Kashmir Image Credit: Supplied

How does one wrap his head around this travesty? A three-year-old, crying inconsolably, on his grandfather’s body. Surrounded by cop cars and soldiers, the child — his legs astride — sits atop the bloodied dead body. There is a powerful abruptness about this trauma.

The incident took place in my hometown of Sopore, around 50 kilometres from Srinagar, the capital of Jammu and Kashmir. The cops say the man was killed in a crossfire between militants and soldiers. The slain man’s family says he was stopped and killed by soldiers in cold blood.

OPN 200701 KASHMIR BOY-1593605338377
Questions have been raised about who clicked the photo of the child sitting on top of his grandfather's body near the site of a gunfight in Sopore Image Credit: ANI

Like every time there is going to be a crossfire of versions. There is the version of the family and then there is the version of cops. By evening, these comparative narratives will take the shape of the most asinine TV debates.

For the media — this is where it ends. The news cycle will change tomorrow. For Kashmiris this will be another injustice heaped upon a pile of injustice in their collective conscience. For the family that lost their dear one, and the kid that lost his granddad today, it is an emotional void they may find hard to fill.

This is how the narrative of war plays out in the valley. The place where the car came to a screeching halt and this tragedy unfolded today is very near to an orchard where we used to steal apples while growing up. That era of innocence is over, I regret to inform.

We have now become a land of obituary writers. We grieve our orchards, the fragrance of apples. We mourn the innocence of three year olds.

Emotional trauma

Imagine the kid’s mental state. Imagine someone suddenly taking away the love of a grandfather from you. Last week, a six-year-old boy was killed during an attack on soldiers in Anantnag.

That kid was sleeping in a parked car when he was hit by a bullet. That incident too drew widespread anger and condemnation. Those images too went viral. Then everyone moved on.

The violence in Kashmir, exacerbated after August 2019 when India’s prime minister Narendra Modi suddenly stripped the province’s limited political autonomy, has hit a new low. No one seems immune now. That includes children.

Images of the little boy, who was made to witness the killing of his grandpa today, may fade away from public memory soon. When we are done with the current orgy of sharing grisly images, we shall patiently wait for the next lot.

But what all of us forget, conveniently, is this: along with our men and women who are falling to whatever frenzy this is — the luxury of innocence of our kids too is being taken away. It has come to such a pass now that something clearly seems amiss if a few mornings do not start with mourning in Kashmir.

A war of versions

Therefore this debate about whether the gentleman was made to alight his vehicle first before he was hit with bullets or he stopped the car himself and then got off and was then killed — may continue. There will be many versions. Only the child bears the true witness, but he is just 3.

OPN 200701 KASHMIR BOY3-1593605339955
On its Twitter handle, the J&K Police said the child was “rescued from getting hit by bullets during a terrorist attack”. Image Credit: ANI

Former J&K CM Omar Abdullah, someone not known to watch his statements much these days, perhaps summed it aptly, noting the 3-year-old boy’s misery was being “broadcast to the whole world to drive home the ‘we good, they bad’ message.”

A quick look at social media and the endless stream of politicians, activists, Hindutva hate factory bots along with pseudo nationalists are already at each other’s throats, spamming each other with their version of today’s incident.

Gut wrenching images

Earlier in the day I requested a cousin not to forward me the pictures but how long can one run away from a jinx? You try to scoot but it finds a way to confront you.

Disturbed by the images, I closed my eyes, trying to shut out the hurt. Trills of robin, singing like a drunk bard, rang in my ears. Those childhood sounds came from the orchard nearby. I remembered my own grandfather, who owned many apple trees.

For kids, grandparents are often magicians, creating magic. Sometimes they become our proverbial horses. The little boy who sat atop his grandfather’s body on the roadside in Sopore took one final ride today. Then the cops hauled him up. The images, for the lack of a better word, are already viral.

In a distance, innocence rode away.