Srinagar: The women wrapped his corpse in a white sheet and collapsed on the road around it, hugging the body as if they would never let him go. With them were scores of other men, women and children, all with fear writ large in their eyes.
By 9pm on Sunday, at the busy Dal Gate intersection in Srinagar, the mourners had scornfully defied the tight curfew imposed on the city since 4am, their voices cracking with the agony of unshed tears and helpless anger at the enemy in khaki clothing.
There were no journalists and television crews to record the futility of their loss. “We want azadi“, (independence) they shouted, and then, “Down with the constitution of India.” The wailing of the women initially mingled with the hoarse anguish of the sloganeering mourners and was then quickly overwhelmed.
The killing of 54-year-old Ghulam Qadir is one more statistic in the death registry of Jammu and Kashmir but, it all depends where you’re counting from. Since the agitation over the Amarnath shrine land row that has convulsed the state and created new borderlines in the last two months, around the time governor N. N. Vohra arrived here from New Delhi, Qadir’s death was No. 35.
No let-up: A group of protesters defy curfew and raise pro-freedom slogans as security forces arrested Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front chairman Mohammad Yasin Malik in Srinagar on Monday. (PTI)
But, from a historical perspective—or at least since 1989 when Pakistan allegedly began to stoke the simmering fire within the Muslim-dominated Kashmir valley, Qadir would add to at least 60,000 people who died. Qadir’s death, at the hands of a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) soldier on Sunday, came soon after he had apparently left the mosque after evening prayers, invited a friend home for a cup of tea and asked his 30-year-old son to go buy milk from a nearby shop.
Around the same time in Habba Kadal, where Jammu and Kashmir (J & K) policemen and CRPF men patrolled the entrances to a huddle of alleys, a young woman was getting married to a man from nearby Batmaloo. The fairy lights slung all the way down from the top of the building, and in the spreading circle of happiness, the groom had taken his bride away.
There was no wedding feast, in deference to the indefinite curfew. A state government press communiqué issued in the morning had explained that the curfew, imposed only for the second time since Kashmiris marched to the Line of Control a fortnight ago, had to be enforced to protect the lives of several Kashmiri leaders being targeted by “vested interests”.
An official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the government feared that militants might attack Hurriyat leaders.
All day, the streets had been so frighteningly empty it had never crossed the mind of all those children on an enforced holiday to perhaps fill the silence with cricket. A few journalists, including one from Sahara Samay TV channel and his cameramen, were badly beaten by patrolling CRPF men because they hadn’t updated their curfew passes.
Asked how this can come to pass, information secretary Kul Bhushan Jandiyal shrugged his shoulders and said it all comes with the job description. Just before dusk, a posse of Maruti cars rumbled down the Maulana Azad Road in front of the Lal Chowk, where Hurriyat leaders Mirwaiz Umer Farooq and Syed Ali Shah Geelani had been all set to go ahead with their Monday protest prior to being arrested on Sunday night.
The first Maruti car carried a turbaned Sikh driver waving nervously and a host of other Sikhs in the back. The second car had been chosen to carry the bride, her red sari suitably pulled down over her head. It was a wedding party, hurtling along to escape Srinagar’s infamous nights.
Another wedding party was spotted on the return journey from Habba Kadal, another posse of plain cars, also bereft of rose buds or gleaming gladioli. They drove in orderly fashion, the headlights on low beam and the inside lights switched on, a uniquely J & K curfew routine of 19 years fully ingrained in their minds.
Back at the Dal Gate, Aijaz, a young businessmen who works in the area, recounted the story of Qadir’s death in moving detail. Soon after Qadir had sent off his son to fetch milk to make tea for his invited guest after the evening namaaz, Aijaz said, he heard a small commotion and stepped outside.
Qadir’s son may or may not have got into an altercation with some edgy CRPF men, Aijaz said. The father pleaded with the men in khaki to let him go. He took the small bucket of milk from his son. That’s when they shot him, Aijaz says, two bullets in the chest and one that whizzed past and hit his son. When Qadir died, Aijaz said, he was still holding the milk bucket in his hand. The son, meanwhile, is still struggling between life and death at the Sher-e-Kashmir hospital in the city.