Twice selected to represent J&K in Ranji Trophy, Fayaz was 19 when he disappeared in custody. His family has kept his memory alive through an annual cricket tournament in his name in Baramulla. Majid Maqbool heard the family narrate the story of grief, loss and pride.
As a young boy, Fayaz Ahmad Gashoo was passionate about sports, particularly cricket. An all-round cricketer all through his high school and college years, he could bowl as fast as the West Indian fast bowler Malcolm Marshal earning him a nickname “Fayaz Marshal” in Baramulla and “Fayaz Fire” in Srinagar.
Fayaz was selected twice to play in the Ranji trophy. On a Saturday afternoon of May 19, 1990, he was waiting near a court complex in Sopore to board a bus to reach his home in Baramulla. A CRPF convoy that was passing by swooped on him and picked him up. Fayaz has never been seen since.
His family is unable to reconcile with the loss. Fayaz has disappeared but his family believes he has been killed.
At their residence in Khawaja Bagh, Baramulla, Fayaz’s elder brother opens a grey briefcase – a briefcase full of memories, containing certificates, photographs and documents related to his disappearance. In one envelope – “yadien” written on its cover – pictures of Fayaz holding trophies he won in different cricket tournaments before he disappeared in CRPF custody in 1990.
In some pictures, he is smiling in the company of his college friends and teammates. Other pictures show Fayaz in skiing gear on a snowy slope with his friends in Gulmarg. In other pictures, he is receiving the man of the match trophy and shaking hands with dignitaries. Surrounded by his teammates, he is seen jubilantly holding up the trophy. One envelope from the briefcase reveals a newspaper cutting of Fayaz, mentioning his achievement in the caption:
“Fayaz Ahmad, B.A part 1 – All round best player of the year, 1987.” Fayaz’s mother has been in a state of shock since the day he disappeared. She cannot stand the sight of cricket matches shown on television. She cannot bring herself to talk about her son, her elder sons say. Fayaz’s elder brothers have to conceal all his photos, clothes and other belongings from her. They can not talk of Fayaz in front of her. She never passes from the college cricket ground where Fayaz used to practice. She avoids places Fayaz would frequent.
On a cold day in December 1989, Fayaz Ahmad left home. He told his brothers that he was going for skiing in Gulmarg. He was 19 then, a teenager. That year armed rebellion had broken out in Kashmir against Indian rule, and many of Fayaz’s friends had crossed the LoC. Fayaz, too, crossed the border without informing his family. He returned after 3 months. “We didn’t know that he had crossed the border as he never told us,” says his elder brother. “Those who had gone with him sent some of his belongings home and that is how we came to know about it.”
After he returned in March 1990, his brother says, Fayaz came home only three times. “He would stay at home for a brief time and wouldn’t talk about what he did during those three months.”
A second-year commerce student in Baramulla Degree College, Fayaz resumed studies in college after his return.
On May 19, 1990, Fayaz was waiting for a vehicle near a college in Sopore. Notebook in hand, he was headed home. Eyewitnesses later told the family that a CRPF convoy that was passing by made a brief halt, some troopers came down, and he was taken away. His notebook dropped on the street.
Fayaz’s family came to know about his arrest four days after his disappearance. Another young man, who was detained along with Fayaz in a CRPF camp, had somehow escaped. He later sent a message to the family that Fayaz was held by the 50 battalion of CRPF in their camp in Sopore.
“The officer in charge of that camp Kripal Singh denied having arrested Fayaz,” says his brother. Months later, another friend of Fayaz, who was also held in the same camp had more bad news for the family. He was later sent to Tihar and after his release from there a few months later, he told the family that Fayaz was tortured inside the CRPF camp in Sopore.
“He had heard cries of Fayaz in the camp,” Fayaz’s brothers recalled. “He told us later that Fayaz was abused by a CRPF officer who was interrogating Fayaz inside the camp.” After an altercation, he heard a few gunshots. And then there was silence, the friend had told Fayaz’s family.
“If they have killed our brother, we don’t know where they kept his dead body,” said his brother, eyes brimming with tears. “If he is dead, they should at least have handed over his dead body to us.”
After the custodial disappearance of Fayaz, his brothers approached CRPF and army camps all across the valley. They searched in every jail in the valley. They also went searching to jails in Rajasthan. But no trace.
“If someone spoke of having seen him in some jail, we would immediately rush there,” says his elder brother. For three months in 1990, the brother hired a taxi and went to every CRPF camp and approached every CRPF officer stationed in the valley.
Fayaz’s family says the CRPF and Army kept harassing the family in the years after his disappearance. They would ask for the gun of Fayaz. Every time the family told them that they don’t know anything about the gun. They had never seen Fayaz carrying any weapon.
One evening in 1994, a group of soldiers raided their house. “They asked all the men to come out. But we told them that the women will also come out and then they can search the house,” says Gul Mohammad, the elder brother of Fayaz. The army men got angry on this. “They beat all of us, including children, old men and women,” the brothers recall.
On the same day one of their younger brother, Bashir Ahmad Gashoo, was taken away by the army. “He was released after 10 days in half-dead condition,” says his elder brother Gul Mohammad Gashoo. “He was severely tortured in the nearby army camp. He could not even stand after his release and he was unable to talk for months.”
Gul Mohammad has kept pictures showing torture marks on his brother’s body. “He had to be hospitalized and was brought home after 3 months of treatment in SKIMS.”
As a teenager Fayaz was fearless. He wouldn’t tolerate any curbs on his freedom. During his high school student days, he was walking on a curfewed road in Baramulla. His brothers say a police officer, who was driving by in a police gypsy, stopped Fayaz in his tracks and rebuked him. He asked Fayaz to get lost and stay at home. “Fayaz got so angry on this that he slapped the police officer,” recalls his elder brother. “He told the police officer that he cannot stop him from walking on the road.” Fayaz had to be kept in hiding for a month to prevent his arrest.
Fayaz’s brothers remember him as a brave young boy who loved playing cricket. Endowed with the physique of an athlete, he was the tallest among all his three brothers. At 17, Fayaz was selected twice to represent J&K state in the Ranji trophy in 1987 and 1989.
One day Fayaz had gone to Srinagar to play in a tournament. “He had no money to return home,” recalls his elder brother. “He slept beneath a Chinar tree in the same ground where he played during the day. The next morning, he got up and played in another match in the same ground,” his brother recalls his enthusiasm for cricket with a poignant smile.
In most of the matches he played, Fayaz would win the man of the match award. “He is the only player in Baramulla who once hit a ball so hard that it landed on the street outside the Baramulla degree college,” recalls his brother. He says when people would come to know that Fayaz is batting or bowling, they would assemble in huge numbers inside the college ground just to watch him play. “People would even come from far off villages in buses to cheer him on.”
After Fayaz’s custodial disappearance, his brothers kept his memory alive. They started an annual cricket tournament “Fayaz Memorial” cricket cup in 1997. It was a tribute to a promising young cricketer. Every year some of the best cricket teams in Baramula compete in the memorial tournament. Fayaz’s elder brothers give out trophies to the best teams and the most promising players. Had he been allowed to live, his brothers say, he would have brought more laurels and made his homeland proud.
“Whenever I see a dream, I see Fayaz playing cricket in his college ground,” says Gul Muhammad. His room is adorned with all the trophies of Fayaz. He has even preserved one of the worn-out cricket balls Fayaz played with.
“Whatever respect we have earned among people here, it is because of Fayaz,” his brothers say in unison. “We’re known more as Fayaz’s brothers.”
“And we will never forget what was done to our brother.”