‘Faizan Dar, Abbas Rather were killed in target firing’
Hardu Dalwan is a postcard picture of a village set in a hill about 12 km south of Budgam town. On the morning of 9 April, the village erupted in protest as voting got underway for the Srinagar parliamentary by-election. As protesters tried to storm the polling booth set up in Government High School, they were fired on by the CRPF guard. Faizan Dar, 15, and Abbas Jahangir Rather, 22, were killed on the spot.
Remarkably, as a villager, Abdul Hamid Ganaie, 45, puts it, Hardu Dalwan has traditionally “voted in droves”. Why not this time? “We decided to boycott the election because we feel that too many brutalities have been unleashed against Kashmiris,” Abdul Hamid says. What he is referring to in particular are the atrocities committed by the police, army and paramilitary forces during last year’s unrest triggered by Burhan Wani’s killing. The recent killing of a militant and three young men in Chadoora only inflamed the anger.
Those scars, Abdul Hamid explains, combined with the realisation that “the promise of resolution of the Kashmir dispute by politicians has all along been a lie” persuaded this village of about 2,000 households to keep away from the electoral exercise this time -- and perhaps in the foreseeable future, too.
Not a single of around 1,200 votes in the village was cast. In the whole of Charar-e-Shareef tehsil, which Hardu Dalwan is part of, only 3,293 of the total 77,048 registered votes were polled. In 2014 elections, Charar e Shareef tehsil had cast 53,819 votes out of the registered 77,048 votes.
Abdul Gani Rather, for one, has resolved never to vote. The 60-year-old from nearby Yeshkoot village is visiting Faizan’s family, who are related to him, to express his condolences. Abdul Gani says he has voted just once in his life, during Sheikh Abdullah’s reign. “It was a mistake to vote then. I have never voted since.”
Not voting is understandable, but why did the villagers violently disrupt the exercise? “How dare they come here to conduct polling after all that has happened over the past year,” Abdul Hamid says, voicing the popular sentiment in the village. “Stone-pelting started at 7 am.”
In response, the CRPF posted at the polling station resorted to “target firing”, says Faizan’s father Ghulam Nabi Dar. “It was target firing. He was shot in the head,” he says.
Faizan’s uncle Mohammad Shafi Dar says the CRPF did not fire warning shots or teargas shells. “They simply fired live bullets into the crowd. The targeted was my nephew and another boy Abbas,” he says.
Abbas’s father is a policeman. Fateh Mohammad Rather says he did not see his son slip out of the house. If he had, he would not have let him. “I thought he was at home. When I heard gunshots, I had no idea that it was my son getting shot,” he says.
Abbas, like Faizan, was shot in the head. “We first took him to Chadoora sub district hospital and then to SMHS in Srinagar, where he breathed his last,” Fateh says. He has lost his second son; his older son, Mudasir Ahmad Rather, who worked as an engineer in Saudi Arabia, was murdered by a man from Chadoora in 2014. Mudasir, according to police, was murdered by his close friend as he had developed interest in grabbing Mudasir’s money.
The people of Hardu Dalwan are keenly conscious that they have paid a huge price for boycotting the election, and they are determined to see that blood wasn’t spilled for nothing. “We lost two boys to this election farce. There will be no more elections in this village now,” said a villager, Ali Mohammad Lone.
‘Shabir Bhat was killed for no reason’
“Shaheed ki jo maut hai, woh qaum ki hayaat hai,” declares a fluttering green banner along the fence of a graveyard in Dawlatpora in Chadoora. “A martyr’s death gives life to the nation.” It’s perhaps a tribute to Shabir Ahmad Bhat, 22, who was among the eight people killed on April 9.
A crowd of men, women and children has gathered at Shabir’s house inside a lane near the graveyard and a cleric is delivering a passionate sermon about the virtues of standing up to oppression and tyranny. Shabir, those who knew him well recall, was of the same persuasion. Before leaving for work at a chicken farm that morning, he had forbidden his family from voting. “He was a religious person. He told us not to vote considering what has happened in Kashmir, the brutalities and killings,” says his visibly shaken mother, Zareefa (45).
Shabir returned from the chicken farm at around noon. “At around 1:45 pm, he left home again, never to return. He was killed at 2 by the Indian forces near the graveyard,” says his father Ghulam Mohammad Bhat, in his late fifties.
Like many other villages across Chadoora tehsil, Dawlatpora witnessed a complete boycott of the election. The polling booth in the local school was wound up by 11:30 am without any votes being cast. “We had decided to boycott the election for the first time. We used to vote before, but not this time,” says Ghulam Mohammad. “We didn’t vote because of the brutality unleashed on Kashmiris in 2016. Too much blood has been shed.”
But around the time Shabir was shot, his brother Nisar Ahmad alleges, there was no stone-pelting in the area. He was killed in cold-blood. “My brother was shot in the back; the bullet pierced his heart,” he says. CRPF men arrived from surrounding villages, Nisar alleges, and “for no reason” started firing in both directions from the main alley in Dawlatpora. “They fired in both directions, into both gullies. One bullet hit my brother and he died on the spot.”
Nisar still has the cartridge of the bullet that purportedly felled his brother. “This is the one,” he shows it. “I will be filing a case very soon.”
‘Amir Manzoor was killed on his way to mosque’
On election day, villagers of Sogam, Charar-e-Shareef, went to the polling booth housed in the local government school and asked the polling staff to leave. They obliged and vacated the building by 2 pm. “There are around 2,500 votes here, but not a single vote was cast,” says Mohammad Ayub, age, who runs a provision store in the village.
There were no protests, no stone-pelting. At around 7 pm, a BSF and SSB contingent came down the road from Zuvhama. “There was some hooting at them from the youth and in response they fired indiscriminately,” says Muneer Ahmad Bhat, 18, a 12th standard student who witnessed the incident. “Amir was on his way to the mosque when he was hit by a bullet in the head.” Amir Manzoor Rather was all of 20.
“We boycotted the election because of all the killings in Kashmir and also because they had promised development they didn’t deliver on it. We only want Azadi now,” says Dawood Ahmad, 17.
Mohammad Ayub concurs. “Amir’s killing has sealed the fate of elections. We don’t want electricity, water or anything else,” he says. “We only want Azadi.”