Hazim Shafi Bhat (14) of Khaipora, Handwara, in Kashmir’s Kupwara district is the first civilian who has died during a militant attack and retaliation thereto from the security forces after the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution on 5 August 2019, if one goes by the official version that the two youths killed in Awantipora and Kulgam encounters in April were “terrorist associates.”
Hazim was bleeding and was found dead after some unidentified militants killed three Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel and left two more of the paramilitary force injured in an attack in broad daylight at the Wangam crossing between Khaipora, Watirgam and Kralgund villages in Qaziabad area of Handwara on Monday, 4 May.
Official versions kept changing with every passing hour till late in the night when it was confirmed by both CRPF as well as the Jammu and Kashmir Police that the youth killed in the militant attack was a civilian, 14 years of age. No arms or ammunition were found around his body or in his possession.
“Among four of my children, he was my only son. I had dreams of getting him higher education that were all shattered yesterday,” Mohammad Shafi Bhat (40), Hazim’s father, said.
“As usual, he was at the apple orchard with some 10-15 boys scattering fertilisers in the fields. As they heard the gunshots, they all ran away. Azim was mentally sound but physically he had a minor infirmity. He couldn’t run fast. He was attempting to run when he was shot dead, a couple of minutes after the militants had escaped,” the father added.
Hazim’s cousin Feroz Ahmad Bhat, a schoolteacher, said: “First the police and CRPF said that they had killed a terrorist. Then they said it was an unidentified civilian who carried no arms and ammunition. There’s no ambiguity in the fact that he was shot dead by the CRPF after the militants killed three jawans.”
‘Buried in the Militant Graveyard’
A Class 7 student at Noorul Huda Public High School, Khaipora, Hazim had three sisters, all younger to him. Zainab (10) is a Class 4 student at his school and Mehar Jan (8) is in Class 3. Maryam is just four years old. Their father has an orchard and some agricultural land. He also works as a part-time tailor. Their mother, Meema (35) is a housewife.
Mohammad Shafi Bhat said that he and others from his village made sustained requests to the police and civil administration to hand over his son’s body to the family so that the last rites could be held at the local graveyard, but the authorities turned down their requests.
“We argued that he was not a militant or a militant associate and shouldn’t be treated like a militant. We assured them that only a small number of relatives and family members would be present. But they didn’t listen to anybody, to any argument. They said as per the new law they were supposed to conduct the burial of everybody killed during an encounter or militant attack at Sheeri in Baramulla district. In the morning today (Tuesday), the Tehsildar and SHO allowed 10-15 members of our family, relatives and neighbours who attended Hazim’s funeral at Sheeri, about 50 kilometres from here,” Bhat added.
Local Inquiry Being Conducted
Additional Director General, CRPF, Zulfikar Hassan maintained that the teenager had died in an exchange of gunfire. He said the cause of death and the boy’s background were “a matter of investigation, which the police will find out and tell you.”
He refuted reports that the militants had taken away arms and ammunition of the slain CRPF men. Asked about the family’s allegation that the body had been taken away and buried at a far-off place where only the militants were interred, Hassan said it could be verified from the police. “We don’t conduct funerals. That’s not our job,” he told The Quint.
Kupwara Deputy Commissioner Anshul Garg asserted that the body “was handed over to the family” but at a different location. According to him, it was because of the COVID-19 protocol that the burial was not permitted at the local graveyard.
“Had we handed over the body to the family and permitted the burial at the local graveyard, too many people would have gathered there. It was an emotional issue. It would have been difficult to limit the gathering. So we decided to permit the funeral rites at a distant place. We handed over the body to them and they themselves carried out the last rites. Some 18 to 20 family members and relatives were present,” the Kupwara DC said.
He disclosed that “a local inquiry” was being conducted into the circumstances that led to the teenager’s death during the encounter.
(The writer is a Srinagar-based journalist. He can be reached @ahmedalifayyaz.)