For Ghulam Mohammad Akhoon and his wife, the time has perhaps frozen. They have spent mornings and evenings, for five years, waiting for a dead son to return home.
“Every morning, she [mother] says he will return in the evening and every evening she says he will return in the morning,” Iqra Gul, 21, said. And Akhoon spends his days waiting for the night and then waiting for mornings.
“Basically my mother is waiting for her son’s return and my father is waiting for the end of his life,” Gul said.
Junaid, Akhoon’s 12-year-old son, was killed by the government forces in October 2016 at the door of his house in Srinagar’s Saidapora neighbourhood and since then, Gul said, silence has taken over her home.
“They [parents] don’t talk anymore, they don’t laugh,” she said.
Gul herself has also not been able to make peace with the loss of her brother, which has led to a change in her personality. “There is one thing in life that changes it forever, for me it is his death,” she said.
“People often say that time heals everything,” she said, “but I believe that it just makes us learn to live with the pain… Now we are helpless, we have to live without him even if we don’t want to.”
Junaid was one of the youngest amongst the 145 civilians killed by the government forces during the civilian uprising of 2016 that erupted on the evening of 8 July 2016 after a popular militant commander Burhan Wani was killed in a gunfight.
An unforgettable night
It was a Friday afternoon — the ninety-second day of the protest — and the streets had been stormed with protesters throwing stones at the government forces.
Around 3 in the afternoon, the Akhoon family came out to bid goodbye to a guest. Junaid also came out to play in the lawn of the house in a far-off corner of Saidapora.
As the gate of their house opened, the government forces on the end of the narrow lane fired pellet shotguns. “Suddenly, Junaid fell down. Mother thought that he was scared,” Gul recalled.
His mother kept reassuring Junaid that he didn’t need to be scared till she saw blood oozing out of his ears and small piercings on his face.
Junaid was immediately picked up by his uncle and rushed outside with a hope to get him to the hospital in time. With no vehicle at home, the family kept walking and the government forces kept firing pellets. “We laid him down in a shop nearby till they stopped. We kept pouring water in his mouth,” she said. “He was almost dead by then.”
On reaching Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS), some of the pellets were removed while the others needed surgery, Gul said. “The doctor said that there were serious injuries in the brain and hemorrhages as the pellets had hit his face, brain and thoracic area,” said Gul.
Around 10 pm, Junaid was shifted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), Gul recalled, but there were no signs of surgery on his head. “They had only trimmed his hair. He had no bandages at all,” she said, adding that she along with other women was sent home around midnight to wait for Junaid’s return.
Gul still remembers the night vividly when she kept praying for her younger brother’s safe return.
However, hours later, the family learnt that Junaid was dead. “They brought his dead body home around 6 in the morning,” she said.
The moment they saw Junaid’s dead body, Gul’s parents got numb, unable to accept what had happened. “Our prayers had not been accepted,” Gul added. “That night can never be forgotten.”
‘Everything felt strange’
Two days before his killing, the seventh class student had walked on the Eidgah road wearing his school bag to go for tuition. “Later,he was again taken from the same road. But this time he was dead,” said Gul.
Gul fails to recollect the day. She doesn’t remember the hours between the arrival of Junaid’s body at home till his funeral at the ancestral graveyard in Eidgah. But she remembers the pellets that were fired at Junaid’s funeral procession and the “many injured people”.
Their mother had always been scared of losing her only son and never allowed him to go out during the curfew or protests, she said. “The night after his death, everything felt strange and my mother just kept saying that she couldn’t imagine not having her son around,” said Gul. “His death was like a sudden bolt of thunder.”
“When we would be sitting together in the evening he used to start playing cricket in the room. Father would stop him from breaking the glasses, then he used to make a ball with his socks and play with that,” she recalled, adding that Junaid wanted to become a cricketer one day. “He was the life and light of our family.”
Their mother has preserved Junaid’s clothes and books in the cupboards, where they used to be before he died. She cleans the shelves and puts everything back again every year.
The year of Wani’s killing and the democracy lessons in his books had brought in him the realisation of freedom of speech and protest, said Gul. “Protests and killings used to scare him a lot,” she said. “I saw his school diary after his death. He had written a lot about the situation in Kashmir on the last few pages.”
Since his death, Gul’s parents, both in their forties, have grown old beyond their age and suffer from several health issues including high blood pressure, she said. “My mother gets angry over small things but now she is only able to control it through medicines given by the psychiatrist for her anxiety issues,” said Gul.
The Akhoon family has finally decided to move to their new house opposite the graveyard, where Junaid is buried alongside his grandparents. “He will stay close to us that way,” she said.
Recently, Gul saw her little brother in her dream. He was walking on the Eidgah road and she held his hand. “I told him that I miss him a lot,” said Gul, as she wiped off her tears. “I requested him to not leave me again.”