Zahid’s Killing: Mourning Amid Silence, Shrieks and Shells

Bilal Handoo

SRINAGAR

Zahid's funeral.
Zahid’s funeral.

Amid the din triggered by relentless shelling outside, Bhat house at Batengoo, the highway village in South Kashmir, is silently mourning over their crestfallen loss. The mourners inside are simmering over “denied” mourning. Unmindful of buzz around, the sisters are calling home their brother, freshly buried amid downpour, “Come back, Zahid! Please come back, dear brother…”

The air reeks of tear-gas smoke, leaving mourners with red-eyes and incessant coughing. At one corner, a group of women is consoling Zaina Begum, Zahid Rasool Bhat’s inconsolable mother. She is silently sobbing over her void created by communal frenzy. The wailing women often break into disturbing monologue: “Son, why did you even step out of that tunnel? You knew your mother needed you at field. How shall we get you back now, son?”

Among the mourners are elders, busy talking, how Zahid had requested his elder brother to allow him take “a trip to India”. “It was his fate,” one elder says, making a younger mourner to react, “What fate are you talking about? It was a plain murder. Don’t confuse it with the fate. Every time, Kashmiris get killed, we tend to link it with fate. Be realistic, for God’s sake! They are killing us for the heck of it.”

Nearby this charged atmosphere, Ghulam Rasool Bhat, the grieving father is sitting silent and lost. In his faltering voice, the 70-year-old farmer is recalling how his 18-year-old son, a class 10 student, was set ablaze by a mob in Udhampur when he was with a local truck driver, Rameez Bhat and conductor, Showkat. “He was callously burnt,” the father says, amid resounding tear-gas shelling outside. “When I visited him hospital, he was in great pain.”

Before visiting his son, Bhat heard the making of that pain from the unhurt trucker, Rameez Bhat. “After returning from Delhi, we decided to spent night at Udhampur’s Shivpur,” the trucker told the father. “It was then a mob started smashing our windshield and lobbed a petrol bomb inside.”

As they jumped out of burning truck, the goons standing outside caught Showkat and Zahid while Rameez hid himself in dark. From hiding, he saw goons armed with lathis and rods thrashing Showkat and Zahid mercilessly. “They pleaded before them but one of them sprinkled petrol over their clothes. Another lit a match stick, and put them afire,” the father heard him saying. “Goons even beat up the cops who tried to rescue them.” Later, a posse of cops ensured their passage to GMC Jammu, where the doctors referred them to New Delhi for specialized treatment.

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Clashes between angry youth and government forces in Batengoo.

Back home, a policeman from Khanabal police station informed the grieving father about the incident. The news was a shocker that instantly faded the delight Zahid had conveyed over phone to his parents a few days back. “He called his mother several times,” Bhat says. “He was quite excited about his journey to New Delhi.”

Soon after the assault, the government gave Bhat a compensation of Rs 10,000, which he later termed as a “cruel joke”. He returned the cheque during Mufti Sayeed’s Islamabad visit, saying authorities were making baseless claims of providing Rs 1 lakh compensation to each family, besides threatening them to book them under the notorious PSA if they “highlight” the issue. “Zahid was dear to all of us,” the father says, “and we wanted to provide him the best possible education.” For the treatment of his son admitted to intensive care unit of Delhi’s Safderjung Hospital, the father wanted to sell his four kanal paddy land. But before he could do that, Zahid succumbed to his injuries.

Relentless tear-gas shelling outside besides the government announcement of cash (Rs 5 lakh) and job to the victim family refuse to break a state of shock prevailing inside. Among the mourners are his friends, talking amid sighs, how Zahid had longed for his mother before passing away. “He was very humble and good at studies,” his friends say, “but he couldn’t continue as his family needed his support.”

Amid mournful air, the mother is still sobbing silently, while the sisters are pleading their brother to return. And the father is holding Chief Minister Mufti Sayeed responsible for his son’s killing. “He is playing politics of blood in connivance with BJP by giving a free hand to Hindu fanatics,” says Bhat, as shells continue to rain outside.

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