By Majid Maqbool
Twenty five year old Imtiyaz Ahmad, resident of Bemina Srinagar, left home at eight on that Saturday morning of July, and joined people outside protesting against the transfer of 800 Kanals of land by the government to the SASB. It was the third day of the 9 day long protests in the valley against the land transfer deal. On Friday, Imtiyaz had returned home, late. That day he was part of the defiant crowd that hoisted the green flag at the top of Gantaghar in Lal Chowk. At home, on that Friday evening, Imtiyaz was advised by his worried family: stay quiet now, and be at home from tomorrow. Don’t worry, I will be at home now, Imtiyaz had promised that to his family. But, on Saturday morning, he broke his overnight promise. Quietly, Imtiyaz left home, without informing any of his family members. At 11:30am Imtiyaz is shot at while protesting some kilometers away from his home. He receives two bullets in his lower abdomen, two kilometrers away from his home—in Chaene Muhalla area near Bemina crossing. At 12 am, the family is told: Imtiyaz has received bullets. And before Imtiyaz was taken to the hospital, he had bled profusely on the spot, left unattended for almost twenty minutes. Latter, after struggling for 6 hours in the operation theater, Imtiyaz breathed his last.
10 days after the 9 day uprising that shook the entire valley, I visit Imtiyaz’s home situated in Boatman colony near Bemina bye-pass. As I enquire about Imtiyaz’s home in the colony, people come up to me, and ask: “are you looking for that shaheed Imtiyaz’s home?” yes, I say. And then I am guided, by a chain of helpful people, to the turn of an alley where Imtiyaz’s one storey house lies first in a row of small houses. The home is at one corner, on one nondescript turn of the inner, dusty lanes of this bustling colony. It’s a small, one story house. It does not stand out from the rest of the similar looking houses crowing for space in this small lane. But, for the neighbors, Imtiyaz’s home is a different house now. It has acquired a different meaning: Imtiyaz no longer lives there.
I knock at their freshly-painted black gate, and wait for the response from the other side. It seems two young girls (Imtiyaz’s two sisters) are washing the pathway from the other side of the gate. I can hear the sweep of the brooms in their hands, the sister’s constant chatter, and water swashing and reaching to my feet outside the gate.
Is this Imtiyaz’s home? I ask, as if Imtiyaz will himself come out to meet me. I should have put shaheed before Imtiyaz, I tell myself. Suddenly, the sweeping and cleaning commotion comes to a halt on the other side of the gate. Imtiyaz’s sisters immediately readjust their scarves as they prepare to see who has come knocking on their door. One of the young girl—Imtiyaz’s younger sister—walks up to open the gate. Hesitantly, I tell her if I can come in. I am journalist and want to know more about Imtiyaz, I explain politely. She looks at her elder sister for approval. She nods. And then I am let in, and directed towards a small guest-room just kept open for me. It’s a humid summer morning of July, and it feels more humid inside this small room. The room has only two windows kept open, completely. It is lit with bright morning light directly coming in from the two opened windows. At one corner of the old wooden ceiling, a sparrow nest lies uninterrupted. May be they have kept the windows open to allow free passage of sparrows, I tell myself. Freedom is everything for the birds. And just then, a sparrow swiftly comes in from the window and disappears in the nest above, in one corner of the wooden ceiling.
As I sit in the room, Imtiyaz’z elder sister politely informs me that their father is not at home; and I will only be able to talk to their mother. After a while, Imtiyaz’s mother quietly steps in the room, looking distraught. She wears a look of perpetual grief. Her moist, grief stricken eyes constantly hover around as if searching for something very important she has just lost. She sits in one corner of the room, as if not wanting to talk to me; only to mourn, to herself. Unable to think of a question, I wait for her to speak. But she keeps quiet, only mumbling some incoherent lamentations in Kashmiri, mostly to herself, mostly about her son. Raising her tone of grief a bit, she curses the policeman and CRPF personnel who opened fire at her son that day. Sudden flashes of anger mix with her grief when she laments, raising both her hands, “May he die of bullets too, for killing my Imtiyaz. May he meet the same fate…” Here, her daughters interrupt, and bring her hands down, forcefully. “Don’t say this muaji; don’t curse them. Allah will ask them; they will be answerable for killing our Imtiyaz,” the sisters tell her, tears rushing into their eyes.
Unable to start a conversation, I ask for a glass of water to feel comfortable. Imtiyaz’s elder sister brings a glass of juice instead. But I would have still liked water. I take a sip from a glass-full of juice while Imtiyaz’s mother mourns some more to herself. She is inconsolable now; her mourning again lapses into incoherence mumbles as I take some more sips from the glass. The juice tastes like water.
I think of one question at last, hoping that this will make them to narrate the whole story:
How did it all happen? I finally ask.
