Memories Do Not Fade Away By Faisal Magray It was a Friday morning in early summer of 2010. The sun felt warm...

Memories Do Not Fade Away

By Faisal Magray

It was a Friday morning in early summer of 2010. The sun felt warm. The air was filled with the rich smell of blood. Restless birds flew from branch to branch. Sitting in my room I took a cup of tea while surfing newspapers on the net. The situation in Kashmir was tense and while I was reading a latest news story, I received a call from a friend saying that the Central Reserve Police Force (CPRF) had shot a youth in the Chanapora area, 2 km from my home. Despite curfew, I was eager to cover this event I took my camera with me to go the spot where the incident took place. It was the first protest that I was going to cover. With both excitement as well as fear in my mind, I made my way to the spot where the protest was going on.

When I reached the main road which leads to Chanapora, I saw that it was cordoned off by the CRPF and Jammu and Kashmir police. A CRPF man stopped me for checking and asked me to show my press card and curfew pass. I showed him my identity card and he asked me to go back home. “Go and enjoy with your girl friend,” one CRPF person gently told me, “instead of going to Lone Mohalla.” That was the mohalla I was going to in Chanapora. I protested, and few minutes later the police sub-inspector allowed me to go to the spot.

But reaching there was the toughest job due to the curfew. The roads and streets were deserted except for a few police and paramilitary vehicles. Burned tyres, broken window panes and stones filled the roads. The road looked more like a dustbin. Shops were closed and a security person took guard on every nook and corner. As I was walking, all that followed me was my shadow, and sometimes shadows of pigeons and other birds, under the harsh sunlight. While walking through the lanes of Lone Mohalla, I saw a young boy washing blood on the road. It was the spot where Iqbal was shot.

Finally I took a route through a small lane with many zig zags. The lanes were also deserted, women opened their windows silently and closed them instantly, doors and curtains of the houses were all closed. Silence prevailed.

Using many alternative routes through the congested lanes, I finally reached Lone Mohalla. The situation in Lone Mohalla was entirely different. A large number of people old and young, especially women and children, were shouting anti-India slogans. The protesters were pelting stones on the security forces. When the forces were not able to control the situation, they started aerial firing and teargas shelling. I took my camera and started to shoot from the protestors’ side. While shooting, one of my relative, who resided in the same area, pulled my shirt and dragged me inside her house and insisted on me not to cover what was happening. 

I spent a few minutes in the house and managed to escape from there, when she went to the kitchen to get tea for me. I was the only person with a camera in my hand and couldn’t see any other photojournalist covering the situation. Suddenly I saw two photojournalists shooting from the other side; I managed to cross the road. While crossing, I saw that the police and paramilitary crawling like ants. Two police personals were behind a giant Chinar tree. They had kept a squared mirror on which they used to keep an eye on the protestors. Using the mirror for direction, they shot teargas canisters and pellets on the protestors.

I was reminded of Iqbal, and went to his house. Iqbal was a 19-year-old boy who had left his studies and worked as a salesman. On 30 July 2010, when Iqbal was going to buy biscuits from a shop near his home, he was shot in the head by CRPF troopers outside his home. Iqbal received fatal injuries on his eye and neck. He was first rushed to the SMHS hospital but they were unable to operate. Later, he was shifted to SKIMS for specialized treatment. Doctors declared Iqbal was in a state of coma. Six days later, he was still in coma in the surgical intensive care on bed number 6 in SKIMS.

Iqbal’s house was a simple, single storey house. As I stepped into the room, I was filled with the smell of tears and grief. Everybody present there was crying incessantly and I found myself engulfed in a gloomy atmosphere. Someone pointed towards a woman, telling me that she was Iqbal’s mother, Hafeeza. She was not crying. There were no tears in her eyes, yet one could see the utter grief in her eyes. I had camera in my hand and when I looked at Iqbal’s mother, she spread her hands before me and was pleading for justice for her son. I clicked a portrait of grief but couldn’t dare look straight at Iqbal’s mother. She was silent, nothing moved her, and she looked like a statue. The neighbours were trying to console the family and I remembered that somebody had told me that Iqbal’s mother was deaf. I was in a shock, completely lost. But questions were cropping up in my mind.

The woman was deaf. When did she come to know about her son being shot? Who told her that he was in coma?

Look around in the room, I saw a person sitting in a corner. His hands were full of blood. The room smelt of blood and tears. I asked someone about him and I was told that he was the Iqbal’s elder brother. With bloodied hands, with a grim look, he was holding a picture of Iqbal. Iqbal’s father, Abdul Majeed Khan had died a year before leaving behind his wife Hafeeza Begum and five children. The dramatic play of the sun and shadows went on all until twilight.I left Iqbal’s house and went home.

