A few kilos of rice, some packets of biscuits, a sleeping bag, two school bags, and Rs 280 in cash — these were among the things the four boys carried when they left their homes on June 26, the day of Eid, intending to cross the Line of Control (LoC). But an arduous 8-km trek up the slopes, a sleepless night under the open sky, and the cries of the youngest member of the team — a homesick 11-year-old — got the four to abandon their journey at Reshwari and come back home to Gulgam, their village in Kupwara, north Kashmir.
The four boys, two 15-year-olds, a 13-year-old and the 11-year-old, reached home a day later, on the evening of June 27, and are now “in detention” at the Kupwara police station. A fifth boy, a Class 11 student from the same village who allegedly motivated the four and even accompanied them some distance, is also being questioned by the Kupwara police. Inside a small staff resting room at the police station, where the four are under “detention”, the 13-year-old said, “For six days before we left, we would meet at the Eidgah and plan for the trip.”
He said the Class 11 boy had told them that a person would meet them at Noun Nard, a hilltop 13 km from Gulgam, and help them cross the LoC. The route from the village to Noun Nard and onwards to the LoC is non-motorable. He said they set off on their journey soon after the Eid prayers on Monday. The boys rushed to their homes, ate, collected their Eidi (gift money from parents) and then met at a common place.
“He (the Class 11 student) told us we can reach Pakistan through the border and eventually, settle there. He also said we would get arms training,” said another boy, one of the two 15-year-olds. “We first walked to Awoora village and from there to Reshwari, 8 km away. We reached by evening. That night, we decided to camp under the open sky, outside an abandoned hut. There was a masjid nearby but we decided not to stay there to avoid being noticed,” he said. The trek to Reshawri is over hilly terrain and through pine forests. The boys said they were exhausted by the time they got there.
“We lit a fire but did not know how to make rice. We ate half-cooked rice. We were carrying some sugar and teabags so we drank tea. During the trek, we rested several times and drank water from nullahs,” the 13-year-old said. “After we lay down for the night, suddenly, he started crying,” he said, referring to the 11-year-old. “He cried the whole night, asking us to take him back home. We couldn’t sleep. We also started missing home. We were worried about our families and for our own safety. There was an army camp nearby and we were afraid of getting killed right there. We were all very scared.”
The 11-year-old sat on the floor, silent through most of the conversation, only saying, “I missed home a lot.” So on the morning of June 27, the boys decided to start the trek back home. By then, news of their disappearance had spread. When they reached Awoora bus stand, they said, villagers spotted them and took them to their homes.
“On the evening of June 27, as soon as they reached home, we took all four of them to the Kupwara police station. They were kept there that night. The next day, they were handed over to us and they spent the night at home. But the next day, we were summoned to the police station and told to come with the boys. Since then, our boys have been kept under detention,” said the father of one of the four. Police, however, denied that the boys have been under detention. “The four boys are called in the morning for questioning and handed over to their families in the evening. We are investigating all the angles. In a day or two, we will come up with more details,” Kupwara SSP, Shamsher Hussain, told The Sunday Express.
Police also have different version of how the boys got home. On June 28, the day police handed the boys over to their families, SSP Kupwara Shamsher Hussian had held a press conference to say that a police team had intercepted the missing boys from near the LoC and brought them home. Family members and villagers accuse police of distorting facts. “These children are so innocent that they lit a fire to cook food near an army camp, without realising that it would give them away. They were fortunate to come out of there alive. Police should appreciate that they came back; instead, even after so many days, they continue to remain under detention,” said a relative of the 11-year-old.
On Saturday, three of the four boys were to take their first-term examination in school, but police allegedly didn’t allow them to. “I intervened on behalf of the boys’ families but police have been delaying their release. They cannot keep minors at the police station… it’s illegal,” said local MLA Bashir Ahmad Dar, whom the boys’ parents and the village elders met to seek their release.