It took seven days and the intervention of Chief Judicial Magistrate, Srinagar for Ashraf Mattoo to get the Jammu and Kashmir Police to register the killing of a 17-year-old son, Tufail Mattoo. The First Information Report numbered 45 of the year 2010 now matter more than his birth certificate.
As the case went to court, papers piled on top of it. Newspaper cuttings. Investigation reports. Unanswered letters to government officials and courts. Letters denying information sought under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. Court judgements. Personal biographies of and letters to an only child now dead.
Seventeen years of a human being’s life and the ten years after his death reduced to pieces of papers enveloped in a black faux leather folder that has become too heavy for the frail hands of Mr. Mattoo. Nothing much has changed in the last decade—cameras still frame him holding the same photo of Tufail, a long stare into the camera but his hair has greyed and his eyes have shed the anger.
The wrinkled face of a father fighting for justice now wears a hollow smile of anguish.
What was Tufail’s fault? I was angry, really angry at what they had done to my son. The police’s hands are soaked in blood. And rather than apologising, they had the audacity to blame protestors. Blame my son!
Tufail was killed when he was passing by the site of a protest—compounding the tragedy—over the killing of three civilians in a staged encounter just weeks before. His killing on 11 June 2010 sparked off protests that would eventually shape into Kashmir’s third summer of rage.
The void caused by losing his only child still haunts the Mattoo family. A printed seventeen-page biography of Tufail and his brief life at their residence – Khalil Manzil in Srinagar’s Saidakadal – is carefully placed in the folder, reflecting love but also deep agony. Mr. Mattoo has titled it “Shaheed Tufail Matoo: From Beginning to End”.
The first three children of Mr. Mattoo and his wife Rubeena Mattoo were stillborn, pushing the then young couple down a spiral of pain. Tufail was born, Mr. Mattoo said, after consistent prayers offered at the shrine to Kashmir’s most revered saint, Sheikh Noorudin Noorani or Nundrishi, in central Kashmir’s Charar-e-Sharief.
The boy grew to be obedient but at the same time naughty as expected of his age, the biography of Tufail reflected. Tufail would demand pocket money from the grandmother but promised to return it once he began earning. He had learnt how to play cricket; how to use a razor, in anticipation of a beard; and then he tied a tie and wore a black coat he had playfully taken out of Mr. Mattoo’s wardrobe but seemed to have liked it.
Mr. Mattoo had laid out the black coat on Tufail’s bed. Two days later, hundreds gathered outside Khalil Manzil to pay their respects to Tufail, who had gone to tuitions but returned in a shroud from the Police Control Room in Srinagar. Thousands more flooded the colony.
In 2009, the Mattoos returned to Chrar-e-Sharief to offer a sacrifice to Nundrishi and untie the knot tied at the shrine—signifying the fulfilment of the devotee’s supplication. “What was Tufail’s fault? I was angry, really angry at what they had done to my son. The police’s hands are soaked in blood,” said Mr. Mattoo. “And rather than apologising, they had the audacity to blame protestors. Blame my son!”
I wanted everyone in the courtroom, including the judges, to know that I’m sitting in front of you, siding with truth and you cannot do anything for me. They should be frightened of this.
The then chief minister Omar Abdullah vacationed in the beautiful mountains of Gulmarg, returning only after government forces under his command had enforced a curfew. One after another civilians were killed in government force’s firing. Kashmir reached a point where the people’s fury was no longer just about civilians killed after Tufail, or the killing of Tufail himself, or the three civilians before him.
About 125 civilians died that summer, some succumbed to their injuries years later.
Of those more than a hundred families, 52-year-old Mr. Mattoo is among the few who still reposed some faith in democracy and set out to seek justice for his only son. By 2012, Mr. Mattoo had left the business to devote his time to the court case that still drags on with no end in sight.
A month after Tufail’s killing Mr. Abdullah defended government forces: “the forces could not be expected constantly to show restraint when they were so often pelted with stones.” Mr. Mattoo’s sore throat fails his cracking voice. “Bastards,” he sighed. “If they had apologized,” he said with a grin that betrays his emotions. “They never dared to ask for an apology. Instead, they killed more children.”
Had they apologized, would he have forgiven the police or Mr. Abdullah?
“It is too late, anyways.”
