Umar‘s room is filled with warm sunlight and silence. Amid the stillness in the room, he smiles in a picture hung on a wall, but outside his family is busy with the little preparations— people have been invited, banners have been brought, and a space in the courtyard has been cleared to commemorate his third death anniversary.
His father Abdul Qayoom Bhat attends many phone calls. He is expected by someone. But, he doesn’t hurry as he jostles with memories, details, and faces. He seems stoic.
His wife is still like Umar’s picture on the wall. But as she interjects, her eyes brim with tears. Qayoom hushes her up, “Don’t… It is Allah’s will.” She regains her stillness but defies it again.
Umar Qayoom Bhat, their only son, rests silently in a grave dug in 2010, at a stone throws distance from his home in Soura on the outskirts of Kashmir’s summer capital, Srinagar.
One of his three sisters unlocks a safe and brings out a stack of newspapers and court documents— carefully stored in a cloth-bag. “He was a friend and closest to me. He wouldn’t let me go even for a night-stay anywhere because he missed our long talking sessions. But now it is him who is away...”
17-year-old Umar was ‘tortured’ by government forces and succumbed in the hospital during the civil protests of 2010 in which over a hundred people, mostly children and teenagers, died.
His death raised the toll to 64 and for the Indian state he became another number.
Police 'didn’t allow a funeral procession' and he was laid to rest in the burial ground opposite his house. “Police didn’t allow us to bury him in Martyrs' graveyard. He is buried here…it is difficult,” Qayoom says.
Qayoom leaves the room – to oversee the preparation for a public meet to commemorate Umar’s third death anniversary— for a short while.
His wife speaks in a hushed tone: “He puts up this face for us. It is very hard. He howls on the streets like a madman, and then neighbours bring him in. One day he passed out on the street.” Any moment of celebration or festivity in the house turns into mourning.
The last Friday congregation
It was the Islamic month of Ramdhan. Over 63 people had died. Umar readied himself for the Friday congregational prayers and went to the Mosque with his friend Adil.
Amid the strict restrictions put in place by the government, Mosques were among few spaces where people could engage in conversations, express solidarity or simply be together.
After the prayers when hundreds of people came out from different Mosques and were standing on the road-- a luxury in those days-- government forces armed with guns and batons, appeared from a nearby street, lobbed teargas shells and started chasing people. Umar was a bystander, his friend says. People ran for safety. But he couldn’t as police were pouring out from alleys and by-lanes.
“Police thrashed him against an iron shutter of a shop and an electric pole and beat him to pulp. They trampled him with their jackboots and bundled him in a vehicle with two other boys,” says his friend Adil, who couldn’t come to his rescue.
During his 'illegal' detention, Umar was tortured and later charged under various sections of the law. And, while in detention, his family was barred from meeting him.
Qayoom tried hard to reach out to his young son. “Later in the evening, I could somehow manage to enter the police station and took few bananas so that he could break his fast,” he says.
“I saw him. He was in a bad condition. We couldn’t talk much. He whispered that he was beaten ruthlessly and wanted to be taken to the hospital,” he recalls. Qayoom’s apparent stoicism turns to anger and disgust as he recalls his son’s condition, police repression and his own helplessness. He had requested the police to provide some drinking water to Umar, so that he could break his fast. Qayoom says: “Police refused and replied that he should drink his urine.”
He even requested police that his son’s condition was worsening and he should be taken to the hospital. Police again refused. “He is fine. We can see. I we feel he is not well, we will take him to hospital,” Qayoom says quoting a police officer.
A day after, on 21st August, the family managed to ‘secure his bail at 1 pm but the police let him out at 7 pm’. Umar vomited and complained of severe pain in his chest. He was taken to the SK Institute of Medical Sciences, few hundred meters from his house.
He had disclosed to his friend Adil that he was severely tortured. “He couldn’t say this to his family fearing they might get worried. He told me he was electrocuted,” Adil, who accompanied Umar to his home after he was released in the evening, recalls.
Qayoom says, despite Umar complaining of severe chest pain, the doctors did not diagnosed him correctly. “He had serious internal injuries due to the excessive beating and his condition was critical,” he says.
He was put on a life support system and on 25th August he succumbed to his injuries, leaving behind a trail of memories and ordeal, he became another ‘martyr’.
His medical reports suggest that he died due to ‘alleged beating’, and had developed internal lung injuries with acute respiratory failure.
The justice trail
The family says, Umar’s release didn’t end police ‘atrocities’. Police wrote an application on Umar’s behalf which stated that ‘he died in a stampede and the forces helped him a lot but he couldn’t make it’. “They denied torture and blamed us of beating our son,” says Qayoom.
While police officially washed its hands from the ‘murder’, it offered Umar’s family monetary compensation and a job. “They offered me five lakh rupees and a job (in police) for my daughter. I refused. On one hand, police claims my son died in a stampede and on the other hand they offer me money,” he remarks.
