Once a major character in managing the load of conflict on Srinagar streets, Kabir Sheikh, father of slain JKLF leader Hamid, died on November 30. Saima Bhat offers details of a long interview with him in March 2016
In the death of Haji Abdul Kabir Sheikh, the father of slain JKLF leader Abdul Hamid Sheikh, Srinagar lost a ‘brave man’ who was once a one-man army. Directly responsible for laying to rest hundreds of slain, some of them unidentified, he was instrumental in creating the special cemeteries in Batamaloo and Eidgah, for the victims of the conflict.
As insurgency broke out in Kashmir in 1989, a dry fruit vendor at Amira Kadal, Sheikh, a resident of Danderkha Batmaloo, his address shifted to jails. He was frequently arrested and tortured for being the father of JKLF commander. He said the longest was for 22 months in 1990. And there have been times when his wife was arrested, too.
During the MUF wave of 1987, Sheikh and his wife were arrested and kept at Shergari police station. “My youngest son was just two years old then and my eldest daughters would get him to the police station to be suckled by his mother,” Sheikh told this reporter in a long interview in March 2016.
Once out, Sheikh had a new priority waiting for him: burying the dead. Living very close to the Police Control Room (PCR), his role came so handy to the cops.
“I was known to every top police officer of those days and they trusted me with the bodies, mostly killed during interrogations,” Sheikh said. With the handover of every new body, he was asked to take care if any law and order situation erupted. Though most of the bodies were handed over to him in broad daylight, there were a few who were given to him during nights.
At his Danderkha home, Sheikh, in his late 60’s was suffering from various ailments in 2016. Dependant on oxygen supply, Sheikh had got the concentrator on rent from a local NGO, Help poor Volunteer Trust. His son, who runs a rented trash shop, was getting his medicines at subsidised rates from the same NGO.
With a large picture of his slain militant’s son mounted on the wall in front of his bed, senior Sheikh said, he always wants to have Hamid’s face in front of his eyes. Hamid’s memories were still making him cry.
Sheikh has two sons and four daughters. Till his death, he was head of the joint family. It included his son’s family and the four children of one of his daughters whose first husband died of a brain tumour. The tumour manifested after soldiers thrashed his skull back with gun butts, according to Sheikh. “She and her children were not given share from the property of their father,” Sheikh said. “But I had promised my son I won’t misuse the power of his legacy so I got my daughter back and married her off and became the guardian of her kids.”
In 1990’s Sheikh remembers how, with some locals, identified a piece of land in Batmaloo to bury boys, whose corpses were left at PCR. “The land got soon filled up and then we got another piece of land in Danderkha, just outside my house and got that changed into a graveyard,” he said.
And then this graveyard too got filled up forcing Sheikh to request his contractor friend of Barzulla, whose son was also killed, to send a few truckloads of soil for filling up the graveyard again and start burying dead in next level of the soil. “Everyday we used to receive a body.”
A chain-smoker with daily requirement of at least two packs of cigarettes, Sheikh said he literally had to sew a few bodies before burying them. In a few cases, some body parts were missing. “My crisis was that I used to see my son in every dead face,” Sheikh said.
In 1993, he said, he got a call from PCR where three bodies were unclaimed for three days and had started decaying. “The then DGP asked me if I know the slain and I broke him the news that one of them was Maqbool Illahi,” Sheikh said. “His body bore the marks of hot iron rods.” The bodies of Afghan militants were usually mutilated.
Uneducated Sheikh couldn’t recall all dates, but a few incidents were still afresh in his mind like the fire in Akhada building in Lal Chowk, fire outside PCR, Gawkadal massacre, the deaths on March 01, 1990, on Tengpora bypass.
It was mainly his role in the aftermath of Gawkadal massacre that gave Sheikh an identity he lived with till he was unable to dig more graves.
“I buried nine victims of the Tengpora massacre,” Sheikh said. “Later, when the curfew was lifted, they were identified by their families and taken home. I had preserved their belongings for their families.”
Sheikh had converted the basement of his home into a room, where last rites of unidentified were performed. In a few racks, he would preserve shoes and clothes of the slain. In March 2016, there were still a few shoes and at least four cloth sets hanging, waiting for their identification.
Sheikh recalls times when he had no money for shrouds. “People had become insensitive. We had to collect donations to buy shrouds. I remember many females would give their pashmina shawl to be used as shrouds.”
With the number of dead surging, Sheikh thought of buying a camera for clicking pictures of unidentified. “I had a few photographs, a dairy of Hamid Sheikh, another copy where I had maintained their details but many journalists from time to time took them away promising to return after a few days but none, I say none returned,” Sheikh regretted.
Sheikh has not forgotten the body of a boy which was handed over to him in winters after five days of killing. His name was Hamid. “When I got him, his body was frozen due to cold. I got him to my room and my family switched on four room heaters and then I washed his body with hot water which helped to soften the body,” Sheikh said. By then, Hamid’s family in Pattan got a tip-off and reached Batamaloo.“They were shocked to see the condition of their son and how I was helping his body to straighten.” The family was in touch with him and would visit him every month. Every killing would mean a mourning at his house.
“I had to remove bullets from Dr Guroo’s brother-in-law who was killed on Barzulla bridge,” Sheikh said. “I am a shattered man now and I don’t want to remember those days. But you must know the worst state of bodies were received during Ikhwan years.”
After Hamid Sheikh was killed in November 1992 in Aali Kadal, Kabir Sheikh found his identity card. “It was carrying the name of Dr Faisal and I kissed his fate for the fact that he had converted my desire into his code name. I wanted him to be a doctor but destines are out of control.”
With Hamid’s death, the security grid didn’t forget his address. “They still come and beat us and break everything at our house for supporting the cause.”