The bullet fired by the Border Security Force (BSF) on 15 April 2017 hit an 11 year and thirteen days old boy Sajad Ahmad Sheikh, right on his head, near his rented residence in Sheikh Dawood Colony, Batmaloo.
His brains fell out on the dusty road, say the eye-witnesses. The last good-bye to his father Ghulam Hassan Sheikh became his final good-bye. The bullet that pierced his head has left a void in the lives of his family and friends, who continue to think about how the dance of death lead him to the spot, where he breathed his last.
It all began on the day when Sajad was not even born.
It started with a decision that his father Hassan took in his youth: to leave Dodbug Chundoosa area of Baramulla district, and come to the Srinagar city to make a living.
In 1990, when the insurgency in Kashmir had started, Hassan who was a 7th-grade student, came to the city to work with his cousins who would cook Wazwan (a multi-course meal in Kashmiri cuisine) here.
For 10 to 12 years, he mastered the art of cooking Wazwan that he had learnt from his employers.
He got engaged to Shameema and married her in 1993. Hassan recalls that he was too young to get married and feels that is the reason why his kids are taller than him. About 3 years later, On 29 Oct 1997, they were blessed with a son whom they named Mehraj u din.
On 10 July 2000, Fahad, Mehraj’s younger brother was born followed by their lone sister Nighat who was born on 18 August 2002.
Sajad was the youngest. He was born on 2 April, 2006.
In 2008, when the uprising began in Kashmir, Hassan’s mother passed away. The family went to Baramulla to perform her last rites. Hassan told Free Press Kashmir that after his mother’s death, he went to his employer and made him understand that he needed to start his own small venture.
He set up a barbeque kiosk in the Batamaloo yard, a place centrally located, and convenient for travelers. He was doing good. He admitted his children in the nearby schools including Green Mission School, Barbarshah near Old Guzar (up to LKG), Learning Point, S D Colony and MEI Scared Hall, Aloochi Bagh.
In 2010, again the family had to rush to Baramulla. This time it was to attend a wedding.
Hassan said that he or his family members could never imagine a death in the family as they did not witness much of the uprising here.
However, his poverty was always an issue for him. He had to sell about 1.5 canals of land to feed his children and make ends meet during the continuous strikes then.
He was somehow managing but it cuts him from the inside when he thinks of the ways Sajad would save money to buy new shoes and clothes to match up to the level of his friends.
“His friends, especially Huzaif would love him a lot. He would borrow shoes from his friends. To get his own shoes and clothes, he had saved money,” said Hassan.
“I asked him to give the cash to me so I could deposit it in his bank account. But, he said he had to borrow things from his friends and it didn’t look good to do so on regular basis. He then got some clothes and shoes for himself,” he added.
Since the family had not witnessed the uprising here, they said that they never expected anyone in the family to die, just like that.
In 2016, after Commander of Hizbul Mujahideen Burhan Muzaffar Wani’s killing, schools remained shut in the valley. To pass his time well, Sajad had started to help his father with the work by cleaning the vegetables or purchasing bread from the market.
“They (Government) say, he had left studies. He is still registered with the school. You can verify it. He would help me when I would have no helper around,” said Hassan.
“He would sleep with his mother and brothers. From some time now, he would stay with me,” he added.
The fateful day:
The government of Jammu and Kashmir took a decision: to mass promote school children as they were unable to go the school or write the exams.
Sajad got promoted from 7th to 8th standard. He was supposed to go to the school and attend his Computer coaching centre in Maisuma after the holidays.
Sajad had told his father that he would go to Baramulla at the time of polls. “He would be in his own world. He told me that he wanted to spend his holidays in Baramulla. I agreed. Polling time was around and he knew he would get locked inside the home because of curfews or strikes. So, he wanted to leave,” said Hassan.
Following Sajad, after 4 days, Hassan also went to Baramulla. On 14 April, Mehraj, Sajad’s elder brother called Hassan, enquiring as to when they would come to Batmaloo.
Meanwhile, according to Mehraj, during his stay at Baramulla, Sajad had planted apple trees there. He told FPK that people there still talk about how perfectly he had planted them.
“It was Friday and my elder son Mehraj called. We told him we would come back on Saturday because we wanted to avoid traveling on Fridays when the protests take place in the valley,” said Mehraj.
The next morning, on Saturday, Sajad had insisted on going back to Batmaloo. At 9 in the morning, he was all set to go.
