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Poterwal (Jammu and Kashmir): The sound of a woman’s dirge pours onto the main road from a narrow lane bordered by tightly-built residential houses and dense apple orchards. At the far end of the lane in the south Kashmir village of Poterwal, and in the frontyard of a double-storeyed house, the woman is crooning a ballad of love, loss and longing for her young, dead son.
“I used to wonder how people bore such tragedies, gobro (my son). I didn’t know it was about to strike me too. How can I bear this separation, gobro. Take me too, pray, don’t leave me here, gobro,” Haseena, 48, a housewife, screams, moving the large gathering of grim men and women swarming the house to tears.
Haseena’s son, Mohammad Asif Padroo, 23, a nursing student at a private college in Shopian, was on the way from home to a neighbouring village on Wednesday, October 5, to help his aunt’s family harvest their apple crop. He was riding pillion on a bike along with his cousin, Fayaz Ahmad Padroo.
Riyaz Ahmad Padroo, Asif’s cousin, told The Wire that Fayaz, his brother, was riding pillion but Asif had asked him to take charge of the motorcycle before the tragedy struck them. Some 30 minutes after leaving their homes, Asif was hit by bullets at a security checkpoint in Pulwama’s Haal village, which cracked open his skull and splattered his brain on the road.
A video filmed by a passerby on a mobile phone shows Asif laying motionless by the roadside. His bloodied head is seemingly wrapped in black cloth, probably his jacket, while the grief-stricken Fayaz is seen making a phone call, asking the person on the other side of the call to “come quickly” to the spot, “He fired at him. Oh my God. He fired at him,” the video shows a visibly shocked Fayaz screaming.
However, additional director general of police (Kashmir), Vijay Kumar said that the victim suffered bullet injuries when the rifle of a policeman on duty at the checkpoint “accidentally went off”. Kumar said that the victim was rushed to a hospital where he succumbed to injuries.
Dr B.S. Tulla, Superintendent of District Hospital Pulwama where Asif was initially treated, said that the patient was brought to the facility in a critical condition. “There were multiple bullet injuries on his head. We referred the patient to Srinagar but he succumbed on the way,” Tulla said.
Senior Superintendent of Police, Ghulam Jeelani told The Wire that the accused policeman has been arrested and a case has been filed under Section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of the Indian Penal Code against him. “There has been negligence on the part of the constable whose rifle accidentally went off, leading to the unfortunate death. We have put the constable under arrest and investigations are underway,” the SSP said.
The incident took place on the day the Union home minister Amit Shah wrapped up his three-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir during which he “appreciated” the security forces “for keeping streets free from violence and significantly restoring rule of law”. There was no mention of the youngster’s killing in Shah’s speech.
The home minister also inaugurated some developmental projects and reviewed the security situation in the Union Territory in a meeting with J&K’s Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha, DGP Dilbag Singh and other senior officers of security agencies and civil administration.
For the residents of this south Kashmir village who knew Asif as a humble and caring young man, his tragic end has come as a shocker. “He was not involved in any trouble that Shopian is known for. He would spend hours at home to maintain the small garden he had groomed for the last two years. Who knew our garden was going to get plundered forever?” said Ghulam Mohammad Padroo, Asif’s uncle.
The killing has plunged Asif’s family into deep grief. His father, Mohammad Ayub Padroo, had provided for his two sons and a daughter – Asif was the youngest of the three – by toiling in his small apple orchard throughout the year. Ayub had been hoping for some years of comfort now that his children were grown up.
“Since it is the harvest season, he would do odd jobs to pay for his personal expenses. At times, he would buy gifts for his sister and mother. The half-bloomed flower of our garden has been crushed,” said Asif’s uncle.
Haseena said that Asif would make sure to keep her updated about his whereabouts, given the volatile situation in Shopian, a hotbed of militancy. But, she says, he forgot to inform her before leaving home on the last day of his mortal life. “Who would crack jokes in our home now, gobro. I will meet you soon, gobro,” the mother cried out before another woman clasped her hand on Haseena’s mouth and others urged her to calm down.
The body of Asif was handed to his family on the night of Wednesday, October 5, after which he was laid to rest at their ancestral graveyard in Shopian. Seeking a probe, Kashmir-based parties have sought to link the death to the heightened security put in place across the Union territory in the view of the Home Minister’s three day visit.
“As if the harsh measures put in place causing grave inconvenience to the people in Kashmir weren’t enough, Asif from Pulwama paid with his life in the name of ensuring security for HM’s visit. My heart goes out to his family,” PDP president Mehbooba Mufti tweeted.
Former J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said that the “killing of an unarmed civilian” was highly condemnable. “There must be a swift, credible & transparent probe into this death. Those responsible must be punished to the fullest extent possible,” he tweeted.
CPI (M) leader M.Y. Tarigami tweeted: “Deeply pained by the unfortunate incident in which an innocent young man lost his life in Hall village of Pulwama. There must be a credible probe into the incident. Sharing the pain and grief of the bereaved family.”