One thing that has haunted this Kashmiri father in last eight years was the hide and seek, which he used to play with his only son. Trying to hide the emotions the father took a breath and said, “Whenever he [son] would return to home, I used to hide behind a door. The moment I would see him, I would jump and grab him.”
But, now, life has changed for him as the son is no more around.
“I don’t play hide and seek now,” he adds, after a brief pause.
In his 60s, Ashraf Mattoo, sitting in a room of his in-laws house in the narrow lanes of downtown Srinagar, is recalling 11 June 2010, when eight-years back, he lost his only son or as he calls it, his world – Tufail Ashraf Mattoo.
“Someone approached my elder brother saying Tufail has been injured on the street,” said Mattoo, who had then left to take his son to a hospital.
The moment he, along with his wife, Rubina Mattoo, reached the spot; as narrated by Mattoo, the lane was full of people like there was a flood. The couple was astonished as they saw the crowd on the wide and long road of state’s summer capital.
Here in the room, resting his back against the wall behind him, Mattoo said, “The road was full of people, but it seemed like there was no one. There was pin-drop silence.”
His 17-year-old son was dead.
A tear gas shell pierces into his head
That day Tufail was returning from his tuition classes around 7pm, and a few meters away from the nearby protest “men in uniform” chased down the young boy to hit a teargas shell. As the terror of teargas shell travelled across the street near Gani Stadium next to Srinagar’s Grand Mosque, the locals came to see the young boy, laying on the street, with a school bag on his shoulder, the pieces of his brain splattered in the mud.
The authorities asked Tufail’s family to take the body and bury but the grieving father denied and asked for the autopsy. “That made them follow the procedure, otherwise my son would have been eluded of the justice only back then,” said Mattoo.
For Tufail’s father, it doesn’t matter what killed his son, either a bullet, pellet or teargas shell, what he knows and has been crying from last eight years in front of every official body is that his only “child was innocent and the Jammu and Kashmir police officials are responsible.”
The functionality of various institutions involved in the case has indicated to Mattoo that democracy has only helped the “rapist, killers and molesters to grow.” “They are not humans, our children are been brutally killed while returning home at evening and their killers are being awarded promotions. Is this humanity?” he asks.
Tufail is buried in two different graveyards. When teargas shell hit his head, locals collected the scattered part of his head and buried them in the corner of Gani Memorial Stadium inside a small grave. The rest of the body was taken to Eidgah.
Manifesto of political parties – “Kill the innocents”
With the setting sun, the whole Srinagar would be on the streets, to protest the killing of the young child. But unaware of the approaching catastrophe, the then chief minister Omar Abdullah governed forces would use inhumane methods to crush the protests and end up killing more over 120 civilians, mostly teenagers like Tufail.
Infamously, it would scar the valley forever and be named the ‘2010 Kashmir uprising’.
For Mattoo, the manifesto of both the mainstream parties – National Conference (NC) and People’s Democratic Party (PDP), is same – “kill the innocents.”
“It is a genocide initiated by Omar Abdullah in 2010. If they would have delivered justice on time, the 2016-17 uprising would have never happened,” he said, talking about the civilian uprising back in 2010. “Now NC is showing their sympathy to people. Do they think people are stupid? No, they are not.”
As Mattoo said, the PDP and NC are different sides of the same coin and they are shame in the name of democracy. He calls state assembly a Mafia house. “Like it happens in Indian metro cities, a gangster would appear after the crime and ask everyone to stay silent and threaten them to kill otherwise. It is same here as well, just the forces are the gangster,” said Mattoo.
The long ordeal for justice
In the long struggle for justice, for Mattoo, the Police, the State Human Rights Commission, the CBI and every other institution that exist in such kind of cases, has deceived him. The government had constituted one man – Justice Retired Koul Commission, in investigate the 2010 civilian killings.
But surprisingly, the findings of the commission were never disclosed, the government citing reasons as: matter of security. The frustrated yet calm father said, “We also filed an RTI but they said, ‘We can’t reveal it.’ It is the matter of public awareness. If they can’t reveal the details of the investigation then what is the fun in establishing it in the first place?”
In the long lasting history of Kashmir conflict, only a handful of people are still fighting for justice, and Ashraf Mattoo is one of them. “Look,” said Mattoo, “I haven’t achieved anything in all these years of my struggle. The only thing that matters now is the job assigned to me by the almighty, to expose all of them and I will keep doing it.”
While looking at the conflict, back from his childhood, Mattoo recalled, “You lost your friend, somebody has lost his son, while someone lost his father. When the young eyes see such things, such brutal occupation by the state; it forces them to pick up stones and – guns.”
Everyone involved in shielding the guilty is also the murderer of my child, he said. “They will neither live a peaceful life nor would they die peacefully,” Mattoo dropped his Samsung phone, looked out of the window behind him and said, “They will die a lingering death. Insha-Allah. The shadow of martyrs will follow them to their grave.”
Mattoo had to shut his business to keep the struggle for justice alive for his son. In all these years, he has only travelled through lower court to high court and vice versa.
The family also refused the compensation of 5,00,000 rupees offered to them by the Central government, or as the family calls it, “the murderer of their son.”
“Tufail was my son but he belonged to Kashmir”
Is there any hope left? Mattoo stood up and started arranging the posters for the annual protest. He opened one of them which read, Shaheed Tufail Ashraf Mattoo, and he said, “It is up to the governments, I am standing here for justice as long as I am alive. Not only for Tufail but for the whole Kashmir.”
The white hair of Ashraf Mattoo has seen a lot of Kashmir. With the falling leaves in Autumn to glories of spring, he has wailed for eight years, in every season on the streets of the valley, but as the rest of the cases, the justice eludes.
Mattoo did not take part in the last funeral procession of his child, his everything. People said to him, “Don’t worry, we will take him to the graveyard.” As the gentleman said, he is highly indebted to the people who held Tufail on their shoulder. A boy, who was a stranger to them.
Mattoo’s conscience did not allow him to deceive the people of the valley. “Tufail was my son, but when he died, he belonged to Kashmir.”
“Was Tufail guilty? Was he carrying a stone or gun? What exactly happened to him?” asks the father. Apparently, these questions never haunted the father of the “martyred son.” What haunts him even now is not able to grab his son anymore – not hiding behind a door to surprise him.
Photographs by Syed Shahriyar
This story is the second part of a series “Remnants of Kashmir’s Dead”