Srinagar: Mosques in old Srinagar reverberate with ‘shaheed hamara Irfan’ (Irfan, our martyr) slogans and repeated assertions that his martyrdom would not be forgotten.
Government forces killed Irfan Fayaz Wani, 18, on Sunday evening during a protest by firing a teargas canister at his chest.
The roads leading to his home in Fateh Kadal, on the banks of Jhelum river, in a poor neighbourhood, have been painted with his name. His friends and neighbours remember him as the most committed pro-freedom boy in the area.
Irfan was born on 18 February 1998 in a poor family and his friends said “he never saw a moment of happiness in his life.”
He left his studies after six class due to the poor health conditions of his father, an auto-rickshaw driver. At the young age, he was charged with stone pelting and disturbing law and order.
His cousin, Muzamil, said, “How can a young boy like him understand the meaning of azadi or stone pelting. They took him away from his home and lodged with an FIR. He was a juvenile.”
He was put in the lock up with adults, some of whom were criminals.
“The detention and harassment hooked him to stone throwing. We begged police to release him and not to file an FIR against him as it will ruin his career. But they were adamant on ruining him,” Muzamil said.
After his release, he regularly joined protests and stone throwing clashes. He was arrested again and booked the second time. He was only 10.
Police nicknamed him ‘Ganda (onion)’.
During this time his father was taken ill and his elder brother was injured, which effectively made him the most responsible male member of the family.
Mehraj Din Sofi, his neighbour, gave him a job at his tea stall in Nishat after he left studies.
“I took care of him like my own son. He was such a nice kid. He was loved by all in his neighbourhood. He was always patient and calm. He knew he is the only one in his family now who can earn and he was determined to do it. For one year he was working at my tea stall and then left without any reason,” Mehraj said.
His elder brother, Aijaz Ahmad Wani, said, “After he left his job at tea stall, my mother raised money to buy him an auto-rickshaw. He took all the responsibility of home and raised his younger sisters treating them like his daughters.”
In the meantime, he was persistently troubled by the police if there was stone pelting in his area.
“They would immediately arrest him if there was stone pelting,” said Aijaz. “He was mentally tortured and beaten. This made him so used to it that he was no longer afraid of police and any security men.”
His uncle said the police made this “kind kid” into a “stone pelter”.
“How would he tolerate that his sisters and mother would go crazy each time the police raided his home in the middle of the night. His ailing father would cry whenever police would pick up him,” his uncle said.
The family said about 21 cases have been filed against Irfan in various police station across Srinagar.
His best friend Abid said Irfan was not spared by the police even while driving auto-rikshaw.
“Police would collect ‘hafta’ from him. They were torturing him every day and everywhere without any reason,” Abid said.
“He was a nice boy. He would bow his head while talking to elders. He was a religious boy. He offered morning prayers and would buy bread and groceries for home. His day would start at 4am, ” Abid said.
Abid said Irfan dreamed of becoming rich and marry off his sisters, Saima and Mevish.
“He wanted to do something for his family.”
Irfan’s mother Rafiqa Banoo said, “Police were after him. We knew that some day they will kill him. We would worry whenever he went out for earning livelihood.”
“He was threatened every now and then by Sajjad Khan (SP), Aijaz Trali (DSP) Yousuf (DSP M.R.Gunj) and this made him to leave for Manali in 2015,” Abid said.
Irfan’s father died of a heart attack on 26 September 2015. Neighbours said Irfan’s persecution at the hands of police had a very bad effect on his father’s health.
Irfan was informed about his father’s death but the police arrested him before he could step inside his home.
“They told him your father has died now. You are free now. You are broken. If you are so strong go and join militancy. We will see you there,” Abid said.
Father’s death shattered him. “He told us police is responsible for his father’s death, which is also a fact. He became so crazy that he said he will join militancy in south Kashmir and kill every policeman,” Abid said.
The family alleged that seven days ago, police officers Sajjad Khan and Aijaz Trali raided his home and threatened him they will kill him very soon.
“After this uprising police officials would threaten him on the road and at his home,” Abid said. “And he was not afraid of their threats. But his mother insisted that he should go away and stay at some relatives’ home for some days.”
Abid said that Irfan wrapped shroud around his body some days ago and asked him, “How do I look in this. He said he would die a martyr soon.”
Spending seven days at a relative’s home, Irfan longed to see his family. On Sunday, in the afternoon, he bathed and had tea with his cousins. He left from there by foot at 6pm.
When he reached Malaratta Chowk in Nowhatta at 6:30pm, about 2km from his home, a small protest was on.
Eyewitness who saw him coming from a lane, said, “There was a police armoured vehicle and CRPF in Malaratta Chowk. When they saw him they pointed their fingers at him. Then we heard a shot and Irfan fell down.”
Another eyewitness said he was shot from a close range and we ran to help him.
“We took him inside a house. He said he is fine, don’t me to hospital. He started to sweat and we felt he is not fine,” eyewitness said.
His brother Aijaz was informed and he managed a car to take him to the hospital.
“He was lying in my arms and was talking. He was saying ‘give me water.’ I gave him water. Then he said he needs to urinate. We stopped the car and I helped him to urinate on the road. Later, the blood started coming out from his nose and mouth and he closed his eyes. We thought he has fainted. At hospital, doctors told us he is dead.”
When his auto-rickshaw was searched by his friends on Monday morning for any valuables, they found a small diary under the hood. Irfan has noted down FIR numbers on the left side and dates for court appearance on right side. Nothing else had been written down on the diary.