By Heena Muzzafar
One fine morning I and my cousin, Nousheen, who is more a friend than a cousin, decided to refurbish an old ancestral structure, located near our home and convert it into a shop.
As we were done with planning and cost estimation part needed for the refurbishing, we impatiently waited to implement it. Since it was the month of Ramadan, we decided to do it after Eid ul Fitar.
After Eid, on July 8, 2016, while sipping tea we began planning the purchase of required raw material. It was evening and we decided to leave early next morning.
Suddenly my sister Nida came running and said, “Tuehyii buezwa Burhan goew shaheed (did u hear Burhan was martyred).”
Thinking she had got it wrong, we teased her, and continued with our plans. But when she showed a picture of Burhan’s corpse in blood, there was no doubt about what Nida had said.
For a while I became numb. I couldn’t feel my hands. Without knowing what to do, I began playing Burhan’s videos, all of them, back-to-back.
Around half-an-hour later, attracted by the noise, I and my cousin went outside to check the situation. There was chaos everywhere, people were shutting their shops in panic; private vehicles were skipping past quickly, trying to avoid trouble. Not knowing what coming days had in store, we went back to our respective homes and began mourning silently.
That night dinner was served with an air of uncertainty as everybody kept his fingers crossed. The night passed slowly. I began thinking that “normalcy” will return in a few days, at most in a week’s time. But I was wrong.
The next morning, at 6 am, I was woken by the noise of whistles. I tried to find out the source of noise but found nothing as our house is located on the back side of Nallah Mar road. Still, I kept looking out of my bedroom window. Instantly, I was reminded of long curfews I had witnessed as a kid.
To be honest, though the noise was disturbing, but I was not afraid. Living in downtown or Shehr-e-Khas helps you overcome such fears.
In order to get update about other parts of Kashmir I logged into a news website, but, as I had perceived, the internet connection was already snapped. Later I realised that even making a call is not possible from a pre-paid phone.
In the meanwhile, I heard one of uncles shout: “Yimaw zalemow duet ni nimazi nearnii, choett anninich channi kathii (These oppressors did not even allow us to say prayers, buying bread is out of question).”
I tried to sleep again but could not because of the noise. Instead, I offered prayers and had breakfast. With nothing else to do, I grabbed a copy of the newspaper and began reading. The news of Burhan’s killed ruled the entire front page. With no working phone, no internet and no way to go outside as curfew was imposed in entire old city, it felt like living in the dark ages.
With no communication, I began to worry about my father’s cousin sister, Rafiqa Sana-u-llah, who was battling stage four small celled lung cancer.
I vividly remembered her last visit to our house in June. Actually, she had insisted my father for one ‘last visit’ to our house, where she had grown up as a kid. When she arrived, I remember how frail she had turned because of the illness. As the news of her arrival spread, all our relatives and friends from the locality came to visit her. After everybody left, I sat alone with her. Suddenly she said: mea treawzii aabi naer (I want you to pour some water when they give me burial bath). I felt tears rolling down my cheeks. On July 18, exactly tenth day after Burhan’s death, she died in Zakura, 7 kms from our home. A cousin of mine, who braved all odds, and reached our home at night to let us know about her death.
After the news of her death sunk in, we began exploring ways of visiting Zakura. Since we had just two cars available, and the situation outside was tense, I and a few other cousins were asked to stay back. For the entire night I wept for not honouring her last wish.
The next morning, while she was carried for burial, mourners were stopped by CRPF at Mirza Kamil (RA) chowk and asked to go back. Only four people were allowed to accompany her for burial.
The following days proved even painful for entire Kashmir, especially for those living in downtown who had limited access to essentials. In order to feed their families people used to visit Sabzi Mandi in wee hours and get stock of vegetable that would last weeks. The spirit of unity made people share things with those who were less fortunate and economically weak. As houses are constructed in close proximity in old city, distributing eatables among the needy was easy.
Every morning, at 6 am, CRPF men would come and start terrorizing people by blowing whistles with such intensity that would wake us all. They would beat shop shutter, abuse randomly and kick everything that they could. It was like our daily alarm, but an unwanted one. Around daytime, youngsters would gather on the streets and engage forces in pitched stone pelting battles. Forces would often retaliate by firing tear-gas shells leaving people gasping for fresh air.
