Memory: That lunatic also was shot, ultimately for his half-eaten apple or chochwoer
Srinagar, Feb 19: He bumped into me at Abi Guzar bund on a warm Friday of September 2003. Wobbly and unmindful, he appeared 16 or 17. To my stiff glance, he hardly reacted, grabbing a half-eaten apple and a chochwoer in his hands. Drooling and clad in an old, grey pheran not meant for autumns. I could sense something was wrong with him. We both went our opposite ways: he turned towards Sheikh Bagh, and I walked to the local Masjid for Friday prayers. Around 20 minutes later, while the cleric was delivering his sermon, we heard a gunshot. Loud, and seemingly close by. By the time the prayers concluded, there was already some uneasiness within the locality. “Police is not letting people approach the bund. Someone has been killed, police says ‘a militant’,” said Imtiyaz, my friend and classmate at the local Darasgah. The bund area towards Sheikh Bagh had already been cordoned off by many gun-wielding troopers. “The body is lying in the Forest Lane,” Imtiyaz gathered more info. The restrictions lasted for about half an hour. People, as soon as they were allowed to, rushed to the Forest Lane. We all swarmed around a pool of blood. It was close to the building, which, even now, houses a printing press. The police had removed the body to the “Control Room”, someone said. Back then, I hardly knew what or where this room was and what exactly it controlled. An unknown eyewitness among the crowd said that he saw a “BSF afsar” taking aim at someone walking down the lane. He, I remember the eyewitness saying, had seen the “afsar” from a distance. The crowd dispersed. Later in the evening, I remember listening to the government news bulletin my father would tune into each day: “One militant was killed today at Sheikh Bagh Srinagar. Police recovered a grenade and some rounds from him.” The newsreader didn’t explain why or what exactly had happened. The next morning, many teenagers and men of the locality had huddled around the same place where I had bumped into that peculiar teen. Imtiyaz, as friendly as he was, was already there. The buzz was that Friday’s victim was not a militant, but an “unknown and mentally unsound” boy. “He was told to stop, but he did not. The BSF officer shot him,” someone around said. I was shocked knowing that it could be him. A few locals had gone to the “Control Room” to fetch the body. Others, meanwhile, had planned that the deceased would be buried in the nearby martyrs’ graveyard. It was some 100 metres away from the spot where the guy had been killed. The locals managed to get the body back, intact; they had refused an autopsy. It was wrapped in white, blood-stained shroud. Those who brought it had to wriggle through a crowd to take it to the nearby pump-shed on the bund, where they had decided to perform the deceased’s final ablution. My heart was racing. The teen’s face was in my mind. I imagined his half-eaten apple masqueraded as “the grenade” and probably some crumbs of that chochwor as “rounds”. The eldest among the youth opened the shroud. And there he was—the same face, but only lifeless. As they lay him on a flat surface, I could see the blood oozing out of the coin-sized hole on his upper back. His body was cold and stiff, like a rock. He looked even younger. The bullet had nearly pierced through him. It had stopped on top of where his heart may have been. A huge bump on the chest indicated so. We wrapped the boy in white. Those gathered around decided that his body be marched through Abi Guzar and the Central Market, while his funeral be offered at Lal Chowk. The boy was given a warm send-off. Women cried, threw candies on him. There were slogans vibrating through. The crowd swelled. People from other areas too joined it. The funeral prayers were offered on the busy Lal Chowk road. I think over a thousand people attended it. The boy was finally laid to rest. The epitaph on it read: “Unidentified martyr – a 15-year-old youth who was martyred by BSF troopers at 1:10 pm on Friday, September 5, 2003.” Till this date, the boy remains unidentified.