Over three hundred young boys have been killed in Kashmir over the past seven years after a new wave of pro-freedom mass protests broke out here. Some of them have been targetted while they were throwing stones at soldiers. Some of them have been killed for being part of the protests. Some others have just been passerby—at the wrong place, at the wrong time. Kashmir Narrator photojournalist Faisal Khan spoke to the families of four young boys killed by the soldiers’ firing. He photographed rooms of the dead boys and their belongings which have become treasured relics of remembrance for the families of these boys who left never to return.
Politics, placards and a dead son
Tufail Matoo, 17, was killed at Rajouri Kadal on 11 June 2010 when police fired a tear gas canister at him, hitting him in the head. Tufail was returning to his home from his tuitions. Tufail would spend most of the time in this room at his maternal residence at Nawa Kadal preparing for the medical entrance examinations. This room remains mostly locked now. It has become a pilgrimage site of sorts for the family. “It is very precious for us,” says Tufail’s father Mohammad Ashraf Matoo. The family has put all the placards protesting Tufail’s killing in his room. “When we feel his absence, we unlock this room,” says Ashraf. “Even his friends come here whenever they feel Tufail’s absence.”
When Tufail used to leave for school, he would ask his grandmother for some pocket money. “When I will start earning, I will repay you all the pocket money,” Tufail’s family recalls him telling his granny. That day was never to come.
Fridays,dreams and a Harry Potter schoolbag
Zahid Farooq, 17, was killed on 5 February 2010 at Nishat when BSF troopers fired at him while he was playing cricket with his friends.
Zahid would turn his room into a playing field when his friends would come to see him. “Whatever they would do, we would never use a harsh word for him or his friends. He was our only son,” says Zahid’s mother Parveena.
For Parveena, Fridays bring the tragedy of Zahid’s loss back to her–in real life and in dreams. Parveena says Zahid often appears in her dreams on Friday nights. Zahid was killed on Friday. “Whenever Friday sermons begin in any mosque my whole body trembles with fear.
“I used to weep a lot after we lost Zahid,” she says. Then a relative came over and told her that he saw Zahid in a dream telling him to “tell my mother to stop weeping for me because here they aren’t allowing me to offer Namaz.” “Since then I don’t weep,” she says. “But how can a mother bear the loss of her only son?”
After Zahid’s death all his belongings were locked away from sight-from his computer to clothes. “The only things we have are his coat, pants and a schoolbag still full of books.” Zahid’s sister has stored these things away. She was reluctant to show his brother’s belongings. Parveena says Zahid was a sober boy, “but whenever anyone abused him, he would get furious and it was difficult to control him.” She says the military personnel had abused him before shooting him dead.
Teddy bears and flying kicks
Umar Qayoom, 17, was picked up by men in uniform from Soura and tortured in custody. He suffered internal injuries during torture and succumbed on 25 August 2010 at SKIMS. Umar was a taekwondo player and had won several medals in different competitions. Umar’s family has stored away all these medals in a cardboard box. The box has never been opened after Umar’s death. I asked very hesitantly to see these medals knowing that would make the family relive the tragedy all over again. Umar’s sister Nahida was brave enough to put them on display in Umar’s room along with a teddy bear—the first time after Umar’s death.
Umar’s another sister Urziba says he was afraid of protests and stone pelting. “He would lock himself up in his room whenever protests and stone pelting broke out,” recalls Urziba.
Umar didn’t know that’s what will get him in the end.
Medals and memories
Wamiq Farooq was just 13 when he was killed on 31 January 2010 at Rainawari. Wamiq’s room is adorned with the medals and other awards he had won after competing in different school debates and sports events. “Wamiq was a superb cricketer. Cricket was his life,” says his father Farooq Ahmad. Wamiq was laid to rest with two cricket balls in his pocket as a humble tribute to his cricketing talent.
The family remembers this young soul as a Good Samaritan even at that tender age. Wamiq used to help his neighbors and passersby. “Once in the scorching summer heat Wamiq saw a lady carrying a kerosene canister. He took it from her and carried it all the way to her home,” recalls Farooq.
Coming from a poor family Wamiq had already chalked out some plans for the family. “He used to tell me: ‘Papa, don’t worry I will help you when I will start earning, I will pay your debts,’” Farooq recalls Wamiq telling him.
Farooq is constantly confronted by a question that parents of all the dead boys have asked and found no answers: Why did they kill my son?
There will be no answers to this question. And there will be no closure for these parents.