 Six days later, I heard the shocking news: Iqbal was dead. It was the 55th day of the unrest. Iqbal had remained in coma until he died, or until he was killed. He was the 47th innocent killed. Iqbal had fought for six days before he gave up his last battle.

Iqbal’s body was brought to Chanapora. It was a Wednesday evening. Grief and sadness descended all over. Hundreds of people took to the streets and staged pro-freedom demonstrations. The local and international press faced a lot of harassment as they were not allowed to cover the funeral procession. But they somehow managed to come from alternative routes to reach the spot. People from the adjoining areas like Nowgam, Budshah Nagar, Mehjoor Nagar, Natipora, Kralpaora and Bagh-e-Mehtab also joined the procession. Iqbal’s dead body was taken to the open ground for a few hours where thousands of people gathered shouting pro-freedom and anti-India slogans.
“Go India, go back! Hum kya chahte? Azadi… We want freedom!”

It was dusk when Iqbal was buried. His brother was wailing along the narrow lanes of the Mohalla. Soon, he fell unconscious. One of the women courageously carried water and kept his head in her lap and put water in his mouth with a spoon.

Curfew was imposed by the authorities in various places but despite the strict curfew, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Kashmir’s Islamist, pro-freedom leader, came to attend the funeral of Iqbal and offered a nimaz-e-jinazah for him. After the jinazah, Geelani sahib delivered a speech in front of thousands of people:
“Indian atrocities will not sustain for long. God will help us fight against this oppression. We only stage peaceful protests and our youth are always unarmed. Do not throw stones.”People were filled with emotion, looking at him, thoughtfully.I clicked some more pictures and headed towards home as it was getting dark. There were no vehicles, curfew remained imposed. I started to walk.

It was 8pm and every one was going home discussing politics, the Indian brutality, human right violations of the 90s. Some were discussing the thought-provoking speech of Syed Ali Shah Geelani. As I was returning home by the main road, I saw a woman walking with a milk pot and I thought police and paramilitary must have gone. But I was wrong, they had not gone but they were hiding behind walls.

While walking I met three strangers. I somehow started a conversation with them and we stopped at an electric pole for a few minutes under the yellow light. Suddenly a group of CRPF and some police personnel appeared in front of us, asking us to raise our hands. It was shocking, we were frightened. We raised our hands in confusion. Some of the troopers, speaking in Bengali, ordered us to bend down. But, unable to understand the language properly, we couldn’t get what we were being asked to do. They took their thick wooden rods and started beating us up. We were crying in pain.

After the troopers were done with thrashing us, one of the policemen who had covered his face in a green cloth with a white crescent, and what looked very similar to a Pakistani flag, asked us to go across the road. He then asked us to bend down. He then caught me and started rolling the rod over my thighs. I was dying in pain, my whole body aching. I wondered why they were doing all this. Perhaps they thought I was a protester.

I started crying out, telling them that I was a journalist. But as they heard those words – I am a journalist – they were enraged even more and started to beat me more ruthlessly. “You people report only one side, and never our side,” said one of them. My cries made no difference, and they continued rolling the rod. Finally, they stopped.

Around 8:30 pm, a CRPF vehicle came. I got very nervous and thought they would now carry us to the army camp. A senior official was seated in the vehicle and he told the security personnel to leave us. For a moment, we were all paralyzed. Would they shoot us now, on our backs? The fear prevented us from moving. We remained stagnant. The official told us to go or else they’d again beat us up. We walked a few step and looked back. We walked a few more steps, looking back nervously, fearing they would shoot us any moment. We started to walk faster and faster and until we stopped looking back and finally reached the Natipora chowk.

As I stopped, I could listen to my heart beating fast. The pain was killing me.We spotted a house and went inside and asked for water. But as they saw our condition, they asked us to stay for a while and gave us medicines. We left the house a while later. I realised that the other two men belonged to the same area. Shouting anti-India slogans, they headed for their homes. I somehow managed to reach my home too.
I didn’t tell my parents about the incident and went straight to my room. I called my younger brother, Junaid, and told him what had happened. He quickly brought some ice cubes and wrapped them in a cotton cloth and began massaging around my wounds. I slowly began feeling some relief and fell asleep.Those moments haunt me even today. Memories just don’t fade away.

Whenever I go to cover protests, the incident comes alive in front of my eyes. And questions crop up in my mind. Why did the “security” forces beat us up that day? How long will the “security” forces keep killing people?