The usual festivities of the Shab-i-Qadr were missing in Kashmir this year owing to the coronavirus pandemic. However, in old Srinagar city tear smoke and wails of mourning women filled the air amid an outpour of anger from local residents over the death of 13-year-old Basim Aijaz.
It was 11:30 pm, yesterday, when youth in downtown Srinagar’s Nawakadal area clashed with the government forces after news of Aijaz’s death broke. The streets in the vicinity were littered with rocks, with large rocks used to set up roadblocks to prevent the government forces’ vehicles from chasing protesters.
Mourners had gathered inside the two storey house of Aijaz, mostly women, were crammed inside a small room. Some wore face-masks, all of them overwhelmed with the loss of a boy who was in front of them just a few hours ago. Aijaz’s inconsolable mother collapsed as other women had attempted to console her. Aijaz was her only child.
One of his cousins, Kamil Mushtaq, was busy inquiring, over phone, the well being of their relatives who were stuck in lanes and by-lanes of the area after the clashes had erupted. “Bhaya is stuck in some lane near Nawa Kadal. But he is fine, don’t worry,” Mushtaq reassured his mother.
Mushtaq said that the protesters had wanted to bury Aijaz in the Eidgah graveyard, where many Kashmiris killed by the government forces are buried. It is known as the “martyrs graveyard”. “They had taken the body in the form of a procession but they were denied by [government forces],” he said, adding that he was instead buried in the Malkha graveyard, also in downtown Srinagar.
“He could not have survived”
On the afternoon of Tuesday, along with dozens of local residents of the neighborhood, the young boy had gone to the site of the gunfight in Nawa Kadal where two militants had been killed and at least 15 houses were destroyed. This kind of devastation was not witnessed in this locality before.
It is a norm in Kashmir to visit the site of a gunfight to assess the massive damages to local resident’s property but to also show solidarity with the affected residents. This, despite, repeated advisories to the public from the police and administration to stay away from such sites until they are sanitised.
Aijaz, from the adjacent Chota Bazar locality, was critically injured, according to family members, when a damaged house collapsed on a group of local residents walking past the rubble of the damaged houses. The family, however, said that Aijaz had died due to burn injuries.
The young boy was taken to the hospital by a youth on his motorcycle, Mushtaq, his cousin, quoted Aijaz as telling him while he was still alive in the nearby Shri Maharaja Hari Singh hospital. “He opened his eyes and spoke to me. He told me that while he was walking on the rubble, a wall fell on him and also a grenade or shell exploded,” Mushtaq told The Kashmir Walla as he sat around his mourning family members at midnight yesterday, adding that Aijaz had burn injuries.
Medical Superintendent of the SMHS hospital, Dr. Nazir Choudhary, confirmed that Aijaz had “suffered 90 percent burn injuries” and that “for him to survive was not possible”. The concerned Superintendent of Police, Tahir Geelani, denied commenting on the issue saying, “I am not allowed to talk to the media.”
However, the concerned Station House Officer, Safa Kadal police station, Aadil Rashid, told The Kashmir Walla that people had gone to visit the gunfight site despite the banner and the local mohalla president also told not to allow visitors. “The house collapsed and they came under it. If it had been a blast then there would have been splinter injuries and not burns. There are was no blast,” he added.
Afroza, an aunt, said that the family received a call from a stranger from the hospital to inform them about the incident. “We rushed to the hospital, where he spoke to us but the doctor said that his skin had fully shrunk and tissues had fully been damaged, he was a kid and could not bear the burns.”
Four residents were injured, of which Aijaz passed away.
“I will be fine”
Aijaz was born in 2007 after six years of his parents trying to conceive. “For six years my brother had no children,” said Afroza, holding back tears. “His parents went to every shrine and mosque, and prayed for a child. It was after that Allah had been kind and he provided my brother with a child, only to be killed just after living 13 years of his life.”
A visibly shaken Afroza recalled Aijaz’s last moments. “He was only seeking water on the death bed. He was just a kid,” she recalled, weeping profusely, adding that the young boy had not eaten anything that day. “We are three sisters, and after praying for years we had a nephew, and now he is no more.”
Mushtaq, the cousin, recalled Aijaz had asked him to reserve his spot in their friends’ group on the mobile gaming app PUBG. “Who will play PUBG with me now, my dear beloved,” Mushtaq wailed as he recalled Aijaz. He broke down, again. “My life should have been sacrificed for you my dear Basim.” Aijaz’s friends, too, were inconsolable as they struggled to accept his death.
A 19-year-old shopkeeper in the neighbourhood, Muzamil, had joined the family in mourning. “He was 6 years younger than me but he was my best friend,” he said of Aijaz. “Despite being very young, he had struck a chord with boys older than him due to his maturity.”
Muzamil added that Aijaz was jolly and had a great sense of humour that was exhibited even in his last moments. “Even as he was in unbearable pain, he kept telling us that he was doing fine and not to worry about him,” he said. “He had asked for a bottle of cold drink.”
When Aijaz’s father recited verses from the Quran to him, he asked his father as to why he was reciting the holy verses. “’Am I going to die? Don’t worry I will be fine,’ he consoled his father while being on the death bed,” said Muzamil, who was also at the hospital, as he broke down. “Basim you died a shaheed (martyr).”