Again, Imtiyaz’s mother doesn’t talk. But Imtiyaz’s elder sister, who is sitting close to her mother by now, begins talking. Her voice rings with fresh, youthful pain as she talks about her brother. It’s the pain of a young sister who knows what it means to lose an elder brother—the only breadwinner of their family. Their only source of income, she laments, was snatched from their family. (Imtiyaz was a driver)
Then, she puts before me some questions, whose answers, she says, they haven’t received yet. Without pausing, she asks:
“What was our fault? What was imtiyaz’s fault? Was he a terrorist who merited killing like this—on the roadside? Why was he shot at twice? Didn’t they think what they are doing before shooting him? What will we do now? How will we survive? And who will marry us off…who will bring back our brother…?”
For all their questions, I don’t have any answers. So I keep quiet. I listen.
The family has received some financial assistance, they inform me on asking. JKLF honored all the martyrs of the 9 day uprising by awarding the family a cash award of Rs 50,000. However money, for the family, is of no significance. Money, Imtiyaz’s sisters tell me, can’t replace a mother’s son, and their brother. We will return all the money and give more, the sisters say, breaking down, “if only they can bring back our Imtiyaz.” Money can bring some bread for the family, the sisters say, but can not bring back their only breadwinner —their brother, their Imtiyaz. “We don’t want any relief. We don’t want any money,” the sisters say in anger. “We only want to know why was our Imtiyaz killed.”
While Imtiyaz’s elder sister recalls her brother from her fresh memory, Imtiyaz’s younger sister also narrates some incidents of that day. She sits close to her elder sister, and begins talking just when her elder sister pauses. She connects the events of that day for me, occasionally contradicting her elder sister- to get the facts right. And in between, while she recounts her brother, tears fall from her eyes, too. And she also tells her mother—who continues to mourn silently in the corner of the room—not to weep. And Imtiyaz’s elder sister consoles both of them. Days of weeping has abnormally swollen their eyes.
Imtiyaz’s younger sister can’t stop thinking about her brother—and the way he was killed, on the roadside. “First he was fired at twice in Chenemuhalla area, and then thrown to the shoae (stinging nettle ) on the roadside”, she recounts. “For almost twenty minutes he was losing blood there, and no one came to his rescue. It was only when he raised his hands continuously that a nearby person saw him from the window of his home. And then he was taken to the hospital where he died 6 hours latter”
My brother was not a terrorist, Imtiyaz’s elder sister says, wiping her tears with one end of her scarf. “He had no gun in his hand. When he did not fire at the police and CRPF, why was he shot at?” She again asks after a brief pause, “We want to know—we want to know why was our Imtiyaz shot at. Why?”
Imtiyaz’s sisters also question the role of police that day: “When police had clear orders not to fire at the protesters that day, why did they fire at our brother?” He was the only one among the protesters who was fired at that day, the sisters further add. “And there has been no investigation into the murder of our brother till now.”
Their questions—and their grief—is unbearable and disturbing at times. I don’t want them to recount more of that day for me. It’s enough, I tell myself as I prepare to leave. I have no answers for all their unanswered questions. My being there—and asking more about Imtiyaz—only brings out more tears from their eyes as they remember him in grief. While I come out of the room, Imtiyaz’s mother and his two sisters stay there in the room. They are all weeping now. And as I leave them behind, I feel guilty of making them weep. I hear their sobs fading out as I step out of the gate.
My next destination: the place where Imtiyaz was shot at- chanemuhalla. After a brief, ten minute humid bus ride, I reach chanemuhalla area near Bemina crossing. From the nearby people I enquire about the exact place where Imtiyaz fell to bullets that day. A passerby points at a nearby shop. That shopkeeper was witness to the whole incident, he says. He will tell you everything about that day, he says before moving on.
The shopkeeper - a young man in his early twenties - wears a cheerful demeanor and has a ready smile on his lips. On enquiring about Imtiyaz and the spot where he lay in blood after being shot at that day, his smile disappears as he points his finger to a green spot some distance away from his shop, adjacent to a playing field. I ask him if he can accompany me to that spot. He agrees, and we slowly walk towards that direction. As we near it, he points to a specific area on one edge of the sports field, on the other side of a narrow drain, close to the barbed wire separating the field from the roadside. Here, he says, Imtiyaz was shot at, and lay in a pool of blood for almost twenty minutes that day. “It was only when he raised his hand repeatedly that someone saw him”, the shopkeeper says. “And then he was taken to the hospital, but it was too late by then.”
I ask the young shopkeeper: Who fired at Imtiyaz? They fired at him, he pauses before replying, “The CRPF and the Police. They fired two shots and Imtiyaz fell down…”
Meanwhile, a customer has come to his shop. He has to rush back to his shop, he says. He takes my leave. I thank him for accompanying me. And I stay there for a while, gazing that spot where Imtiyaz bled that day, and latter died. The small grassless patch—where Imtiyaz lay unattended for twenty minutes, in blood—stands out from the rest of the greener backdrop. This small patch evokes a strange feeling of human presence—and absence—in me. It is palpable. And I can feel it. As if it is saying—‘something happened here that day. Someone bled here; someone was killed here’
Beyond this patch, at the far end of the adjacent sports field, some kids are playing cricket. Suddenly, their noise grows louder and catches my attention for a while. A wicket has fallen. They are all celebrating, hugging each other. And as I leave the place, their happy noises fade out as Imtiyaz’s death comes back to haunt me.