One day at 6 pm, we forgot to keep our front gate closed, before the stone pelting started. When I rushed out to close the gate, I heard a loud bang hitting the gate. It was a pellet shot fired by a CRPF person, stationed nearby. Had I not closed the door on time, I might have been hit. Then I heard another noise, this time a different one. The same CRPF person has hit a car’s windshield with his gun, smashing the glass into pieces.
On September 5, I remember vividly the terror filled moments, when CRFP men almost entered our house. It was 7 pm and everyone was busy watching news. All of a sudden we heard our neighbour shout for help. Our neighbour’s daughter climbed from the window and entered first floor of our house, to save herself from the wrath of CRPF men, who were trying to break into their house. CRPF men had already broken all window panes of her house. In frustration, the CRPF men broke into our neighbour’s pen, and took out a chicken and held it in air by its neck. It literally chocked the poor soul to death.
From 10 am till mid-night, mosques would play pro-freedom songs praising Burhan’s martyrdom. However, despite provocations from both sides, there were no fatalities in downtown.
On August 3, the first causality from downtown was Riyaz Ahmed Shah, 23, an ATM guard of Chattabal. Entire pellet cartridge was emptied into his stomach by CRPF men stationed near his house. His killing triggered massive protests.
Next day stringent curfew was placed and people were not allowed to move even through lane and by lanes.
The next bad news came on August 22, with the death of Irfan Ahmad, a 17-year-old boy from Fateh Kadal.
Irfan was the sole bread earner of his family, who died after a “non lethal” tear gas shell hit him in the chest. As his body was taken for funeral to Eidgah, announcements were made from the mosque loud speakers, asking people to come out.
I remember sitting in the third storey, alone, engrossed in my thoughts, feeling helpless. A week later, I and my cousins visited Zakura to mourn our aunt’s death. On our way back, we saw people sitting on the roadside, keeping a vigil, trying to stay together as they feared CRPF might attack their houses at night.
After offering my condolences, I finally got chance to sit with my cousin Nousheen, the same one with whom I had made plans to start a business. But instead of talking about our venture, she reminded me how our aunt waited for me till her last breath. We also talked about how we survived these difficult times at our respective houses.
Then on September 1, another boy named Danish Haroon, who was just 12, was chased to death by CRPF men in Noorbagh. He jumped in to Jhelum River to evade arrest. Before his killing nocturnal raids in parts of downtown had become a routine. The entire locality looked like a war zone from some movie. People had covered their windows with blankets and ply board sheets. This was done to protect windows from CRPF men, who would often throw stones at residential houses.
On September 9, I went to attend a cousin’s nikkah ceremony, originally to be held in August. The same day CRPF men allegedly beat Abdul Qayoom Wangnoo of Aali Kadal to death at Hyderpora. I heard about Qayoom’s death while coming back from my friend’s house.
Even today I cannot forget how teargas shells, pepper gas and PAVA shells, “a chilli based less lethal munition” that is strong enough to temporary paralyze the target, almost chocked me to death.
I thought if I given a choice between pepper gas and PAVA, I would definitely choose pepper, as I had somehow become accustomed to it. But PAVA is like slow poison. It chokes you.
A day later, one of woman from our neighbourhood broke her arm, while chasing an armoured vehicle, who had come to raid a local Hurriyat leader’s house. In retaliation CRPF men hit her hard and broke her arm. Within days another young boy, who was barely 12, was killed by CRPF men in Saidapora. I still remember his name: Junaid Ahmad Akhoon. He was hit by in the chest and head with pellets. It took lots of efforts and protesting to get his body from the forces.
One evening I left home with my cousin Suhail Shafi thinking situation has normalized a bit, but I guess we were wrong.
When we reached near Noorbagh chowk, we came across hundreds of people, who held candles in their hands, and had burned tires and wood on the road. We were asked to stop by a group of boys who instructed us to switch off the headlights of our car. It was both scary and impossible to judge the road in darkness. Still my cousin somehow managed to drive me to the safety of my home. Once home I heard a neighbour’s one-year-old kid say loudly: Azaadi.