Faizan's friends recount the killing of their intimate friend, his memory and the souvenir they will preserve forever.
Some fifty kilometers southwest of Srinagar, after a hilly terrain bedecked with mustard fields and expansive almond orchards and wedged in between two small hills lies Hardu Dalwan village in Budgam district, where on the 9th April, two teenagers were killed by the CRPF.
As I entered the village, a mournful silence welcomed me; the people of the village, sitting on shop fronts, by the road side, or in the courtyards of homes betrayed sadness on their faces.
The government high school, which lies adjacent to the only primary health centre of the village, and is situated in the middle of the village, is almost deserted baring a few young boys who are milling about in the open ground facing the school.
The status of the school in the mindscape of village has changed irrevocably for the villagers, especially the boys and girls; from the center of education and learning to the memorabilia of the day when the CRPF fired bullets from its rooms and killed two boys of the village just forty meters away.
“This school building will always be witness to the injustice that happened in this village” says an elderly man, a local of the village.
The boys milling about in the courtyard are discussing and recreating the scenes about the day of 9th April. Among them two boys are vocal and they are the ones who talk most, other boys listen intently to these two. As it turned out, the two boys are the intimate friends of one of the killed, Faizan Ahmed Dar.
Basit Fayaz is an eager looking fifteen year old, who vividly remembers the way his friend Faizan Fayaz Dar fell to the bullets of CRPF on the day of Indian parliamentary elections on April 9. Basit, like his slain friend, is a 9th standard student at the government school, which housed the only two polling booths in the village.
Basit recollects the happenings of that morning with very little effort. “They fired many bullets but only one hit him. He was shot in the head, at around 10:20 am. His whole face was smeared with blood,” Basit told me as he begins to recount the details of the fateful day when he lost his “aadinuk yaar (intimate friend)”.
Tears well up in his eyes as he tells me about his friend and in this process he put his right hand in the pocket of his Pheran and drew out a piece of cloth, freshly torn, with its loose threads dangling in the air and wiped his tears.
“This,” referring to the piece of cloth in his hand “is the last token that my friend gave me. It is a part of him, his memory. It is a gift from the friend who couldn’t make it and was martyred prematurely,” he says amid subdued sobs.
On the morning of April 9, 2017, a group of boys, mostly teenagers assembled on the road just forty meters away from government high school of village Hardu Dalwan, some 35 kilometres from main Budgam town and started shouting anti –India and pro- freedom slogans. Inside the high school, a platoon of the CRPF and JK Police were stationed to provide “security” to the polling booth which was functional in the premises of the high school.
As the sloganeering intensified, Basit Fayaz came out of his home and joined the protesters.
After some time, he saw his friend Faizan on the road, who was holding a Quran in his hand and was on his way to attend Quranic lessons at a local darsgah (religious seminary) and he hands him a kerchief to cover his face.
“He told me that this kerchief will save you from tear smoke and identifying you. I took it from him and told him that I will return it later”, says Basit. He pauses for a moment, lost.
“But I was never able to return that kerchief to him” Basit adds mournfully.
About an hour later, when Faizan had returned from his religious lessons, he found himself at the same spot where the boys had assembled to protest and suddenly there was firing in which a bullet hit Faizan’s head and his body fell on the ground.
Among those who watched Faizan fell to the bullets is his childhood friend Muntazir Gul, a fifteen year old boy who is a childhood friend of Faizan and his school mate.
“I heard the sound of ear splitting gun-shots and next I saw was Faizan lying on the ground,” says Muntazir.
In this chaos, Muntazir ran towards his falling friend trying to lift him up but a volley of bullets forced him to trace back his steps. In a matter of minutes, as if a massacre was playing out on a theatre screen, Muntazir saw another youth Mohammad Abbas Rather being hit with a bullet – again, in his head. Abbas, 17, a local of the same village, was the second young boy who was killed in a span of few minutes on that bleak April morning.