“He had taken a bath. He was ready with his cricket kit that was awarded to him after he had played well in a cricket tournament held in Qamarwari. I told him that I was yet to take my morning tea. He did not let me have that. He said that we will get late and miss the bus,” Hassan recalled.
Explaining the journey, he said that they had walked for about 5-6 kilometres from their place to BabaReshi. After boarding a four-wheeler vehicle, Hassan bought some snacks.
“I gave him a packet and kept some for myself. He told me that his friends were waiting for him and that he had to play cricket with them. We reached Tangmarg and I suggested we take some tea. He denied. He wanted to have rice. I told him I don’t have money. He still insisted on having rice. I asked him to go to a restaurant then. He denied. He told me that he knew a person who ran a hotel there. He took me there. We greeted him and had some vegetables with rice,” said Hassan.
They decided not to board the bus immediately after having food. Hassan didn’t have enough cash left in his pocket. After the lunch, at around 12, they rested in an open field that lies near a park there.
Sajad was playing on his phone.
“At 1, we boarded a Deluxe bus. He sat in the front and called me there as well. I slept. Near HMT, I woke up and asked him to call his mother. He told me that her number is switched off. His phone was again ringing and I enquired. He said his friends were calling and waiting for him to play cricket,” said Hassan, recalling each memory he had about Sajad.
“At 3, we reached. He kept his bag on the floor, changed his shirt and went out. His friends met him. They hugged him as usual. He then, took his cricket kit and went to play,” said Hassan.
While coming back home, Sajad had crossed his elder brother Mehraj.
“He was with his friends. When I asked, they told me that they had skipped their computer classes and had planned to play cricket that day. I asked Sajad to go home and be good to Abu. That was my last conversation with him,” said Mehraj.
After meeting Mehraj, Sajad went back home. He was hungry after the play and had asked his father for tea. “I asked him to take out the starch from the rice before taking tea. He refused.
He said that Fahad will do it as he was in charge that day. I said, ‘alright but take tea.’ He said, ‘You got so many Tcachwaer (a kind of bread in Kashmir), why only two tcachwor for me. I want more.’ Then, he had his tea and kept his phone on charge and again went out,” said Hassan.
“That was his last meal with us. That was the last time I saw him alive. That was the last time when my heart was not yet crushed,” he added.
Hassan had started to clean the vegetables while Sajad was sitting near a shop outside. That was when the BSF had allegedly lost their way. In the already tense situation, passing through an already sensitive area like Batmaloo wasn’t a good idea.
The BSF had asked for a way out of the area. Meanwhile, the youth in the area had gotten agitated, pelting stones on the vehicles. The BSF shot fires. Everything was chaotic. People were running away. Sajad and his friends also tried to save themselves. According to the neighbours of Hassan, Sajad had tried to hide in a lane.
“After some time, he must have tried to see if the BSF is gone or not, the BSF targeted him. They say they had fired in the air. Was he flying? He was innocent. He wasn’t a stone pelter. Even if, for a second, we say he was, why did they shoot him in the head? Why not on his legs? Why?” asked Hassan
The lane where Sajad had gone to hide, some meters away from where they would work, was the place where he died.
After some time, at around 7.05 pm, it was time for Maghrib prayers. That is when people had started screaming, “A boy has been martyred. He is down.”
Hassan stopped doing what he was doing and immediately asked Fahad about where Sajad was. They left to look for him.
“There was a rumour that one of our neighbour’s son had been killed. I then asked a boy who was coming back from the site. I enquired and he said it was not that boy. I went ahead and entered a neighbour Mohammad Shaban’s house. They knew Sajad,” said Hassan.
“They told me that they had taken the slippers of the slain boy. I saw them and it became clear to me that it was Sajad. I told the elderly woman there, “Boba its Sajad’. She told me that they couldn’t be sure but I knew it then and there. I ran and saw blood on the road,” Hassan said while his voice started to shake.
Hassan and Fahad were taken by a local to the SMHS hospital on his bike. That’s where Hassan lost his last hope.
“I went upstairs and saw him on the bed. His stomach was going up and down. I went to the doctor and asked him what was happening to him. I called out to him, ‘Sajada, Sajada, Sajada, Sajadaa’. The doctor came to me and said that he was dead. His stomach was going up and down because of the oxygen machine,” said Hassan, utterly disappointed and shaken.
