Khaipora: A differently-abled 15-year-old killed during a shootout between security forces and militants Monday evening was buried by police authorities, in the presence of his family, in Baramulla, Kashmir, Tuesday.
Hazim Bhat, a native of Khaipora village in the Langate region of north Kashmir, was out with a dozen other children from his village, playing in an apple orchard, when unknown militants attacked Central Reserve Paramilitary Force (CRPF) troopers deployed nearby.
While the other children managed to escape after hearing gunfire, Bhat, who suffered from a severe neurological ailment, could not. His condition, the family believes, might have played a role in his failure to make a timely escape.
Bhat was suffering from delayed milestone or developmental delay, and had been seeking treatment for the past five years, according to medical records accessed by ThePrint.
The family said Bhat had shown improvement over the past couple of years, “becoming increasingly sharper at school”. He was the eldest among four siblings and leaves behind three sisters aged 12, nine and five.
He has been buried in Baramullah’s Sheeri, at a cemetery used to bury foreign or unidentified militants.
The deceased boy had no militant links, but the authorities, according to Bhat’s family, claimed the decision was taken to avoid a large funeral gathering that could undermine social distancing measures taken by the administration in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic.
Three CRPF personnel were also killed in Monday’s attack.
He was out playing
Bhat’s father is an apple farmer. Many families in their village work on their fields or apple orchards during the day. Often, during evenings, they take their children to the fields and orchards to either play or help out.
According to Bhat’s family, the teenager had left home around 2 pm Monday, and was supposed to return home in the evening.
“We had already returned home after a day’s work and were preparing for iftar (the Ramzan ritual) when we heard firing in the area,” said Bhat’s father Shafi Bhat, who owns a small family business.
“Naturally, we were scared for all family members who were outside the house at the time. While everyone rushed in within minutes of the firing starting, Hazim did not,” he added.
The family said they were waiting for him to return when they got news that a civilian had died in the firing. Moments later, they learnt it was Hazim and his body was lying on the roadside, the family added.
“We tried to ask police, but they told us they were looking into the identity of the person killed. They said they were checking if the person killed near the shootout site was a militant,” said an inconsolable Shafi.
One of the teenager’s uncles claimed it was only around 11 pm that police “told us it was Hazim who had died”. The reason, police told them, was “a stray bullet”.
“We were told his body was lying on the road for many hours before they finally picked it up,” said Shafi.
The family was subsequently informed that Hazim would be buried at the Sheeri cemetery, with police telling them that they needed some family members to accompany them, added Shafi.
‘A sweet child’
The fact that Bhat’s body wasn’t brought back to the village one last time has upset his family and neighbours alike.
“He was a sweet child and somehow there is a part of me who wants to believe he will come back home running,” said a neighbour of the Bhats. “I know he won’t. They have taken him away from us.”
A local police officer posted in the area said they were “trying to ascertain how the boy died”. “Preliminary findings suggest it was a stray bullet that killed him,” said the officer.