Asif Hassan rather died of a bullet wound as he passed by a protest on the streets of Sopore. Strangely, his family holds out his school certificate to prove that he was just nine years old, not 17, as the local police claim.
“How can a class five student be 17?” asks his uncle. It’s hard to tell if his family is angrier at his age being distorted by the authorities than at his being killed merely because he was near some protesters.
At the time he was fatally shot, Asif was on his daily routine – out looking for his elder brother, who is mentally challenged. “Since his brother wasn’t capable, his mother wanted Asif to make something out of his life,” the uncle says, ”but now, he’s dead.”
Asif is the youngest victim of the violence that’s suddenly torn the Valley again. Of the other 11 dead so far, nine are teenagers and two in their twenties. They are mostly students or labourers from poor backgrounds. Their families all say that the boys are innocent and were caught in the crossfire of stones, teargas shells and bullets.
The series of deaths in alleged police and CRPF firing began in January at Budshah Chowk in Srinagar with 16-year-old Inayat Khan’s killing. His family says he was out playing cricket, not battling the forces.
Tufail Ahmad Mattoo too died of bullet injuries. When the 17-year-old’s body was found, it had his school bag around his shoulders. His family says he was going for tuitions. Zahid Farooq (16) was out playing cricket, when he was shot, his family says. As was 14-year-old Wamiq Farooq.
Some of those who died were older, but only just a little. Shakeel Ahmad Ganai, 24, had just started seeing his fortune turn. His small business as an electrician had begun to get big orders. Ganai’s four sisters and his brother who worked as a labourer, were hoping to move into their own home soon. But Ganai was shot dead in Sopore on June 25. His family says he was out buying supplies for his business.
The police say they were killed in firing during stone-throwing battles on the streets. But others point out that it’s always the innocent who die in the crossfire. “The professional stone-thrower knows the escape routes and can even throw back teargas shells at the police. His face is always masked,” says a Sopore shopkeeper. “Were the faces of any of the boys who died in the firing masked? Were any of them carrying stones?” Among all these questions, the families of the dead boys look for only one answer – were they actually part of the mobs, or just innocents caught in this cycle of violence?