‘What normalcy is this?’ Asks family of Srinagar resident who died of teargas smoke

CRPF personnel stopped autorickshaw that was taking unconscious and frothing Ayoub Khan to hospital. After his relatives begged for 20 minutes, the auto was allowed to go. But it was too late by then

A street near Lal Chowk in Srinagar (PTI photo)
A street near Lal Chowk in Srinagar (PTI photo)

Majid Maqbool

The family of 55-year-old Mohammad Ayoub Khan is still in shock. A resident of Braripora area of Sekidafar in downtown Srinagar, Khan died from suffocation after two teargas shells fired by security forces exploded beneath his feet on the afternoon of August 17, according to the eye witnesses and his two younger brothers.

After inhaling plumes of teargas smoke, Khan fell unconscious, and later breathed his last on the way to the hospital where he was declared brought dead.

At their home in downtown, Ayoub’s two brothers are yet to come to terms with his loss. They regret that his death has gone unaccounted for – and largely unreported – amid the lockdown and complete communications blockade enforced in the Valley since August 5. They said they haven’t been able to inform all their relatives who still don’t know about his death.

The government has been maintaining no deaths and “not a single bullet fired” by government forces in Kashmir since the lockdown began on August 5 after the BJP government revoked Article 370 and divided the state into two Union Territories.

State government spokesperson Rohit Kansal in one of the press conferences held in mid-August had said that he was not aware of any civilian deaths. “We don’t have any reports of causalities. We will verify the matter,” he said.

Ayoub’s younger brother Shabir Ahmed Khan said many of their relatives and Ayoub’s friends are yet to know about his death. The bereaved family couldn’t contact them on phone as both mobile phones and landlines were snapped.

“Our sister from Pattan (in north Kashmir) came to know about it four days after his death when we somehow managed to send a relative there to inform her,” said Khan. “She couldn’t believe it. It was more painful.”

Ayoub earned his livelihood from timber business. He was the only source of income for his family including his wife and three young daughters. His youngest daughter studies in 4th standard, the middle one is in 8th standard, and his eldest daughter is a 12th standard student. His wife and daughters can’t bring themselves to talk about their loss.

According to Khan, Ayoub had come out of his home that day along with other men from the neighbourhood to see the commotion on the road following some minor stone pelting incident in a neighbouring area.

Fayaz Ahmed, an eyewitness who lives in another neighbourhood across the street from Ayoub’s home, said he was also standing near Ayoub when three teargas shells fired by the security forces to disperse people landed in front of them.

He said people from their neighbourhood had come out to tell the government forces not to smash windows of the houses on the street as there were no protests in their area. After the shells landed in front of them, Ahmed managed to scamper around and pushed one teargas shell into a drain.

“The other two shells exploded right in front of Ayoub’s feet and he immediately collapsed from suffocation after inhaling the pungent smoke emitted from the two shells,” said Ahmed who along with Ayoub’s brothers and other people rushed him inside his home where his condition deteriorated. His eyes turned red. He struggled to breathe.

“Mae neyev gare gode…”, (Take me home first) were his final words to those who picked him up from the roadside, according to his brother and Ahmed who were with him.

“When we brought him inside our home, he started frothing at his mouth and blood came out of his nose,” said Khan. “We couldn’t even call for an ambulance and had to rush him to the nearby SMHS hospital in an auto rickshaw.”

Ayoub’s second brother Muhammad Ilyas Khan said the CRPF personnel stationed on the road stopped and prevented them from moving ahead. They were stuck for about 20 minutes on the road, said Khan, even as they pleaded before the CRPF personnel blocking the road to let them go and reach the hospital sooner.

“They allowed us to move ahead after we repeatedly pleaded with them and showed them his serious condition,” said Khan. That delay proved to be fatal for their brother.

“When we reached the hospital, he was declared brought dead by the doctors there,” Khan said, pausing in between, his eyes brimming with tears. “I wish they had not stopped us on the road for those 20 minutes. Maybe our brother could have survived.”

According to the family, the hospital authorities didn’t write the reason for his death on the discharge certificate which only mentions “brought dead” in the ‘cause of death’ column. The family is yet to receive his death certificate.

“They only wrote he was brought dead and didn’t write down the reason of his death on his discharge certificate when we clearly told them that he died from inhaling the teargas smoke,” said Khan. “They wanted to do a post-mortem first but the family didn’t want that to be done.”

While bringing the dead body back from the hospital in an ambulance, they were again stopped by the security forces in Nowhatta chowk, according to Khan who was inside the ambulance. He said they had to then bring down the body from ambulance which was stopped from moving ahead on the main road and carry the dead body in their hands to bring it inside their home.

“They (CRPF troops) also fired tear gas shells and even pellets on the mourners and other people from the neighbourhood who had assembled there to receive the dead body,” said Khan, adding that about five to eight people were injured in teargas and pellet firing in the area that day.

Shabir Khan said he was himself hit by pellets. Rolling up his trouser, he shows the wound which is still visible on his right leg.

The brothers said that Ayoub, despite being elder to them, was very fit and healthiest among the three brothers. They said he was very active and always around to lend a helping hand to anyone in need. He was also a known figure in the neighbourhood, actively participating in resolving any local issues.

His brothers said they want justice, the guilty to be punished, a probe into his death, and adequate compensation for his immediate family. They have also registered an FIR in the local police station mentioning his cause of death from inhaling teargas smoke. However, they are not hopeful of getting any justice.

The two brothers get angry every time they hear the talk of “return of normalcy” and “no deaths” since August 5 lockdown as claimed by the government and propagated news channels in New Delhi.

“We didn’t even get to inform all our relatives in time about our brother’s death. Some of our relatives in south Kashmir still don’t know about his death,” said Ilyas Khan, raising his voice in anger. “What kind of normalcy is this?”

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