When hazel-eyed Bashir Ahmad Bhat heard gunshots near his home in Prichoo in the southern part of Kashmir, he knew the wounded youth would be ferried to a nearby hospital in Pulwama. As was his routine, he did not waste time rushing to the hospital, and within hours of the encounter, in which seven civilians were killed, he was wheeling the injured into the hospital.
While Bashir was waiting on the hospital lawn for other possible injured to be brought in, a frantic boy ran towards him to ask him whether he knew the boy who was lying dead inside the emergency ward. The boy then showed Bashir a photo of the 14-year-old victim he had taken on his cell phone, changing Bashir's life forever. Teary-eyed, he shouted "oh, my god" as the child was none other than his son. He then went back home with his son's body in an ambulance.
Bashir worked odd jobs as a labourer constructing houses or tilling land to get his son, Aqib Bashir, admitted to a private school. After coming home tired from work, he would play with Aqib and his two other children — a son in Class 1 and a daughter in Class 8 — and feel satisfied.
But on Sunday, as sat inside the ragged tent set up in his house to mourn the 14-year-old's death, he had a stone-faced look. "I felt happy after playing with my children. I would stroke their heads and ask my son Aqib to study with zeal. That was my world. It has been shattered now," he said.
Bashir is illiterate, unaware of what grades his son got in class, but he said Aqib was an ace cricketer. "I would ask him to be more attentive to his studies," he said.
Aqib's uncle, Abdul Hameed, said he would score big runs when he played with his local team. "He was a bright student and was also very good at studies."
It was around 8 am when Bashir heard the gunshots. When he had rushed out to head to the hospital, his son had also ventured out to see what had happened. He said Aqib had sustained a bullet injury to his head at Marg, which was a distance from the site of the encounter in Pulwama's Sirnoo village.
"He may have been going to see what had happened in Sirnoo. It could have been just his curiosity. His body was taken to the hospital hours after the gunfight had ended. I identified him at the hospital at 11.30 am. He was targeted by the forces. They had fired with the aim to kill him," Bashir said.
At Sirnoo, as well as in the village of Kareemabad, local residents said security forces had killed civilians even after the encounter ended. But in defence, the police said youth had marched in large numbers to site of the encounter in an orchard in Sirnoo and had tried to disrupt the operation, which had forced them to open fire.
"There were no stones in the orchard. The forces killed the youth after the operation was over. It was nothing but mayhem," said Abdul Ahad Bhat, a resident of Sirnoo.
Bashir asked, "How could a 14-year old disrupt the operations? He had passed his Class 8 exam and was recently admitted to another private school. I was hoping he would do a better job (than me) and live a better life, but now, I am a shattered father."
He couldn't stop crying as he lowered his son's body to the grave. The family had garlanded the body of the 14-year-old who had died too young. "I am a poor man. My son was my only asset," Bashir wept.
Updated Date: Dec 17, 2018 13:09:50 IST