Nayeem was an exceptional Under-19 cricketer and was selected for national-level coaching before he was killed in violence in the town
In a small room of a gabled house at the end of a narrow lane, two girls bring in a huge tray of trophies, certificates and cricket bats that their 19-year-old brother Nayeem Qadri Bhat lived for until last Tuesday, when he was killed in violence in the town. Their mother breaks down as they display his medals, along with newspaper clips of his achievements, on the carpet.
“This is who he was. This is all he wanted from life,” said Nayeem’s sister, Muneera Akhtar, 26, holding a gold-plated ‘Man of the Series’ memento.
It took TOI five days to reach the families of the victims killed on last Tuesday when clashes broke out between stone-pelters and security forces in Kupwara. The entire district in north Kashmir was under curfew. Police even prohibited journalists; the TOI cab on Thursday was turned back twice from the district and didn’t get permission to visit until Monday morning when the curfew was relaxed for two hours.
Nayeem, an exceptional under-19 cricketer, was selected for national-level coaching. His parents called him ‘Gavaskar’.
Nayeem was at home when a boy was shot in the market on Tuesday following fierce stone pelting, his family members said. “He was holding a lollipop for a family kid on the veranda when we heard the gunshot,” Muneera recalled.
A meritorious science student, Nayeem was to leave on April 16 for Dehradun for admission in a BSc course in forestry. “Father (a government employee) told him that he had withdrawn cash from his provident fund for his studies. Nayeem, a Virat Kohli fan, was going to study and practice cricket simultaneously. He wanted to play at the national level,” his sister said.
A romantic, Nayeem’s last Facebook post was, “I love you, and I will love you until I die, and if there is a life after that, I’ll love you there.” His cover page too had reference to the love of his life: “To the world, you may be one person, but to one person you are the world.”
Muneera said, “He used to share everything about his life with me. He loved a girl madly and had such dreams!”
Half-an-hour after the first killing, Nayeem’s elder brother Zahoor called him from the troubled spot and asked him to bring an DSLR camera so that he could take pictures for a news agency. “He brought me the camera and one of our uncles, who was nearby, handed him a bag of vegetables to take home. I went to the hospital to check the victims and had no idea that I would find my brother there too,” Zahoor said.
“Our uncle saw ASI Mohammad Rafiq shoot my brother from behind as he walked home. Uncle begged Rafiq not to shoot, but the cop took a gun from a soldier and targeted Nayeem’s lower back. The police that used to reward him for cricket, killed him,” said Zahoor.
A relative disputed the police and Army version that they fired after the mob set an Army picket ablaze. “They’re lying. The fire started almost two hours after they killed the boys. It was a mob of only 200 boys and it could’ve been easily handled without lethal force. The first boy was a stone-pelter but Nayeem was just a passerby,” he said.
One of Nayeem’s brothers is a police constable. His uncle was a National Conference official and was killed by militants in 1996. “We’ve served the state and the country. But now my children are outraged. They want to go and pelt stones,” one of Nayeem’s cousins said.
“Khoon ka badla khoon se (we want blood for blood),” Muneera said. “We don’t want financial compensation. We want the culprits dead.” Zahoor and other siblings intervened, “We want the government to hold an impartial probe and punish the guilty. But to begin with, the services of SP Handwara and ASI Rafiq must be terminated.”
Outside, a massive crowd gathered in the main market. Many young boys stood stiffly, arms crossed.