victim’s privacy, did not seem to be on anyone’s mind.
Death is ubiquitous in Kashmir, but still, Wednesday morning was somewhat unusual. There was a three-year-old child sitting atop a corpse on a street, then crying on a policeman’s shoulder and later wearing new clothes, driven home by a police car. Many versions of the story were around on social media. Before I could make sense of what happened, my mother barged into my room. “Bashir sahab from HTM has been shot dead,” she said. He was my uncle.
As I drove towards his house, I was mentally trying to could match the images of Bashir sahab and my nephew, AB*, on social media – which I hadn’t recognised at first – with how I remember them.
Bashir Ahmad Khan, 65, had left home along with his grandson at around 6:30 am and was travelling to Handwara to bring a domestic worker home. He was caught in an encounter between the police and militants in the Model Town area of Sopore and was killed in the cross-fire. At around 8:30 am, his body was ferried to his home in an ambulance.
“He [Bashir] would still be worried about AB’s safety; he would have felt less pain from the bullet than from his grandson being in such a [dangerous] situation,” the boy’s aunt said. “He died without knowing that his grandson survived, he died saving his grandson.”
Though the police has strongly denied the allegations, Bashir’s family holds government forces responsible for his death, and all those visiting the family appeared to agree with this claim. “It’s the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) who shot him,” said a man distributing Tang to mourners gathered in the compound. “Whenever there is any casualty on the forces’ side, they avenge it by killing innocent civilians,” he added, while offering me a glass.
The police says the family is facing militant threats, and that’s why they’re blaming the death on the police. But the family has denied this, with Bashir’s son Farooq Ahmed saying, “This is appalling, we have lost our dear one, who would threaten us against speaking the truth? Had that been the case, we would have feared more the countless Indian troops in Kashmir. ”
Khan’s ancestral graveyard is at Karfali Mohalla in the old city, but his family buried him in the martyr’s graveyard, Eidgah, because of how he died. There were already three empty graves there – intended for the militants killed in a recent encounter at Zoonimar, whose burial was disallowed by the police last week. “We laid him to rest into one of them,” said his younger brother, Sajad Ahmed. “Had the police been aware of our plans of burying him there, they may have sealed the graveyard and interrupted the funeral.”
“Police called us up in the morning to claim his dead body,” Farooq said. “They said he had met an accident. Upon seeing him, though, we were shocked to see his bullet-ridden body soaked with blood. We took the corpse without going for an autopsy and hastened the preparations for his burial.” Autopsies are often viewed as a further discomfort to the dead in Kashmir.
“His face looked pale due to severe blood loss. There was no injury on his skull; the police could have saved him if they had driven him to a hospital in time,” said another family member, who was part of his funeral arrangements.
In the kitchen, the men were glued to their mobile screens-looking at videos and pictures of the child who was walking in front of us with a packet of yellow Lay’s chips in his small hands. Nobody was happy with the media’s coverage of the tragedy. “They are saying that the police saved our boy,” said a relative mockingly. “The have borrowed the heartless idea of putting children on lifeless bodies and then taking pictures from the Israeli playbook. The Israelis are doing it to Palestinians, and now India is inflicting the same misery upon us.”
Bashir shared a close bond with his youngest grandson. “My son would never sleep with me, but always with his grandfather,” said Bashir’s son-in-law, the three-year-old boy’s father. “He had told me that he himself would make sure AB was brought up right-and now he is no more,” he added, bursting into tears.
When the public is done with the many different versions of what happened on Wednesday, this is all that will remain. A son grieving his father, a wife her husband and little AB his beloved grandfather.
*Name withheld in line with the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act stipulation on the protection of child witnesses to a crime
Arif Sufi is a student of journalism.