The three-year-old pretends his hand is a gun, turns the index finger towards himself, acts as if he is pulling the trigger, and mimics the sound of gunshots.
It’s several hours since the child was photographed sitting on the body of his grandfather, killed during an encounter at Sopore on Wednesday morning. He is still wearing the blue track pants and full-sleeved T-shirt that officers at the Sopore Police Station bought for him, to change him out of his blood-stained clothes.
The J&K Police, which released the boy’s photos saying they had rescued him at the site of the encounter, said his grandfather, 65-year-old Bashir Ahmad Khan, was killed when militants opened fire on security forces on the outskirts of Sopore.
The CRPF, which lost a Head Constable while three of its men were injured, said they had got off their vehicles to set up a routine checkpoint when the attack happened. “Militants hiding in the attic of a mosque started firing indiscriminately,” a CRPF spokesman said, identifying the deceased as Head Constable Deep Chand. While they fired back, the CRPF said, the militants managed to escape.
As the boy listens, back at Khan’s home on the outskirts of Srinagar, the family accuses police of shooting Khan after dragging him out of his car. He quietly hands over a glass of water to his mother Iram, who is inconsolable at the loss of her father. “Couldn’t they see he was accompanied by a child?” she cries.
Khan’s son Suhail Ahmad asks why Khan would have come out of his car in the midst of firing, adding that there is no bullet mark on the vehicle. “They say he was killed in cross-firing. Then he should have died inside the vehicle.”
The J&K Police and CRPF have denied the family’s allegations, including that security forces took photos of Khan’s body. Soon after the shootout, the J&K Police tweeted pictures of an officer carrying the boy after his “rescue”. Minutes later, pictures appeared of him sitting on the body of his grandfather on social media.
National Conference leader Omar Abdullah accused the security forces of using the boy as a “propaganda tool” to show themselves as the good guys. “Everything becomes a propaganda tool in the bloody violence in Kashmir. A three year old toddler has to have his misery broadcast to the whole world to drive home the ‘we good they bad’ message,” he tweeted.
In another post, Omar said, “We would have expected no less from the men in uniform than to rescue the young boy & for that they have our gratitude but we would expect better than for them to film & use a three year old’s pain the way it’s being done today.”
PDP president Mehbooba Mufti’s daughter Iltija Mufti tweeted from her mother’s handle: “Two versions about what caused the death of a 65 year old civilian in Sopore. Family has held CRPF responsible for his cold blooded murder.”
At a press conference, IGP, Kashmir, Vijay Kumar said, “If any civilian says that the CRPF has done this, please come to us and report. We will take action. This is not true at all. It is just to spread rumours and create law and order problems.”
CRPF Special DG (J&K Zone) Zulfiqar Hassan told The Indian Express, “I can say that the angle from where the fire came and hit the civilian, it was from the militant side… The civilian, who was caught in the middle of the firing, may have got out to take cover.”
The family says that the three-year-old, the youngest of three siblings, was deeply attached to his grandfather. “He accompanied him everywhere, slept with him and looked for him the moment he got up in the morning,” Iram says. Early Wednesday morning, Khan had taken him along as he drove to Handwara, via Sopore, to fetch the family’s domestic help.
Speaking in a mix of Urdu and Kashmiri, the boy wonders at the crowd gathered at his nana’s house. The fact that Khan is no more has not registered, and he asks his mother if he can go out to look, as “Nana is in the car waiting for me”.
The family marvels that he escaped without a scratch. An aunt, who picked him up from the Sopore Police Station and got him home, says, “It is a miracle that the bullets missed him.”
As everyone huddles around him, the three-year-old gets irritated at all the requests for a photograph, and finally crawls into his father’s lap.