On Sunday morning, his cousin sister saw him running down the stairs in the double-storey house, and asked, “Where are you going?”

Even a few moments before, he had tried to escape, but the attempt was foiled by his cousin. But it was only after his friend and classmate, Raqib Ahmad, came running to his house, and told him about the encounter in the nearby village.

Suriya Jan, his uncle’s daughter, who lives in the same house, saw him tying the laces of shoes; getting ready to flee through a narrow alley on the side of the house.

Uzair Mushtaq Dar, 13-year-old schoolboy, replied to his elder sister, “I have to go to a friend’s house to get notes for my exams. Please, give me my Aadhar Card.”

Jan, 24-year-old sister, pleaded him to not go anywhere else. The entire conversation was constantly punctuated by the noise of the ongoing gunfight nearby.

The exchange of fire between government forces and trapped militants started around 4:30am in the Laroo village of Kulgam district of South Kashmir; the place about a kilometer away from Uzair’s house in Reshipora. The gunfight went on for over next five hours.

Walking away from the house, standing a few steps away from her, Uzair said, “Zan Chalawan Mey Gooel (As if they will shoot at me).”

Water was the last thing he asked for in the ambulance

Large number of youth had gathered near the encounter site, triggering the clashes with the government forces. The gunfight ended with the killing of three Jaish-e-Mohammad militants – Zubair Lone, Shahid Tantray and Yazil Makroo, all from South Kashmir, and the forces left.

kulgam, srinagar, kulgam, gunfight, kashmir
Uzair Mushtaq Dar, 13-year-old schoolboy who was killed on 21 October 2018 near the gunfight site in Kulgam. Photograph arranged by family.

Soon, the site was thronged by locals, mostly youth. The silence of ideal mourning was outburst by the flames of stray explosives.

Mushtaq Ahmad Dar, 38, Uzair’s father, was at their paddy fields when his wife, Shafiqa Bano, told him that their son is not home. “He left early morning for his friend’s place,” said the mother.

In the following few minutes, the noise of explosion shook the neighborhood. “I was told that he got injured near the encounter site. By the time I rushed towards the hospital, he was already referred to Srinagar,” said the father.

While a few had received shotgun pellet and bullet injuries during the clashes, dozens were injured in the explosion too. Among the injured seven civilians lost their battle to life.

Uzair Mushtaq Dar was one of them; and youngest of all to fall.

Uzair, with visible severe injuries on head, was picked by locals from near the site, and was shifted to a hospital in Srinagar. The hospital, SMHS, was receiving injured youth whole day from Kulgam; Uzair was just one of them. While many survived, water was the last thing Uzair asked for in the ambulance before dying. He was declared brought dead.

“I saw him at morning but now he was dead in front me”

“There were two bullet marks at his right side of the head,” said Dar, the father, with moist eyes. “His eyes were half open when I saw my son. I couldn’t understand what was happening. I had seen him at morning but now he was dead, right in front of me.”

The class 8 student at Simnaniya High School in Kulgam, Uzair was sitting for his first paper of annual examination, Urdu, four days later. It was for the preparation of his upcoming examination, that he had returned from his maternal home.

Being the only son among daughters in the joint family of his three uncles, everyone had high expectations from him. Sitting outside the house, on the parapet, his 9-year-old younger sister, Tanzeela Jan, was struggling to hold her tears. “What will I do now? O brother, please come back,” wailed Jan.

Uzair would spend most of his time at home, even when there would be protests outside. “But today I don’t know what made him to go there,” said Suriya. Being a gadget geek, he would repair electronic gadgets in his idle time. It was this hobby that would make him feel closer to his aim of becoming an engineer.

For the family of three uncles, he was the only hope, as one of his uncle recalls of him being an adventurous and sober child. “It was our only hope for three brothers as we don’t have any boy except him,” sighed Abdul Rasheed, his uncle.

uzair mushtaq dar, kulgam gunfight, kashmir
Shafiqa Bano, 36, mother (in center) and her daughter Tanzeela Jan, wailing over her son Uzair Mushtaq Dar, 13, who was killed at the Kulgam gunfight on 21 October 2018. Photograph by Bhat Burhan for The Kashmir Walla

“Did you get the freedom? Oh! My martyr”

Back at their home, rooms were filled with female mourners, wailing over his death. Among them, one was his mother, 36-year-old Shafiqa, sitting with turmeric pasted on her forehead, in a small semi-dark room.

“The moment I heard that many people had got killed near the gunfight site, my heart ached as I was waiting for him since morning. If I had known he will go there, I would have never allowed him,” screamed Shafiqa, amid echoing wails.

Among the mourners in the room, Suriya, his cousin, was there too; the cousin at whom he had smiled that morning before leaving. “I can still see your last glimpse. Who will call my name again and again,” she murmered.

Echoing wails took over the room.

Beating her chest, the mother wailed recalling her son, “Bi ha Lagaiy Timan Qitaaban Janano (I will give my life for your books, Oh my love!), Kitab ha che herken tethai peth Uzair-oo, wala per ta uzair-o (Your books are lying there upstairs, Uzair, Come and study Oh my Uzair)”

While gloom spread across the Valley on Sunday, seven civilians and three militants, all from South Kashmir, were buried in the series of funerals. At Uzair’s funeral, youth raised pro-freedom and anti-India slogans, vowing to fight back.

“How much blood do we have to spill?,” asked his Uncle, Rasheed, to a room full of mourners after returning from the burial. “When will this war end? How much blood will this earth be drenched with? How many Uzair’s will they kill? Doesn’t their conscience questions them for what they are doing here? They have come here only to kill our generations.”

As more women were coming to see his mother downstairs in the room, women made way for his aunt, who had just arrived after hearing the news. As she stepped into the room, she beat her chest and screamed,

“Did you get the freedom? Oh! My martyr.”

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