A picture, it is said, is worth a thousand words and a photograph of an anguished Kashmiri boy with tears rolling down his cheeks said volumes last week about the human suffering sweeping the region.
The snapshot, taken at the funeral of a teenager killed during an encounter in Padgampora of Pulwama in south Kashmir, is already being described by some as the defining image of the tragedy: Something as powerful as that of a young man seeking to block the advance of tanks in China’s Tiananmen Square or that of the lifeless body of Aylan Kurdi who perished while trying to escape the Syrian war.
The Kashmiri boy catapulted to public gaze, however, considers himself no celebrity. For nine-year-old Burhan Fayaz, the picture just captured his angst and despair at losing his best friend, Amir. “I am still sad,” the student of Class 3 in Begumbagh’s government primary school said.
His friend Amir was among the hundreds of locals who had run towards the encounter site with a view to disrupt the security operation and let the militants escape. Villagers physically attempting to help cornered militants by hurling stones at security forces are a new phenomenon in Kashmir, despite stern warnings from army chief Bipin Rawat.
Amir, a student of Class 9, died after being hit by a bullet in the neck. His family says he was ‘targeted’ while the police say the villain was a ‘stray bullet’. Thousands, including Burhan, attended the funeral in his Begumbagh village, some four kilometres from the site of the gun battle where he was felled.
“Amir was like my brother. Who will I play with now,” an inconsolable Burhan asks now.
(Waseem Andrabi / HT Photo)
Once circulated on social media, his despairing image tugged hearts, moving many even to write poems.
Rights activist Khurram Parvez quoted the celebrated Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz to share the photo. “Khoon kay dhabay dulain gay kitni barsaaton kay baad...(How many rains will it take to wash away the blood stains…),” he wrote.
A blog site, With Kashmir, published a poem on Burhan’s photo titled “A tribute to the innocent face” which went: “Let the world answer his tears/Let the world watch his heart break/Let the world listen to his cries…”
National Conference spokesperson Junaid Azim Mattu tweeted, “Should make us pause and think - are we all doing enough to prevent this pain and misery.” Even HT’s battle-hardened photographer Waseem Andrabi, who clicked the picture, has not been left untouched. “As I focussed my zoom lens on the sea of mourners at the funeral, I saw this boy’s face. The way in which he was crying struck me hard. I suddenly realised I might start crying myself,” Andrabi recollected. The boy’s haunting image kept him awake for several nights. Another photographer, Javed Dar, also clicked photographs of the boy.
Burhan, though, is concerned only about his personal loss.”My friend was martyred. But why did he die,” he asked, unable to comprehend the violence that has become part of Kashmiri life.