By Ubeer Naqushbandi
Srinagar: A canister that looks like a ‘Coke tin’ exploded when 16-year-old Iqbal touched it, knowing not that this ‘sound bomb shell’ is a devious new weapon being used by government troops in Kashmir. Three fingers of Iqbal’s right hand were torn off by the explosion, leaving only the thumb and little finger intact. Iqbal’s father is himself disabled in one leg, from the torture he was subjected to by the army back in the days of militancy. The sight of father and son at SKIMS hospital, where Iqbal is admitted, is the sight of two generations disabled by the armed forces in Kashmir.
Standing on crutches in Ward 6 of SKIMS, Ghulam Ahmed Mir, 47, is trying hard to feed his son Iqbal soup with a spoon. His hands tremble and the soup spills on the napkin laid over Iqbal.
Residents of Beehama in Ganderbal, Mir and his son said that on July 29, aFriday, government forces attacked Beehama, damaging houses, firing teargas shells at crowds, and later, throwing the Coke tin-size canisters at people which exploded when gripped.
Mir said that in the years of militancy, an army major routinely tortured him on trumped-up accusations. “During those days, I was constantly harassed by Major Khandari from Zakura camp. He used to torture me on one pretext or other,” Mir told Kashmir Reader.
Sometimes labelled as “militant motivator” and other times Mir was tortured on pretext of printing “provocative posters”. “All charges against me were found false by the court. But by then, Major Khandari had tortured me to the extent of damaging my right leg, making me handicapped forever,” Mir said.
He said that on July 29, people from different areas of Beehama had come to offer congregational prayers at Markazi Jamia Masjid. “The forces deployed in strength didn’t allow them to offer prayers at the mosque. People then decided to offer prayers in small mosques of the locality,” Mir said.
As Mir was telling of the events of the day, some friends of Iqbal in their teens arrived to inquire about his well-being. “Get well soon. We need to play chess again,” they said to Iqbal.
One of the friends informed that Iqbal was a district-level chess master and had many certificates.
After exchanging greetings with his son’s friends, Mir continued to narrate, “The people were still busy in prayers when we heard thuds and loud bangs. People went outside to see what had happened. They were shocked to see every single glass of houses, automobiles, and even mosques, broken by forces.”
This enraged people, Mir said. “The people decided to march towards the main chowk to hold a protest.”
Mir said that the forces stopped them from marching ahead. “Then there was a lull for few hours. The people were in their homes. When Asr time (evening prayer) arrived, people went towards mosques as usual. The forces fired numerous tear gas shells at them and also fired shots in the air. This created chaos and people started running for cover,” Mir said.
This “unnecessary provocation” by forces gave vent to already simmering anger. “The people decided to continue marching towards the main chowk. There was a sea of people.” But, surprisingly, forces didn’t fire any shell or live bullet, Mir said. “They threw a few canisters of Coke tin size towards the procession,” Mir said.
Mir’s son Iqbal touched one. “No sooner than he touched it, it exploded. His hand was all red with blood and the fingers bruised,” Mir said.
Iqbal said that when he touched the small canister, he felt extreme pain. “It was as if tonnes of steel had been dropped on my hand,” he described the sensation.
After that, Iqbal said, he was bundled by some locals into a Maruti car and brought to SKIMS.
At SKIMS, three rounds of surgeries have already been done on his right hand and two more rounds of surgeries are still to be done.
Both father and son recalled the memory of men in uniform laughing at their misery. In Mir’s case it was Major Khandari who constantly laughed when he tortured Mir in the Zakura camp, and at Iqbal the troops had laughed saying, “Pela mar gaya (the puppy has died).”