Srinagar: The first night after his death was a restless one for the family of Bashir Ahmed Khan, a 65-year-old Srinagar resident killed in the aftermath of a militant attack on CRPF personnel in Kashmir’s Sopore region Wednesday.
The entire family was in grief, but for Khan’s three-year-old grandson, who was present with him when he was shot, it was a sudden absence he didn’t quite understand.
Speaking to ThePrint, the family said the child spent the night looking for the comfort of his grandfather’s touch — he knew his grandfather was dead, they added, but not what it meant.
While Khan was alive, his daughter Iram Khan said, her son had a habit of sleeping with his hand on his grandfather’s face. On some nights, the child would grab Khan’s ear as he slept, she added. On Wednesday, the child kept extending his hands through the night trying to find his grandfather, but all he could grab was the pillow. His “badey papa”, as the child addressed Khan, just wasn’t there.
“I was with him all night. I couldn’t sleep for a single moment and wept through the night,” said Iram. “But what broke my heart is how my child kept on grabbing and scratching the pillow. He was trying to touch his grandfather.”
She said she had a very hard time trying to put him to sleep. “I had to carry him around in my arms and move about from one to room to another to lull him to sleep.”
Throughout the day, Iram said, the child kept saying “badey papa mar gaya (grandfather has died)”. “But my son doesn’t know what dying means. He doesn’t know his grandfather won’t come back,” she added.
Khan’s death has triggered a massive controversy in Kashmir in light of two very divergent accounts regarding the circumstances of his killing. While Jammu & Kashmir Police and the CRPF claim he died during an exchange of fire triggered by a militant attack on a security convoy, sustaining a bullet injury while trying to flee the scene, his family has alleged he was pulled out of his car and killed by the security forces in cold blood.
Both the CRPF and the J&K Police have denied the allegation, with Kashmir zone Inspector General of Police (IGP) Vijay Kumar saying the family is making the claim under pressure from militants.
The controversy got more intense as a photograph showing Khan’s grandson seated on top of his corpse went viral. This was among many photos of the child that emerged on social media after Khan’s death, including those showing security personnel as they rescued him from the site.
Many social media users subsequently questioned the need to reveal the identity of the child, who is now a witness to his grandfather’s death, while several others dismissed the photos as a “PR stunt” by the police.
Kashmir IGP Kumar hinted Wednesday that the photo of the child with the corpse may have been taken by a member of the security forces and promised action against whoever did it.
‘They were inseparable’
Khan, a resident of the HMT area, died while he was on his way to Handwara to pick up the family’s house help from her native village. His grandson was with him at the time because, Iram said, he had insisted on tagging along when he saw Khan leaving the house Wednesday morning. The two, she added, were inseparable.
“There were days when I would take my son back home but my father would call and tell me he hasn’t been able to sleep without him,” said Iram. “He (the boy) spent all the time with his grandfather. My father once told me that he went to the bathroom one night and, when he came out, he saw my son standing outside the bathroom door, waiting for him. Yesterday (Wednesday), too, when my father was leaving for Handwara, my son woke up and said he wanted to go with him,” she added.
“My son was my father’s heart. Emsi vachan vachan dras zoo (he died while looking at my son),” Iram said, before breaking down.
The 37-year-old mother, who works with the J&K Police, said she was worried her son may never recover from the trauma of what he witnessed Wednesday.
“In the morning, he suddenly got up from the bed and ran towards the window. I ran behind him to calm him down. He kept on telling me that he is hearing gunshots (thak thak),” she said. “My child said he wanted to know where the noise was coming from and I kept on telling him there was no thak thak.”
‘Would rather believe child than police’
The child’s purported account of Khan’s death has intensified the family’s suspicions. According to Iram, the child has been saying that “police fired shots and badey papa died”, and the family has since uploaded a video online of the child saying as much.
“They say my father, upon seeing the firing, got out of his car and tried to rescue my son. Why would he do that when he could have turned back the car or picked up speed and left the encounter site,” Iram said.
Nazir Ahmed Khan, 72, Khan’s eldest brother, dismissed IGP Vijay Kumar’s claims that the family was blaming his death on police because of militant threats. “Does it make sense to you? If the family was afraid of militant threats, why would we have two women in the police department?”
While Iram works with the police department now, Khan’s widow Farooqa is a former policewoman who held the position of a station house officer (SHO) in Baramulla.
Nazir said he would rather take the word of the child than that of the police. “Since yesterday, the child has been saying that police killed his badey papa. The child is telling us the killers were men in uniform. It breaks our heart to ask him what happened but the lies that have been said about the circumstances surrounding my brother’s killing only added insult to our grave injury,” he added. “Someone from the family then recorded the video of the child and put it on the internet. So that the world knows the truth,” said Khan.
Farooqa, meanwhile, remains inconsolable. “I don’t know how to live on now. I am lost,” she said, when ThePrint visited her.
As doubts about the nature of Khan’s death continue, CRPF Special Director General Zulfiqar Hassan visited Sopore Thursday to examine the encounter site and the claims made by the family.
“We have examined the case and the angle at which Mr Khan was shot shows the bullet came from the mosque where the militants were hiding to attack our party,” he said. “We have also gathered technological evidence that clearly shows the sequence of events. Mr Khan was killed during the crossfire from a bullet fired by the militants.”
Describing the sequence of events, Hassan said Khan probably panicked after hearing the gunshots, stepped out of the car and moved towards the passenger seat, where his grandson was seated, to take him towards safety.
“He wanted to get him out of the car and remove themselves from the encounter site. Unfortunately, that did not happen,” said Hassan.