The authorities at the hospital had started to perform a postmortem on Sajad’s body. The youth present in the hospital, as well as Hassan, had stopped them, snatching the body from them. A Huge number of youth chanting pro-freedom slogans followed Sajad’s body.
“We didn’t agree. We told them that he was killed by the BSF. We don’t want any more wounds or cuts on his body. We snatched him from them and brought him here,” said Hassan.
Back to their place, his mother Shameema, sister Nighat and elder brother Mehraj had also seen his unrecognisable face for the last time. Shameema wasn’t home when the incident had taken place. She had gone to see a doctor as she had issues with the disk in her back. The face of her dead son, however, has broken her.
At 11.30pm, Sajad was buried at the Martyr’s graveyard in DanderKhah.
“We didn’t take him to Baramula because he was martyred here. He had spent his whole life here,” said Hassan.
“In these 3 months, he grew up. He went to a gym nearby once or twice and I asked him and his friends to stop. He agreed to it when I told him that his height won’t grow. We would work hard at home. He needed not to do that. People say he was 20 years old. He just grew up so fast. Just 11 years and some days. Just,” Hassan added.
In the morning, Hassan and his family left for Baramulla at 4 in the morning after which curfew was imposed in the area. On the fourth day after Sajad’s death, Hassan and his sons came back to offer prayers for Sajad. They, however, said that the forces did not let them do it properly.
“Six people were standing here and they told us that we were 3000 in number. Why wouldn’t there be people? Was an animal dead? He was a human. He was a kid,” said Hassan.
On that very day, people had raised a banner in his name with his photograph. It was pulled down by the forces.
“That was pulled down by the military men and they were asking who raised it here. Then, youth boys took out some Sharbat to distribute it in Sajad’s name but they even snatched that and threw it away,” said an elderly woman, a neighbor of Hassan.
“People here would call him Rista (a famous dish in Kashmiri Wazwan). He would not mind it. He was playful,” she added.
Talking about the incident, Fahad said that the government creates the crisis in Kashmir. “Why would they come here. They wouldn’t have died because of a stone. It happened after they came to the area. At a time, when GPS is in every phone, how could they lose track? They are BSF! They have been here for so long. It was a peaceful day before they came in the area,” said Hassan.
The family also said that the BSF had allegedly come to the area to get their dog treated. “They had come here to get their dog treated. That is what we know. The dog was important and this human wasn’t. What kind of humanity is that?” asked Fahad.
“Had he been guilty, we would have stayed mum. He was innocent. I look at his books and cricket kit. I see them and my heart gets crunched. I feel pain in each organ of my body,” said Hassan.
He also said that he is grateful to God that He let them see the face of their son for the last time.
Hassan said he would not scold him as he was a boy who needed to be dealt with love.
“He only understood the language of love. Hatred and anger would make him stubborn,” said Hassan.
“He had hit a guy in Baramula once. Then he went to him and asked him to forgive him and also told him why he had hit him. He had abused him in name of his mother. There were good friends now,” said Hassan, talking about how Sajad’s friendly nature had won him many hearts.
Pointing to a photograph of Sajad where he is lying dead in the hospital, Hassan said, “See, it’s a target fire. Police have lodged a FIR against the BSF. We are going to record our statements and we are hopeful to get justice.”
On 15 April 2017, the same day when Sajad died, FIR No. 53/2017 under RPC, under section 302, murder was registered by the police against the BSF in the evening at Police Station Batmaloo.
Parvez Ahmad, SHO Police station Batamloo told Free Press Kashmir that an FIR has been lodged and that the police will carry out its investigations after recording the statements of the family and eye-witnesses.
Sajad’s dream to be a cricketer lies in a black bag that’s safe with the family. His books, lunch box and clothes are still at his place. His mother has donated some of his stuff including his uniform that was ironed by her some days before he was supposed to go to the school.
However, there are some things she can’t give up. Mehraj, Fahad and Nighat feel his absence while Hassan in his white Khan suit finds him in everything he has touched. Sajad’s friends are not able to go to the school as they miss him too much.
As explained by Mehraj, they were not able to walk while coming back from Sajad’s graveyard. The locals whose life Sajad had touched, in Baramulla or in Batmaloo, keep him alive in their memories and fear that something of the kind can happen to them or their beloved ones at anytime and anyplace.
It was a bullet, a bullet that killed one but hit many.