Lost in making sense of what had befallen his family, Muhammad Yousuf Sheikh caressed his four-year-old daughter's hair in abject silence for hours, as mourners poured in, in twos and threes, to console the death of his son.
Sheikh, who served in the Indian Army for 24 years before retiring in mid-2010, had been living a simple life in his native Saimoh village of Tral in Pulwama district, and had committed his life to better the future of his three children: a son, who is physically and mentally challenged, another who died in clashes with security forces, and a four-year-old daughter, who was now in his lap, trying to figure out why so many people were coming to their home.
Residents of the village offered water to visiting mourners in Saimoh, while inside their home, women counselled the family members of the slain youth.
"He was a simple and shy child," Manpreet Singh, a resident of Saimoh said, as a steady trickle of mourners entered the house.
Among the three siblings, Sheikh looked to his second child, Muhammad Younus, to take up the responsibility of his parents in their old age. A bright student, Younis was hit by hundreds of pellets to his chest, according to doctors who treated him at Srinagar’s SMHS hospital, "It was as if a full cartridge of pellets has been fired at him. He died on Wednesday evening," the doctors said.
The Kashmir Police said in a statement: "During a law and order situation, one person sustained pellet injuries and later on succumbed to his injuries."
"You would expect me to say that after serving in the Indian Army for 24 years, I must get justice. To tell you honestly, I am not. The word justice here means nothing. If children participate in protests, even if they clash with forces, does that justify pumping hundreds of pellets in someone's chest?” the retired soldier asked.
"They want to kill our children, their intention is not to maim or fire at their legs or to arrest them. They just want to kill them."
The government forces had gunned down three militants in Gulab Bagh village in Tral on Wednesday in an encounter. They were a part of Zakir Musa's group and were coming back to re-join Hizbul Mujahideen.
Younis was killed after the encounter was over. Forces allege that they came under attack from mobs of stone pelters in the area, compelling them to resort to "harsh measures to prevent the situation from going out of control."
Younis, 16, whose Class 10th results were awaited, had gone to participate in the funeral procession of a local militant killed in the encounter.
"I served the country for 24 years. When the child of a man who sacrificed his life for the nation was not spared, what will be the state of the common man here," Sheikh said, "How much damage could a sixteen-year-old child possibly do to anyone?"
"People outside Kashmir proudly wear the tag of Indian Army because soldiers command respect. But when you are a Kashmiri, it means nothing," he added.
This was the fourth civilian killing in the past two weeks. More than two dozen civillians have lost their lives since the start of the year. Most of the killings reported these two weeks have been either during clashes or protests in the Valley. According to official data, 41 civilians have been killed in militancy related incidents and in law and order situations. They are among 216 people killed in the year 2017.
After every civilian killing, a ritual used to unravel in the Valley. Starting with the condemnation brigade in Kashmir, then the separatists stepped in with their protest calendar followed by the announcement of an official probe. This year, the set pattern has been done away with. So, there was neither any shutdown call against Younis's killing nor did the government care to announce a probe.
Director general of police SP Vaid said that the forces have been always trying to avoid civilian casualties during counter insurgency operations but sometimes the situation turns ugly and goes out of control and "people make mistakes".
"The unfortunate truth is that this culture of violence has brought nothing but death and destruction. Who will like to kill a civilian when you have your children?" Vaid said.
On 4 August, a civilian, Ghulam Mohiuddin Bhat, was killed during an operation launched by government forces in Herpora Kanelwan Karvel area of Anantnag. Police said Bhat was "mysteriously in the area and was caught in the crossfire and killed". He was riding a motorcycle when he got killed.
Three days earlier, Akeel Ahmad Bhat had sustained a bullet injury after forces opened fire on demonstrators in Hakripora, after killing Abu Dujana and Arif Lelhari. Two civilians were killed.
According to Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), a human rights group that documents cases of rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir, 111 civilians have been killed since the death of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in 2016 and more than three dozen have died in the first six months of this year during protests, clashes and counterinsurgency operations.
The Government of India, however, in a written reply, informed the parliament that 218 civilians were killed in law and order incidents in 2010, 2016 and 2017. The home ministry said that out of the 218, 112 were killed in the 2010 unrest, while 85 civilians were killed in the 2016 unrest.
According to the ministry, only 21 civilians were killed till 9 July in 2017. The death toll on the ground, however, seems to be much higher than reported.
Updated Date: Aug 11, 2017 15:41 PM