On A Highway, A Toddler Symbolised The Unpredictability of Kashmir Mayhem

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by Shams Irfan

SRINAGAR: The image of a 3-year-old child sitting on his grandfather’s bullet-ridden corpse was the most painful event of July 1, 2020.

Apparently clicked moments after militants attacked a CRPF patrol party in Sopore’s Model Town area, that left child’s grandfather and one CRPF personnel dead, the graphic image raged a debate on the social media. Netizens questioned the intent behind clicking such a disturbing image and distributing it on social media.

Police, CRPF and Armed forces at the spot of a militant attack in Sopore in which a CRPF man and a civilian were killed on Wednesday, July 1, 2020, KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

So far it is unclear who clicked the image as no photo-journalist was near the site of the attack.

CRPF’s spokesperson told Outlook India, “I don’t know who took the pictures and circulated them. I have no information about who took the pictures.”

Different Versions

In a video statement doing rounds on the social media, Suhail Ahmad, son of the slain civilian Bashir Ahmad Khan, alleged that CRPF personnel dragged his father out of his car and then shot him dead. A resident of Srinagar’s HMT area Khan’s family said he was on his way to Sopore to check a construction site. He was a contractor.

Though not many details were immediately known but the family, sources said the kid, a three-year-old, was slain man’s daughter’s son. He was completely attached to him to the extent that he accompanied him when he had to drive out of the district.

A relative of Bashir Ahmed, a civilian who died in Sopore carry his grandson Aayad who was with his grandfather at the time of his death, during a funeral in Srinagar on July 1, 2020. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

In another video, slain man’s daughter is seen mourning and terming her father’s killing as murder. “How could they not spear a person who was with a toddler,” she is heard asking. She, however, is not seeking any kind of investigation.

One of the three sons of the slain contractor whom Kashmir Life contacted on phone said his father left home at 6 am. He was on his way to Handwara. “He was a contractor,” he said. “He was driving his car and had he been caught in the crossfire, the car would have been hit but the car lacks even a scratch.”

He said he had no information if his father’s body was sent for post-mortem.

IGP Speaks

After the videos went viral online, IG Kashmir Vijay Kumar addressed media in Srinagar and refuted family’s claim. “None of them was present at the site of the attack. So how can they blame anyone?” asked Kumar. “Khan’s family has issued a video statement to blame CRPF, as they are afraid of militants.”

Inspector-General of Police Kashmir Vijay Kumar addressing a press conference in Srinagar on Wednesday, July 1, 2020. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

Giving details of the attack Kumar said that suspected militants fired indiscriminately from inside a nearby mosque. At the same time, an elderly person was driving in his car with a kid. When the firing took place he started running for safety with the child and got hit by a bullet.

“We recovered two magazines from the mosque, one full and one empty, left behind by the militants,” said Kumar.

Kumar also said that he didn’t deliberately snap internet in the area after the attack as he wanted to see how people will react. We could have snapped it at 7:30 am when the attack took place. “But there were lots of videos and pictures shared on the social media, which are not true,” said Kumar.

Disturbing Photographs

Claims and counterclaims apart, the picture of the child with the corpse has travelled faster, setting off a debate on the internet.

One of the first ones to react and question was former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah who wrote a series of tweets: Everything becomes a propaganda tool in the bloody violence in Kashmir. A three-year-old toddler has to have his misery broadcast to the whole world to drive home the “we good they bad” message. We would have got the point without his misery being filmed & shared so please don’t.

Inconsolable relatives of Bashir Ahmed, a contractor, who died in Sopore at his HMT residence in Srinagar after the police drove the body to his home on July 1, 2020. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

In the second tweet, he added: “We would have expected no less from the men in uniform than to rescue the young boy & for that they have our gratitude but we would expect better than for them to film & use a three-year-old’s pain the way it’s being done today.”

The photographs, rather the entire photo-shoot, was used by everybody to tell his side of the story. A section highlighted the photograph to tell the unpredictability of Kashmir where one moves out not knowing that he may not return.

However, sections within the ruling system used it to convey what the militancy is leading towards. BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra’s tweet of the graphic image carried the caption: PULITZER LOVERS??” That irked social media users across the world the most.

The Pulitzer jibe was apparently aimed at three Jammu and Kashmir photojournalists Dar Yaseen, Mukhtar Khan and Channi Anand who recently bagged Pulitzer Prize for their work in Kashmir, especially for their images of post-August 5, 2019, situation. Since then a section of Indian media was critical of the Pulitzer committee.

An Actress Reacts

Famous Bollywood actress Dia Mirza reacted to Patra’s tweet: “Do you not have an iota of empathy left in you??”

Since morning a number of un-sourced images related to Sopore attack were uploaded on different social media platforms. It actually a complete photoshoot using a cell phone. These include two painful poses of the child on the corpse of his loving grandpa. In one image he is seen sitting on him with his tiny feet on the ground. In another, he is seen actually sitting on his throat and chest. In the third one, he is being signalled by a security man to move towards him, a suggestion the toddler is visibly responding to. The last photograph shows him in the lap of a police officer.

In one of the images, the kid is seen walking towards a CRPF personnel. In another image, probably a video grab, the kid is seen sitting inside a police vehicle with tears in his eyes.

There is a disturbing video in which the crying baby is being driven home and some females, possibly cops, are trying to comfort him and offering biscuits and chocolates.

A picture shared on official police twitter handle shows the kid carried by a policeman moments after he has witnessed his grandfather’s killing.

The boy is reunited with his family but is still in shock. He may never be the same again.

Demands For Probe

At least two political parties have asked for probe in the killing of the civilian. Apni Party spokesman said the family version of the deceased and the circumstantial evidence, prima facie, suggest that Khan was killed in cold blood.

“The government should order an impartial investigation into the circumstances that led to the killing of a civilian who was on the way to Sopore in connection with his personal work,” the spokesman said. “Only a time-bound and transparent probe into the incident can reveal the veracity of claims made by the family of the deceased.

People offer Nimaz jinaza of Bashir Ahmed, a civilian who died in Sopore on July 1, 2020. KL image: Bilal Bahadur

“The videos and the pictures of the shootout and its aftermath have gone viral on social media with a 3-year-old kid becoming the unfortunate face of this mayhem,” Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) spokesman said, insisting the family of the civilian killed in the shootout has given a statement which goes contrary to the official statement issued by the security agencies. “This needs to be probed at a high level and time-bound inquiry and impartial probe into the matter is what we demand from the government at present,” he added.

Police Statement

Later in the evening, police issued a formal statement about the attack by militant at 0740 hours on a joint party of Police and CRPF from the attic of a nearby mosque near Nowpora crossing Model Town Sopore.

“Preliminary investigation revealed that the militants were hiding in a mosque and as the joint party were de-boarding the vehicles for Naka duty, they were fired upon indiscriminately by the hiding militants,” the spokesman said.

He said the slain civilian who was accompanied by his 3-year grandchild were passing through the area when the militants fired indiscriminately. “The said civilian and CRPF personnel received bullet of militants initially before our retaliation. Hiding militants escaped from the mosque and our parties followed them and retaliated. However, the minor boy was rescued by the police/CRPF,” he added.

“The officers continue to work to establish the full circumstances of this crime. The area has been cordoned and searches in the area is going on,” he added.

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A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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