Muntazir and Basit were close friends of the slain Faizan and both want to keep the memory of their departed friend close to their hearts.
Basit attaches holiness to the tattered cloth and keeps the fabric close to himself as a “token of his friend” and when he revealed this piece of cloth to Muntazir, he asked him to share the “memory of their departed friend”.
Muntazir says that after Basit revealed the piece of cloth, they went to the spot near by an acacia tree on the road side and “pledged not to forget Faizan or his martyrdom” and there they ceremoniously tore the kerchief in three parts, while weeping and chanting the name of their friend.
“We tore it into three parts, one for me, one for Basit and one for Faizan” says Muntazir.
As both of them took the two torn shreds of the kerchief, they however were in dilemma on what to do with the third part. “Initially, we thought we will tie the third torn piece of kerchief to the tree where Faizan was martyred but later we decided not to do that as it will not be safe there,” says Muntazir.
The two friends deliberated for sometime where to put the third torn shred of the kerchief but they were not reaching any conclusive decision.
In the evening of that day, they went to the home of their friend and the “painful question” asked by the mother of Faizan resolved their quest for where to put the third torn shred.
Muntazir says that Faizan’s mother embraced them both and kept repeating, ‘where have you kept Faizan, why doesn’t he return with you?’
It was there, says Basit that a thought occurred to him that his new home is his grave and that will be the place where they can return his share of the kerchief.
“We wanted it to be returned to him. He is not dead but he has fallen asleep in the grave and when he will wake up, he will see we didn’t forget him and we always love him,” says Basit.
The two friends got a small bottle of attar and sprinkled attar all over the torn kerchief and discreetly went to the graveyard and scratched the earth from Faizan’s grave with their bare fingers and buried it there.
The two friends say that they will keep the pieces of the kerchief with them throughout their lives and will keep on “fighting against India” and the memory of their friend will always “encourage” them to fight.
Besides the torn kerchief, there are a few other ‘things’ of Faizan which lie with his other friends and which have achieved a status of “tabrook” for them.
Asif Ahmed Ganie, another friend of Faizan, has deflated the volley ball that belonged to Faizan, two days after Faizan’s death and has kept it “hidden from himself”.
He says he and Faizan used to play with the same volley ball and after Faizan’s killing every time he used to look at the ball, he would weep.
“Looking at the ball was too painful. It always reminded me of his serves. I decided I will hide it. I don’t want to believe that he is no more” says Asif.
Asif says that he does not know whether he will play volleyball again – which his slain friend Faizan loved very much – because he “wants to forget him”.
“Maybe I will never play volley ball again”, he says.
The death of Faizan has, like in his friends, reinforced the resolve to ‘fight for Azadi’ among other boys of the village too.
Near the spot where Faizan was killed, I met a dozen boys, most of them classmates of Faizan.
Umer Ahmed, a twelve year old boy, says that Kashmir’s are harassed everywhere and the lives of the people are under threat due to the assault of India.
“I too want to pelt stones at army and police. We are not safe in our homes. The only solution is Azadi” he says.
Junaid Bashir, another eleven year old kid from the village, says that there are no rights in Kashmir and that the people are being killed “like sheep”. He says that in future he will pelt stones at army and if he can get a gun he will join militants and will prefer to “achieve martyrdom than to live like a slave”.
“In any case I will be killed like Faizan. I do not fear death now. What is there to fear? They can kill anyone,” he says. The more Junaid talks, the more resolve he furnishes.
The boys of the village in this remote corner of Budgam have serious and profound questions on their mind and with the fresh memories of atrocities cast on their mind; there doesn’t appear any closure for their desire for ‘Azadi’.
As perhaps a last word, Junaid has some questions to the chief minister Mehbooba Mufti.
“What had Faizan done that you killed him? Why did you shot him with bullets? He never harmed anyone. Do you have a heart? Why do you blind so many kids? ” trails out Junaid..