Nadihal, Baramulla: On the morning of August 31, the eldest son of a poor farmer lay dead on a gravel road that ran through golden rice fields in Nadihal village in Baramulla district. His last words, as Mohammad Ashraf remembers, who came to his rescue, were, “Modus ha. Mei dui treish. (I am dying. Give me water.)”
Some water he drank, and then he died, his head slumping towards the earth.
Mehraj-ud-Din Lone, called Danish by his family and neighbours, was aged 17. He was in Class 12, studying arts.
Danish was a loving brother and an obedient son, his father Manzoor Ahmad Lone said. He stepped out of home at 9:30 on the morning of August 31 to look for his younger brother, Aqib, who had gone out sometime before. “He feared he might have joined the protests. He cared for the safety of his younger brothers,” Manzoor said. Manzoor is survived now by three sons and one daughter.
When Danish went out, people were going towards the Sopore fruit mandi after hearting news that government forces were beating traders there without any reason. Most of the villagers here are fruit growers and their livelihood depends on the wholesale fruit market, the mandi.
Ashraf was one among the people going to the fruit market that day. He recalled, “It was a peaceful march. Some hundred men were moving towards the fruit mandi. We didn’t see any army men on the roads. As we reached near the border of the village, we heard gun shots from orchards and rice fields. Bodies appeared, lying on the road. Some among us ran through the rice fields for cover while others ducked.”
Villagers claim that the army ambushed them, hiding inside the fields and then firing at them as if they were terrorists.
Danish was at the wrong place at the wrong time, searching for his younger brother among the protesters.
His father said he saw Danish on the road to the fruit mandi. He told him to go home.
“The younger Aqib came home alive, but Danish didn’t,” his father said and burst into a loud cry, tears rolling down his face, his hands beating his forehead. “My Danish, my beloved, has left us forever,” he murmured, his voice choking with grief.
Villagers said that the shooting lasted for an hour. In Ladoora village, bordering Nadihal, residents said they thought an encounter was going on between the army and militants, such was the intensity of the shooting.
Three people were seriously injured in the shooting. They are being treated at hospital for bullet injuries in head, shoulder and chest. In Ladoora, government forces also fired indiscriminately at protesters, injuring five people, including the village sarpanch.
Another witness of the Nadihal shootout, Mehraj, recounted that the army men stood on their knees, which meant they were “shooting to kill.”
It took a while for villagers to identify Danish, as Mehraj remembers. “We thought he was from some other village. His face was unfamiliar to us. He had never been seen in any protest. Later we came to know he was from our village. We couldn’t believe it. We asked each other what he was doing among the protesters.”
Ashraf said that he ran towards Danish as he fell down. “I saw no injury on his body. After further examination, I saw a small hole in his abdomen. I thought it was a pellet injury. Doctors later told us he had been hit by a bullet,” Ashraf said.
Danish was not well known in his village because he spent most of his time at home, studying.
Tariq Ahmad Lone, his neighbour, said he would see the light in Danish’s room on till 2am. “When I would see him, I would tell him that you should spend some time with friends and neighbours,” Lone said.
His close friend Mohammad Tablib Mir described Danish as a boy with a vision. “He was straightforward. He was really serious about his life and family.”
His father, with teary eyes, said that Danish had never been a naughty or disobedient child. “He never said no to me,” the grieving father said.
Haji Ghulam Mohammad Lone, a relative, said Danish would save pocket money to buy books both for himself and for his siblings.
This year Danish wanted to top in the Class 12 Board exams. His family said that he had completed a second revision of all his books in early July. His brother Aqib brought the day plan that Danish had scribbled on a piece of paper. There were five subjects written on the right side of the paper and on the left side, the time he planned to spend on each subject.
His classmate and friend, Mudasir Maqbool, said he saw Danish on Tuesday at 3pm outside the mosque. He prayed five times a day. Mudasir remembered Danish asking him about reading for the exams. “I told him I hadn’t started yet. He always talked about studies. It was his obsession. He would never take part in extracurricular activities at school.”
Danish had no phone, because he thought it is a waste of time. Mudasir said that on a picnic last year, his maternal uncle forced Danish to take a phone with him. In the evening he returned it, even as his uncle insisted that he keep it.
His teacher, Ishfaq Paul, would call Danish “mamaji” because his name was similar to his maternal uncle’s. “He would blush when I would call him by that name,” the teacher said.
Ishfaq said that Danish was a dedicated student, humble and better than other students. He always minded his own business and was a “little different” than other students, Ishfaq said.
Danish had few friends. “He didn’t want to be in bad company that would ruin his life,” Mudasir said.
Before his funeral, a few hundred rupees were recovered from his pocket which his father had given him some days ago to buy new books.
His mother Haneefa Begum has put these currency notes in her pocket and frequently takes them out to kiss them. “Where did you go, my son? How will I live without you?” she cries out loudly, flinging her arms towards the sky to hug her son.