A narrow road in Banday Mohalla, about 200 metres from the main square of Handwara town in Kashmir Valley, leads to aspiring cricketer Nayeem Qadir Bhat's home. Late Tuesday evening, a steady trickle of mourners poured into this young cricketer's house who was killed by the Army in the afternoon, during a protest sparked by allegations of a molestation bid by a soldier.
“His father is with his body in the police station. Can you please tell him to bring my Gavaskar back,” Nayeem’s mother urges a group of mourners, including me, as we enter the house.
Nayeem was killed on Tuesday afternoon along with two other civilians when protests erupted in Handwara town, 69 kilometres from Srinagar, after the news spread of an alleged molestation bid on a girl student by an Army man, inside a public convenience, located near an Army camp.
Late Tuesday, a video circulated on social networking websites, showing the girl in her school uniform, telling a group of police officers that she was not molested, but some boys from the town instigated trouble and even assaulted her.
The news of the alleged molestation spread like wildfire as hundreds of protesters hit the streets and attacked an Army bunker in Handwara chowk, assaulted the personnel deployed there, ransacked the bunker and torched it.
Nayeem, one of the three persons who died in the shooting, "was recording a video on his mobile phone, right opposite Kashmir cloth house, a famous landmark in the main chowk when he was shot. He died on the spot, said Abdul Rashid Saraf, a local shopkeeper.
The protesters were angry over the molestation of a school girl. According to another shopkeeper, two girls from a local government school had walked towards the public convenience constructed by the Army near their camp.
“While one girl stayed back, another entered the washroom. The girl waiting outside was soon heckled by a local boy who told her about the presence of an Army soldier inside the washroom. Within a few minutes, the girl inside the washroom also left, but a fight started between the boy and the Army man,” said the shopkeeper.
“Soon, a group of boys gathered and started protesting and attacked the bunker,” a statement by the Jammu Kashmir police said.
It was Iqbal Farooq Pir, 21, who was killed first and minutes later, Nayeem, who was hit by a bullet, also fell on the ground, witnesses said.
Inside Nayeem's house, pictures of cricketers like Sachin Tendulakar, Rahul Dravid, Virat Kholi, Wasim Akram and Brian Lara, adorn his room. The back of his door has a a life-size poster of Kashmiri cricketer Pervez Rasool, when Nayeem had met him for the first time in south Kashmir’s Bijbehera cricket stadium,
“Cricket was his passion. He would travel to Baramulla Degree College to practice, which is 30 kilometre from here, almost three days a week and played for a local club,” Farooq Ahmad, Bhat’s cousin told Firstpost.
Nayeem was also selected for All India-level coaching camp for cricket three years ago and was a student of first year in Government Degree College, Handwara. He become famous after he showed his extraordinary performance in the state-level Under-19 cricket competition. He was the first cricketer selected for Under-19 cricket coaching camp from the northern district of Kupwara.
“He was a talented batsman and we played cricket together on the grounds of Baramulla Degree College for years. He played for ‘Star Eleven’ Handwara. He was a gifted cricketer,” Amir Nabi, a resident of Baramulla town, who practiced with Bhat, told Firstpost on Tuesday.
“His dream was to play for India,” Amir added.
Gh Qadir Bhat, Nayeem's father, told Firstpost inside the Handwara police station, that his son could have been saved if the forces had not fired directly at protesters, "They could have chased them away by firing in the air. What was the need to fire at these young boys directly,” he said.
Medical Superintendent of District Hospital Handwara, Dr Rouf said Iqbal had received bullets in face, while bullets hit Nayeem's abdomen. “Iqbal died on spot,” he said. Dr Rouf said that the hospital treated over 9 injured persons.
Another women, Raja Begum, who was hit by a bullet while working in her field, was declared ‘brain dead’ by doctors in Srinagar SKIMS hospital, late evening, while Rayees Ahmad, who was hit in his chest and is undergoing treatment. His condition is said to be critical.
Director General of Police, K Rajendra, told Firstpost that the police has taken up the investigation. “Anyone found guilty will be punished, I can assure you that,” he said.
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti was in a meeting with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh in New Delhi, when the killing took place. She expressed “tremendous grief” over the killings and said forces personnel involved in the incident would be handed exemplary punishment.
While in the Opposition, Mehbooba Mufti was known for raising voice against the killings and other human rights violation. She had accused former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah of being ‘incapable to handle the situations’ and accused him to be ‘more invested in Delhi.’ How she will deal with the situation as a Chief Minister only time will tell as Handwara is simmering with anger with protesters ransacking and torching a building late in the night.