Srinagar: On July 9, hours after the killing of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, 23-year-old Altaf Ahmad left his house in Kupwara to participate in public protests in his village. His wife was pregnant at the time and the child’s birth was expected in the coming week. She asked Altaf to stay home, but Altaf did not listen. He was his village’s famed stone-thrower; daredevil, they called him. He went out and was hit with pellets in his eyes and chest.
It is September 9 now and Altaf with bandaged eyes is lying face down on a bed in the ophthalmology ward of SMHS hospital. “The doctor has advised him to lie on his belly for a few days. Perhaps he is sleeping,” said Altaf’s elder brother Zahoor Ahmad. He said that even after repeated attempts by doctors, there has been no significant improvement in his eyesight.
Zahoor, a businessman, told Kashmir Reader that Altaf had been pelting stones since 2010, and that he had earned a distinction in his village of having the best arm. “He is a daredevil and has been at the forefront of anti-India protests in his village since 2010,” Zahoor said.
Narrating one such incident of Altaf’s “daredevilry”, Zahoor said, “On one occasion when there were fierce protests going on in our village, Altaf caught hold of a CRPF man and made him drink his urine in his helmet.”
In the meantime Altaf woke up and told this reporter to publish about the lack of facilities in the hospital. “Even after three surgeries there is no improvement in my eyesight. Write about it in your newspaper,” Altaf said in a harsh tone.
After Zahoor’s intervening, Altaf began to calm down and started talking about his newborn son. “He is two months old now. I have not been able to see him. I hope I regain my eyesight and see him,” Altaf said in a subdued tone.
When he heard Altaf talking about his newborn son, Zahoor said he had something “interesting” to reveal: “When Altaf was being treated at SMHS hospital, Altaf’s wife was 9-month pregnant and the date for the childbirth was scheduled on July 12,” he said, adding that the journey from Kupwara to Srinagar’s Lal Ded Hospital was something he will remember forever. “We were stopped at so many places that I lost count. It was such a mentally exhausting journey, but with God’s help we reached the hospital, where Altaf’s wife gave birth to a boy,” he said.
Zahoor revealed that as soon as Altaf heard the news, he dispatched a friend from SMHS to Lal Ded with the instructions that the boy be named Burhan.
“He has so much love and passion for freedom that he named his son as Burhan. He also told us that he had decided to sacrifice his son for the cause of Kashmir’s freedom,” Zahoor said.
Altaf said that at that time “there was so much emotion that no other name came to my mind. Burhan was reverberating from everywhere and it was apt to name my son after my hero,” Altaf said.
An official of Lal Ded hospital, wishing anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the media, said that during the first few days following Burhan Wani’s death, almost every newborn boy in the hospital was named Burhan. The official said that he also heard the families talking among themselves that they would keep their newborn child for sacrifice to Kashmir’s Azadi struggle. “I don’t know how serious their claims were, but it was an altogether different atmosphere in the hospital back then. Such statements were quite common,” the official said.