The battle for justice has been a long and daunting exercise for Abdul Gaffar, whose young son fell to the Army’s bullets even as his three other sons are serving in the J&K Police and Indian Army
Zafar Aafaq | Caravan Daily Exclusive
TREHGAM (Jammu & Kashmir) — “Why did they kill my son when my three other sons are serving them?” — is a question which has been troubling Abdul Gaffar of Trehgam in Jammu and Kashmir since July 11, 2018.
Gaffar, 50, wears a skullcap and supports a flowing beard. He is the head of the Tableeghi Jamaat in his locality and commands good respect in his village. His sons, Talib and Waseem, are constables in the Jammu and Kashmir Police, and another son Asif is a soldier in the Indian Army, currently on duty at the forward post in the Tangdhar sector on the Line of Control that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan.
Like other parts of Kashmir, Trehgam being a garrisoned village in the Kupwara district, observed a shutdown on that fateful day to protest against the killing of three youths in the remote Kulgam district.
In the evening, when the market opened, an army convoy trudged through. A posse of soldiers carrying canons in their hands accompanied the convoy, walking to ward off potential stone throwers. This was owing to the fact that earlier in the day, a stone pelting incident had occurred in the market.
Trehgam is a known as a “pro-resistance” village in Kupwara. Maqbool Bhat, the founder of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, who was executed in Tihar Jail in 1984, was born and brought up here.
The army men were reportedly shouting abuses and asked the people to close their shops immediately. Many shopkeepers had to bear the brunt with troops resorting to use of force. This reportedly triggered the commotion in the market, forcing everyone to run away.
The army men then moved towards the Bunpora locality, according to residents. Oblivious to the chaos, 22-year-old Khalid Gaffar Malik had come out of his house to fetch milk from a neighbour across the street. Moments later, his brother Amir Gaffar, aged 17, heard the fusillade of gunshots and came running out.
“It was dark but I could see Khalid bhaya lying on the road at some distance”, he said.
Amir had tried to run toward Khalid but army men shouted at him to go back. Then some boys came and went ahead to attend to Khalid lying in a pool of blood.
“Blood was oozing from his throat like water springs from a well,” Amir recollected.
They picked him up to take him to the hospital, but the army had cordoned off the main road. They carried Khalid to the hospital through a back alley in their arms and over the hospital’s back wall. Seeing his condition, doctors referred him to the Sub District Hospital in Kupwara town, which was 8 kilometers away. Along the way, the ambulance was stopped several times by the police. In the process, Khalid succumbed to his fatal wounds minutes after being moved to the Operation Theatre.
As the news of his death spread, a crowd of mourners gathered at Khalid’s home.
“His body was carried back to his home amid slogans laced with glorifying words,” said a friend of Khalid.
The protests continued for the whole night and spilled into the next day. The villagers demanded action and agreed to bury the body only after the police registered an FIR against the army under sections 147, 148, 323, 306, 307 of the Ranbir Penal Code in Trehgam Police station (FIR number 46/2018).
The demand was met after a meeting between a group of village elders and police officers. Khalid was buried in the Martyrs’ Graveyard, next to the empty grave awaiting Maqbool Bhat, who has been buried in the Tihar Jail premises.
A day after the killing, when the word got around that Khalid’s three brothers are serving in the forces, the state government ordered a probe into the incident and appointed an Additional District Magistrate as the inquiry officer.
In recent years, it was a rare incident of human rights violations when the government swiftly ordered the probe. One year has passed but the magistrate is yet to submit the report of the inquiry, as testified by the family, while it was supposed to be submitted within one month.
More than a hundred local men and women, both young and old, came forward to record their testimony before the magistrate.
The battle for justice has been a long and daunting exercise for Abdul Gaffar. He says he had expected that his case would move speedily and deliver justice given the fact three of his sons have been proudly serving in the security forces.
“I thought they will have a compassionate approach towards my case as my sons serve in the police and Army, but I was wrong”, he says.
He has paid over 50 visits to the district commissioner’s office, and the official would always tell him to settle for compensation. But for Gaffar, that would be akin to “selling blood for money.”
“I have come to realise that I will not get justice, but I am fighting on because my conscience doesn’t let me sleep,” Gaffar said, his voice turning husky. “If not here, God will deliver justice on the Day of Judgment.”
Gaffar says his elder brother was also killed by the army in the early 90s, in what he alleges was a fake encounter.
“Sometimes I feel that if I become more vocal regarding justice, the government may give gallantry awards to army men who killed my son, just to teach me a lesson. The forces are quick to arrest young protestors but the killers of my son are roaming free”, he said.
Khalid ran a grocery shop outside his home where his friends used to assemble every evening, discussing films, sports, politics, and philosophy. Now, he is viewed differently.
“They see me as the father of a martyr, and they keep their heads down if I pass by”, he said.
A couple of months after Khalid’s death, his friends had organised a cricket tournament – the Shaheed Khalid Memorial Cricket Tournament, in his honour. His father was the honorary guest at the inaugural match, where he delivered a speech and thanked Khalid’s friends.
“It was an act of honouring our martyr,” said his friend. “We cannot afford to forget Khalid.”