Mr. Mattoo has lost the count of the court hearings and inquiries. In all of them, however, he had sat cross-legged with his back straight and pride on his face. “I wanted everyone in the courtroom, including the judges, to know that I’m sitting in front of you, siding with truth and you cannot do anything for me,” said Mr. Mattoo. “They should be frightened of this.”
There came a point in life when Mr. Mattoo grew envious of the families of other victims, who never approached the court to seek justice “because these courts do nothing but shield the police”. But he has consoled himself with the one thing he has earned in the last decade: “if I had not gone to them, how would you know the judiciary is a fraud.”
I just want an answer. I want to ask Omar Abdullah, the bloody perpetrator, ‘How do you sleep at night after killing children?’
On 19 June 2014, when Mr. Abdullah’s cabinet constituted a one-man commission led by retired Justice Makhan Lal Koul to inquire into the killings of 2010, Mr. Mattoo said he “thought let’s play this game as well”.
The memories from the room of secretariat, where retired Justice Koul sat, are still fresh on Mr. Mattoo’s mind. He remembers Justice Koul as a “nice man”, who empathised with his pain and kissed his hands. “Please write [in your report] what you tell me,” he had told Justice Koul.
Deadlines passed but Justice Koul didn’t file the report. He finally handed it over on 30 December 2016 to the then-incumbent chief minister, Mr. Abdullah’s rival, Mehbooba Mufti, who had launched scathing attacks against him for the 2010 killings. It came at a time when she was herself at the helm of civilian killings during another uprising. The report was never made public. “He [Justice Koul] had promised to give me a copy of the report personally,” recalled Mr. Mattoo.
The little that is known of the report is that it castigated Mr. Abdullah’s government, the police, and the paramilitary forces for excessive use of force, nothing that wasn’t already in the public domain. For the next two years, Mr. Mattoo approached the administration demanding the report but was refused.
Then one day, after his consistent insistence for the report, Habibullah Bhat, the registrar of the commission, printed a small paper slip for him. It said: “The commission has recommended a CBI inquiry into the petition of Mohammad Ashraf Mattoo, f/o Tufail Mattoo, Said Kadal, Srinagar”. That is all he has of the report allegedly spanning over 320 pages.
The black folder that Mr. Mattoo detailing Tufail’s life in court now has little space left but he patiently awaited the report, hoping to find closure if nothing else. Mr. Mattoo said he was both amazed and disgusted at the same time. He waved it like a piece of dirty cloth in the face of Mr. Bhat. “This is what you did for two years?” he lashed out. “Am I a mad dog? A slip for me!”
The Jammu and Kashmir People’s Forum, a regional social organisation, filed a Public Interest Litigation in the court to make the report public. The government contested that “in keeping with the sensitivities involved in the matter and the security concerns related to the case, the government cannot make public the recommendations.”
In hindsight, Mr. Mattoo said, “it was another cover-up.”
It was a fight between truth and lie. The coming generations will know that they claimed to be democratic and I fought for ten years [in the courts]; they lost the battle and I won.
Every conversation with Mr. Mattoo inevitably leads to his son and the lack of accountability in Kashmir. “How is it to live ten years of your life in so much anger and hate?” I asked him. An uneasiness takes over him as he attempted to answer. “What did Tufail do? I just want an answer. I want to ask Omar Abdullah, the bloody perpetrator, ‘How do you sleep at night after killing children?’”
When the institutions failed him, Mr. Mattoo found solace in god. He might miss a prayer or two but to him, remembering Tufail is praying to God. This year, owing to the coronavirus pandemic, Mr. Mattoo will not take out the placards, now worn out, that read “Justice for Tufail”, from the black folder.
He stopped at the door as he was leaving the room with the black folder, cradled in his arms like an infant. “With Tufail, they destroyed my bloodline. When I die, there is no one left,” he said, softly. What happens to the case after Mr. Matoo? “What had to be done is done. I’m truthful and I shall die, but the truth will live. This is our history now. It was a fight between truth and lie. The coming generations will know that they claimed to be democratic and I fought for ten years [in the courts]; they lost the battle and I won.”
But liberation is far, far away for Mr. Mattoo. Now, he has geared up for one last fight for his son. It will be for remembrance against forgetfulness. “And justice for Tufail?” I asked. “It will happen on the Day of Judgment now.”
As I was about to bid him goodbye, he asked me to bring a copy of the story that I write. I promised I would. “Don’t do what Justice Koul did to me,” he said, warmly.