Pulwama: ‘How anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth?’
When he lay in the silence of the night in his dimly-lit, poorly-furnished room, beside a pile of books, Shakeel Ahmad Ganaie would often wonder. He was no more than 18 years old, but already a philosophic and religious stirring had begun inside him. A year ago, he had bought an English translation of the Quran and had begun to visit “secretly” Islamic preachers to know more on the subject. This year’s uprising, which erupted of a sudden at the news of Burhan Wani’s killing, had forced him to confront the colossal tragedy of death and destruction, and he had tried to turn away from it, towards isolation, away from protests and discussions.
This young, meditative man embraced the unquiet slumbers in the quiet earth on Friday, at his native village in Chandpora. But he did not choose his end; he was brutally killed by government forces in Aarihal village in Pulwama district.
Shakeel Ahmad Ganai was born on May 26, 1997, after two siblings in an underprivileged family, “where each day was a challenge to live and move on,” said his elder brother, Gulzar. His father, Ghulam Mohammad Ganaie, works as a watchman and his mother, Shamima Banoo, works for a season as an apple-picker to raise their family of five children.
Where every boy in his locality has a passion for cricket and volleyball, Shakeel spent most of his time indoors, studying to become a doctor. “After passing his Class 10 exam, he made up his mind to prepare for an MBBS course. He spent most of his time in his room, studying late into the night. Sometimes he didn’t even know that it was already morning,” said his brother Gulzar.
After passing the Class 12 exam, in 2015, Shakeel went to Srinagar for tuition for the MBBS entrance exam. “Our parents worked hard to pay for the tuition fees,” Gulzar said.
Shakeel stayed in Parraypora in a rented room for a few months, with other boys. He was sure that he would quality the CET (Combined Entrance Test). “But to his disappointment, he failed to qualify the exam. He joined a BTech course at SSM College, but after a few months he realised that it was not what he wanted to do. He left college at the end of 2015 and joined a BSc course in Pulwama College in 2016. He was disappointed with himself,” said his close friend, whose name is also Shakeel Ahmad.
Preferring to stay within his room, Shakeel would always ask his friend, “Will I ever become a doctor?” “I spent most of the winter in his home with him. He was in stress and unable to sleep at night. I would encourage him to pursue his dreams. It is never too late, I would tell him. If God closes one door, he opens a hundred others,” his friend Shakeel recalled.
In such a confusing time, Shakeel Ahmad found guidance in the teachings of Islam. He bought a Quran translated in English and began to go to preachers to know more about Islam.
“He would go to them without telling anyone. This was his way of making sure that no one made fun of him. He was trying to make himself more aware of Islam, without anyone being aware of it,” said his neighbour, Imtaiz Ahmad Mir, in whom Shakeel confided his secret.
The verses of the Quran enlightened his mind and his life started to change. “It made him a better human being,” said Imtaiz. Shakeel’s dream of becoming a doctor revived, and he started to socialise with his friends and family.
“He started to visit me for counselling,” said Imtiaz, who is studying for a masters in social work. “I would give him suggestions and guide him. This bolstered his confidence and he told me he would study again for CET.”
This year in Ramadan, Shakeel volunteered to wake up families before dawn for their sehri (meal before the fast begins). He went around calling out people’s names, playing drums and chanting. He also volunteered to teach Class 10 students at a coaching centre.
His friend, a teacher at the coaching centre, said, “He came this year and asked for permission to teach the students. We were happy to see him and told him, Sure.” Shakeel also began to work part-time as a labourer, doing all he could to achieve his dream by his own dint. Once again, however, something disturbed him from his path. The killing of Burhan Wani and the government’s repression of the protests that followed, made him despondent and once again withdraw into himself. “He was now again spending time in isolation. He was depressed,” Imtiaz said.
Shakeel, his friend, said that on Thursday he went to a barber to have his beard and hair trimmed. “He asked me how do I look now? I told him you look like a Musalmaan. He felt so happy.”
On Friday, he had lunch at home and then went out for prayers. His younger brother, Ishak, said he came back and said that he wanted to go to his maternal grandparents’ home to eat corn. “We don’t have land or maize fields. We are poor. Our maternal grandparents have lots of land and he loves to go there,” Ishak said.
He went to his maternal grandparents’ home in Aarihal with his friend Mukhtaar Ahmad, some 4 km from his home. He went through rice fields and orchards to avoid police checkpoints. Mukhtaar said, “When we reached Aarihal, there were clashes going on between protesters and police. I told him, let’s go back. But he was not afraid of them. He walked on. Police detained him and I ran away. I don’t know what happened with him later.”
People at Aarihal who witnessed what happened to Shakeel said, “Security forces, among them DSP Iftikar Chowdhary, started beating him with gun butts after they caught him. As he was pleading with them, they slashed his back with a knife. Then a gun nozzle was inserted in his abdomen and sticks were beaten on the wound. When he didn’t die, they fired a tear gas canister at his shoulder from a close range and then again pounded him with kicks and sticks. He was dragged away for a few feet. Police then left him and ran away. When we reached him, he was already dead.”
Doctor Mohammad Shafi, surgeon at District Hospital Pulwama, said there was clear evidence of firearm injury on Shakeel’s body, and marks of assault on his shoulder and chest, due to which he suffered haemorrhage and finally, cardiac arrest.
On the day he died, women, children and men took out separate rallies in Aarihal and Chandpora village to give him the final farewell. “Shaheed hamara Shakeel” reverberated for hours together.