What Deaths of Kashmiri Children by Gunfire Should Tell the Govt
What did little Muskan and Andleeb do to die so young? They just happened to live near a conflict zone.
On the cold morning of 22 November, 14-year-old Muskan Nabi Wani woke up to ear-shattering gunshots in Wanigund in Redwani village, 68 km south of Srinagar. Muskan flung her quilt and clambered out of her bed. As she peeked through the half-open window to see what was going on, she fell on the ground and screamed, “Mummy me kya gov” (What happened to me, Mummy?).
On hearing the piercing shrieks of her daughter, 45-year-old Yasmeena Banu who was preparing morning tea, rushed to the room. Muskan was lying on the floor. She was bleeding profusely. A bullet had hit the right side of Muskan’s head.
Muskan Succumbs to Her Injuries
Yasmeena grabbed her own hair in distress and hurriedly descended the stairs to inform her family. “Muskan janas aaw fire (Muskan was hit by a bullet),” Yasmeena screamed. Everyone in the family gathered and rushed Muskan to the district hospital in Anantnag, where doctors referred her to Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) hospital, Srinagar.
Muskan was injured when there was an exchange of gunfire, only 600 metres from her home, between militants and government forces. According to eyewitnesses, the firing lasted for only 5 minutes.
“It all happened within minutes. We don’t know who fired on whom,” said Ghulam Nabi Wani, Muskan’s father.
Inside the ambulance Muskan was repeatedly asking for water. Her injury was itching. She wanted to scratch it. “The wound was hurting her. She also wanted to drink water, but doctors had given us precautions,” said Yaseema. “Near Pampore, before Muskan went into a coma, she murmured Kalima.”
Doctors at SMHS put Muskan on the ventilator. Her family members including Nabi and Yasmeena were wringing their hands in despair, pacing frantically across the hospital corridor. Muskan died within that night. The doctors informed the family the following day, that Muskan had succumbed to her injuries.
Life After Death
“We were praying the whole night. Nobody could get a wink of sleep. It was a painful night,” said Nabi. “We cried our hearts out. We had lost our only daughter. Like every parent, we had many dreams about her. They are all shattered now.”
When Muskan’s remains reached her village, hundreds of mourners including her teachers and schoolmates were waiting to take part in her last rites.
Muskan was buried in a graveyard in front of her house. “What could be more painful than this? Our daughter is close to us, but she is resting under mounds of mud and stone,” said Nabi, pointing at her grave.
Apart from helping her mother with household work and maintaining the kitchen garden, Muskan was a bright student of Sir Syed Memorial School, Qaimoh. She had recently passed her Class 9 exams with a 57 percent.
Since Muskan’s death, her classmates have become gloomy and despondent. They were missing their batchmate and loving friend. “We used to sit, play and eat lunch together. Our Kashmir has become a difficult place to live. I sometimes feel in a class, that Muskan is sitting beside me,” said Muskan’s classmate, wishing to remain anonymous.
These days, Muskan’s father Nabi is busy building a new house.
A Plea for Justice
After Muskan’s death, the chairman of the International Forum for Justice and Human Rights (IFJHR), Muhammad Ahsan Untoo, and another human rights activist Zeenat Mushtaq, filed a petition with the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC), seeking a report on what led to the killing of Muskan.
On 3 December, in response to the joint petition, chairman of SHRC, Bilal Nazki issued a notice to the superintendent of police and deputy commissioner of Kulgam, to submit a detailed compliance report before the commission, regarding Muskan’s killing.
“Nobody can expect justice in Kashmir, and we don’t need any compensation from the government,” said Nabi. “For decades we have been losing our kids, and the State always replaces justice with compensation.”
Another Child’s Death By the Gun
Around three kilometres away from Nabi’s house in the same village, grief and anger still clutch the heart of 45-year-old Ali Mohammad Alai every time he thinks about 7 July 2018 when he lost his 12-year-old daughter Andleeb Ali. Andleeb was shot down by government forces near an alleyway, a few meters from her house. Besides Andleeb, the same day, two other young boys, namely Shakir Ahmad Khanday and Irshad Ahmad Lone were also killed. 21-year-old Shakir happened to be Andleeb’s cousin.
The villagers said that, that day the government forces had entered Redwani village in the morning. The army vehicles had been pelted with stones near the government high school. The school officials had reported that, while chasing the protestors, the army had entered the school and grabbed a teacher’s mobile phone, and picked up a Class 9 student who was attending a lecture.
More Deaths By the Gun
“Some outsiders pelted stones at the Army. They escaped through the school lawn,” said a school official, on condition of anonymity. “The Army dragged one of our students inhumanly.” When the villagers heard about the school incidents, they gathered and staged a protest near Anbleeb’s house. As per eyewitnesses, the Army opened fire on protesters, and 22-year-old Irshad Ahmad Lone got seriously injured.
Andleeb’s cousin Shakir, the family said, was walking home from a nearby graveyard. He tried to retrieve Irshad’s body along with other villagers. The Army opened fire again, and this time Shakir was hit.
“As Andleeb has no brother, she was very close to Shakir. When we heard Shakir was lying on the road in a pool of blood, our female members went outside to pick him up,” said Ali. “Andleeb took a glass of water with her. When they reached the spot, the Army opened fire again. Bullets hit Andleeb on her right thigh.”
When Andleeb fell to the ground, she grabbed her 16-year-old sister Khusboo Jan’s leg. “Andleeb was bleeding profusely,” said Khushboo.
After Andleeb’s death, Khushboo has gone through intermittent bouts of depression and shock, having lost her dear friend and loving sister.
“Khushboo was most affected by Andleeb’s killing. They were more friends than sisters. She is still in shock, and sometimes becomes unconscious when reminding of the scene,” says Ali.
No Hope for Justice
On the same day as Andleeb’s killing, the chairman of IFJHR, Muhammad Ahsan Untoo approached the SHRC to seek an investigation into the details of the killing of the minor. He filed the petition identified under SHRC /227Klgm/2018.
On 4 October, three months after Andleeb’s killing, the Jammu and Kashmir Police, in response to a petition filed by Untoo, informed the SHRC that a “16-year-old girl named Andleeb Jan was part of an unruly mob and the soldiers fired in self-defence”.
The police response also states that the concerned police station of the area received reliable information that a patrolling party of the Army was pelted with stones by an “unruly mob” who were carrying lathis (sticks), and they intended to kill the soldiers.
Like Nabi, Ali has no hope for justice. “How could anyone expect justice from those who even mentioned the wrong age for my daughter? Andleeb was only 12,” says Ali. “I had already told everyone including police that my daughter was not a part of any unruly mob.” Ali has recently received a discharge certificate for Andleeb, and school officials have mentioned that she was born on 15 December 2006.
Andleeb was a good student, and passed Class 6 from Government Middle School, Akbarabad, with 66.40 percent. “Andleeb was an active girl. She used to take part in school quizzes and sports as well,” said Zahoor Ahmad Malik, Andleeb’s teacher. “She was good in mathematics too.”
Since Andleeb’s killing, Ali has kept the key to her cupboard with himself. He has kept Andleeb’s clothes, books and schoolbag inside it.
Nabi, late Muskan’s father, hopes to decorate his daughter’s grave a bit more, while Ali visits Andleeb’s grave every day, to pray for her soul.
(Aamir Ali Bhat is a Kashmir-based freelance journalist. He regularly writes for 'The New Arab' and other local organisations. The views expressed here are that of the author. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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