SRINAGAR/SOPORE, Jammu and Kashmir — “Thak, thak” — family members of a three-year-old who witnessed his grandfather’s violent death in Kashmir on Wednesday say these are the sounds of gunshots that are stuck in his head.
While he played with his cousins on the stairs of their three storey house in Srinagar, the child’s family’s said that he had told them about Indian paramilitary soldiers telling his grandfather to step out of the car and shooting him in the middle of a gunbattle with suspected militants in the northern town of Sopore.
“He is a child. He has told us what he saw. There is no reason for him to lie or exaggerate,” said Suhail Ahmad Khan, the boy’s 25-year-old uncle, and the son of the man who was killed.
As mourners filled their home on Wednesday, family members said that children should not have to see their loved ones being gunned down. The child’s relatives find themselves at a loss when it comes to consoling him in the aftermath of the violence.
“We don’t want to question the child about his grandfather because this could hurt him even more. When anyone takes his grandfather’s name, he says, ‘Papa ko thak thak kiya,’ said Nida Khan, the child’s aunt. “We also cannot stop him from speaking about what he has seen. He wants to tell everyone.”
Bashir Ahmad Khan, 65, was a civil contractor living with his wife and children in Srinagar.
On Tuesday, the photograph of Khan’s grandson sitting on his dead grandfather’s bloodied chest was widely circulated on social media platforms, triggering a tsunami of outrage.
The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) have refuted the family’s allegation that its personnel killed Khan, pinning his death on the militants of the Lashkar-e-Toiba group, who they say were hiding in a mosque near the Model Town Chowk of Sopore and opened fire at paramilitary soldiers on Wednesday.
The CRPF says that three paramilitary troopers were injured and one died in the attack. Khan, they say, was killed in the firing by the militants and his grandson was rescued by the troopers.
The Jammu and Kashmir Police said that reports of the CRPF shooting Khan were “baseless” and threatened legal action against “false reports and rumours.”
The dead CRPF personnel was identified as Deep Chand Verma from the G company of CRPF’s 179th battalion.
The identity of the person who clicked the photograph of the child sitting on his dead grandfather’s bloodied chest is not yet known. The Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Sopore, Javaid Iqbal, told Outlook that who clicked the photo is a matter of investigation.
Former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Omar Abdullah condemned the politics over the unfathomable horror endured by the Kashmiri child.
In a tweet, Abdullah wrote, “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.”
Amnesty International reacted to the photos of the child - of which one was posted by the J&K Police on Twitter - stating that “by disclosing the identity of a minor witness of a crime, Kashmir Zone police stands in violation of Article 74 of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015. The human rights organisation said it is also a breach of the “best interest of the child” principal as required to be the basis of any action by the authorities under the convention on the Rights of the child, to which India is a State Party.”
Suhail Ahmad Khan, Khan’s son, who is pursuing a postgraduate degree in Islamic studies at Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi, said his father had left from Srinagar for Sopore on Wednesday morning to pick up their domestic help who was unable to travel on her own because of the coronavirus lockdown.
Khan’s wife, who suffers from arthritis, was scheduled to have surgery on Thursday.
His mother, Suhail Ahmad Khan said, was the retired Station House Officer (SHO) of the Women Police Station at Baramulla.
“At 7.30 in the morning, my mother received a call from the police station that her husband had met with an accident. When we reached there, we saw that he had been shot dead,” said the 25-year-old.
“I wouldn’t have believed my nephew, but when I went to the police station at Sopore and saw my father’s car, there was not even a single scratch on it. If he were killed in the crossfire then there should have been bloodstains or shards of the window panes, but I couldn’t see anything in the car” he said.
At a press conference in Srinagar on Wednesday, the Inspector General of Police Vijay Kumar, while refuting the allegations of the family, said “The video messages circulated on social media by the son and daughter of the slain man is totally baseless.”
As the three-year-old played with his cousins a few hours after he had seen his grandfather get shot, family members wondered if this chilling memory would haunt him all his life.
“How can they kill a person in front of a child? To hell with the police, to hell with the militants. Don’t they realise what effect it would have on the child,” said Suhail Ahmad Khan.
At the Model Town in Sopore, close to 50 kilometers from Srinagar, residents recounted how the gun battle had played out on Wednesday morning, but they couldn’t say who clicked the photograph.
Inside the Masjid-e-Ibrahim mosque where the suspected militants were hiding, Shahid, a resident, said, “It was around seven in the morning when we heard the gunshots. No one dared to come out.”
“Look at how they have damaged the mosque. There are bullet marks everywhere,” he added.
Nigeena, the wife of a maulvi who lives close to the mosque, said, “The maulvi and I were inside when we heard the gunshots. We didn’t muster the courage to go out and check what had happened. All we saw was militants jumping from the wall and escaping.”
The ten residents that HuffPost India spoke with said the shooting was too intense for them to have left the house.
“We came out of our houses at two in the afternoon when the police had left the place and the encounter was over,” said Shabbir Dar, a resident.