Qayoom says they have been repeatedly going to police for registering an FIR but to no avail. “Now three years have passed since Umar’s death. We have been approaching the police but they did not file an FIR,” he says. “We want justice. We want the policemen who tortured him be brought to book,” he adds.
While he runs from pillar to post, his three daughters, struggle with remembrance in their little ways but try to fill the void. “We know what our father goes through. He is not as strong as he tries to appear. I give tuitions because I don’t want him to feel lonely or do everything on his own,” says Urzeba one of Umar’s sisters.
The battle in court
In his compliant before a local court, Qayoom has said that his son was taken in custody and beaten up severely police personnel in police station Soura before his release.
Advocate Shabir Ahmad, the counsel for the family, says, “Had police been serious in this matter, it would have taken Umar’s body into custody as his death was suspicious. There is hardly a 300 meter distance from police station Soura and the SKIMS. But police have failed in its primary duty which speaks volumes about its dereliction of duty.”
The court while quoting from the police report has said, the then SHO police station Soura Abdul Majid Malik along with escort team had lifted three boys during patrolling on the allegations that they had been forcing shopkeepers to close their shops. Police have admitted of arresting three youth including Umar in its report filed before the court saying: “When they did not respond to his appeals to shun their activities for avoiding breach of peace, the trio were booked under sections 107, 151 Cr.P.C and produced before the executive magistrate concerned on August 25, 20910 in good state of health.”
According to the court, the police report further states that the trio was released on bail. “On the same day police had received information from their sources that Umar has expired and there were rumours in the area that he was tortured by cops,” the police reports reads further, as quoted by the court.
Concluding the merit of the case, the court had found that the enquiry was being conducted by same officer against whom there were serious allegations of torturing Umar while in custody. “The SSP should have taken note of all these facts and entrusted the enquiry to some other police officer, in order to guard the accusations being biased, interested and unfair conduct. It is the duty of the investigating agency to ensure that investigation is conducted in just, free and fair manner with promptitude,’ the court order of July 27, 2011 reads.
The court had further said that the enquiry officer has maintained a total silence about the complaint filed by Umar’s father at the earliest and has not taken the trouble to contact and examine the doctors who attended the deceased with regard to the injuries external, internal observed by them during the course of treatment and also to collect the record to that effect.
Pertinently, in its death summary report, the doctors of the SKIMS who treated Umar have reported: “He was admitted with chief compliant of vomiting of blood subsequent to allegedly beaten by cops four days ago. X-ray chest was showing bilateral diffuse infiltrates. CT scan chest was showing massive intrapulmonary hemorrhage. Both lungs were replaced with hemorrhage….in view of severe hypoxia patient was shifted to Special Intensive Care Unit for effective ventilation.”
Interestingly, on July 27, 2011, the then Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) Srinagar had taken a strong exception to the delay and police functioning into the incident. Yashpal Bourney, the then CJM Srinagar had had ordered SSP Srinagar to personally supervise the probe and appoint a deputy superintendent of police who will investigate the circumstances which led to death of Umar. “The facts from the file reveal a sordid picture of how irresponsibly and irrationally state is police is functioning,” Bourney, had remarked while directing the SSP Srinagar to complete the probe within 15 days and file a detailed report by the next date of hearing.
The fight for justice for Qayoom family, despite strong directives from the court continues even after three years of Umar’s death. Qayoom’s mission is his struggle against the oppression meted out to his son. In Kashmir where the gate to the law appears open, in reality, is diligently guarded by gatekeepers.
Umar is remembered as an “obedient son, a respectable and noble boy” and as someone who would never miss prayers. He was also part of a local group propagating Islamic teaching.
He was in 11th standard at MPML Secondary School in Kashmir's Old City. He was studying commerce and wanted to ‘do something for his father’. He loved playing computer games. Every year a night before Eid he would keep his sisters awake and they would engage in ‘long conversations about everything and nothing’.
When Umar was breathing his last in the hospital he had told his friend to take care of his sisters and parents.
His death shattered his siblings’ little world of dreams. “We were a lively gang. Now all our little stories, dreams, memories would remain incomplete forever.”
Urzeba say Umar had ‘promised to assist her in Mathematics in her Matriculation” and ‘had big plans’ for her. “When I passed my matriculation, I missed him a lot.”
Umar’s elder sister Nahida says he would help her read Urdu papers as she wasn’t fluent in the language. “I never read the newspaper now. It pains me.”
Their youngest sister Masroor averts her gaze while her sisters speak. She looks at the ceiling and tries to hide her memories in her warm smile and sad eyes.
The day Umar left for prayers and didn’t come back, his mother went out to look for him. Amid the mayhem, she identified his slippers lying on the road. She didn’t know she would now only follow his trailing imprints in her mind. “I wanted to pick them up. But I thought I would soon have my son back and I will get him the best pair. I so wanted to touch them. Little did I know his feet were longing to rest under earth.”
Picture credit: Uzma Falak, Adil Lateef and Yawar Kabli