Children and their education are the new talking points in strife-torn Kashmir’s politics.
As more than 20 schools were burnt down in the last three months, chief minister Mehbooba Mufti accused separatists of using children as shields in the ongoing violence. But hardline Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani said education and the state’s ‘barbarism’ can’t go together.
Among the over 90 people killed during clashes since July 8, Nasir Shafi Qazi, 11, Danish Sultan Haroo, 12 and Junaid Ahmad, 13, were the youngest.
As leaders debate about conducting school exams in the valley, families of children killed in the civil unrest feel justice is elusive.
Hindustan Times visited the three families to understand how they are coming to terms with the loss.
Notes on ‘democracy’
‘Topic: Democracy, Lesson No 1’: The first page of Junaid’s ‘civics’ class notebook pronounces boldly.
In the next few pages, the Class 7 student - who was killed after being hit by pellets on October 7 - had written answers in a flowing cursive hand to questions on democracy. “What is a democratic society? A democratic society is one in which there is no discrimination…”
The family said Junaid was standing with his mother at the gate of their house when he was hit. The Mehbooba Mufti-led government has ordered a time-bound probe into his death, but the family is “not hopeful” regarding the outcome of an inquiry.
At their home in Saidepora area in Srinagar, Junaid’s family and relatives keep back their tears and recount the “cricket and volleyball loving” youngest member of the family.
“The grief cannot be expressed in words. When my mom sleeps at night, she feels Junaid is lying on her left side, as usual. My father does not speak much after the incident,” Iqra Gul, Junaid eldest sister and a Class 11 student, said.
Junaid’s mother sits still in a corner silently, her face expressionless. His father Ghulam Mohammad takes out his son’s school bag from a cupboard.
Iqra doesn’t think that the security personnel who had fired the pellet shot on her brother is the “real” killer but it’s the top political leadership of the state and the country who direct how to tackle law and order problems in the valley.
Argentine footballer star Lionel Messi was the role model for Nasir, a resident of Harwan area on the outskirts of Srinagar city killed by pellets on September 16.
Nasir’s brother Mohammad Mansoor Shafi, 26, a salesman at a Kashmiri handicraft shop, had bought a ‘Messi’ T-shirt and football shoes for his brother on Eid. He was ‘good in studies’ too and his social sciences notebook also had, in a cursive hand, notes on Indian democracy.
Nasir had gone missing soon after locals clashed with security forces in the area in the evening and locals started searching for him. They found his body in a nearby jungle, beside a stream, with multiple pellet injuries, and a broken arm and marks that hinted at being forcefully hit.
The family, with many unanswered questions regarding the circumstances of the death, says he was not a “stone-pelter” but was caught in the commotion in the area during the clash.
Mansoor said that in these times of utter grief, Islam is the only crutch.
“We can’t do anything; we can’t bring Nisar back to life. He, who suffers ‘zulm’ (atrocity), goes to ‘jannat’. Following a religious principle, we are telling ourselves that Nasir will go to Jannat, Inshallah – a place better than this world,” Mansoor said.
In August, Mehbooba said that children who were killed during clashes did not go out just to buy toffees or milk.
Mansoor said such comments rationalise the killings and are “signals” to the security forces from the political establishment that “they can do whatever they want to”.
‘Killers of innocent children should be punished’
Danish was killed after he jumped into the Jhelum to escape from security forces during a clash on September 1.
Danish’s family believes he was not pelting stones and was “innocent”. Police said Danish “drowned”, but the family alleges that security personnel threw pieces of brick at the four boys who had jumped into the water.
“Danish was hit in the head and hence could not swim. Otherwise, he was a good swimmer and could have swum across. The other three boys swam and were saved,” Danish’s father Mohammad Sultan Haroo said.
According to Danish’s uncle Nazir Ahmad, heart-related problems of Sultan have worsened after his son’s death.
Danish’s elder brother Aqib, a Class 9 student, said he feels “lonely” with his “companion” gone. The 7-year-old younger brother Furqan hides behind their father if you ask him about his dead sibling.
The graffiti on gates, shop shutters and walls in Palpora area of Srinagar where the family lives proclaim “Shaheed Danish” – much like the “Shaheed Burhan” writings on walls across Kashmir.
The reporter asked what Danish’s mother Hazra thinks of her son’s death. She doesn’t answer and Sultan butts in.
“All she says whenever she speaks is that the killers of her innocent son should be punished.”