SRINAGAR, Jammu and Kashmir ― Merajuddin Shah was known for wearing the most fashionable clothes in Makahama, a village in Budgam in central Kashmir. His friends and family say the 25-year-old Kashmiri liked dressing well every day and would draw a fair share of attention when he left for his office and returned home.
Shah was wearing a red shirt and jeans on 13 May, the day that he was shot dead by an Indian paramilitary soldier in yet another senseless tragedy in the conflict-ridden Kashmir Valley of seven million people.
Ashiq Hussain, his childhood friend, said, “He was dressed in a shirt with red checks that had become darker with his blood.” His voice choking with emotion, Hussain said, “He looked handsome even in death.”
Hussain, who had spent time with Shah the day before he was killed, described his friend as a young man with a cheery disposition, who loved his family and friends, with a penchant for branded clothes and sunglasses.
“He was in a jovial mood and made us all laugh,” he said. “How did I know that this was the last time I was seeing him? He was so full of life and how senselessly he has died.”
He was so full of life and how senselessly he has died.
A senseless death
With most Kashmiris fasting in the month of Ramzan, Shah’s village was sleeping when he left for Kanihama, a nearby village where he operates a Khidmat Centre, a Jammu and Kashmir government facility that provides “government to citizens and business to citizens services” in the hinterlands.
The village of Makahama woke up to the news of his death.
At ten in the morning, Shah was shot by a soldier of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) who was manning a checkpoint at Kawoosa, a village in Budgam.
Speaking to HuffPost India, Ghulam Hassan Shah, his uncle and an Assistant Sub-inspector in the J&K Police, who was with him in the car on Wednesday morning, reiterated that Shah had not jumped the checkpoint and he was sitting in the car.
“We stopped at the CRPF checkpoint and were allowed to go after I showed my police card. But the moment we were about to leave, a soldier fired at my nephew,” said Shah, who was heading to Srinagar’s Police Control Room. “He died on way to the hospital.”
“I have no idea what forced them to open fire,” he said.
Ghulam Nabi Shah, Shah’s father and a former government employee, also contested the official version of his son’s death.
“My son was stopped, dragged out of the vehicle and shot dead. I urge the CRPF and the police to please not resort to lies to justify the killing,” said Ghulam Nabi, who retired from the J&K’s Power Development Department in 2014.
Shah’s elder brother Shabir Ahmad Shah works as a constable in the J&K Police.
Shah’s uncle says he can’t believe his nephew was killed even after he showed the CRPF personnel his identity card.
“I saw with my own eyes my nephew being killed,” he said. “I saw him dying. He was young. He was just starting out.”
He was young. He was just starting out.
Merajuddin grew up in the village of Makahama, where he attended a local government school and then high school in the nearby town of Magam in Budgam. He then went to Uttarakhand to complete a hotel management course in the city of Dehradun.
He tried working for a hotel in Gulmarg, a famous scenic resort in Kashmir, but quit and joined the Khidmat Centre in Budgam as it was closer to his village.
Hussain, his friend, said that Merajuddin was an “ace footballer” of Makahama, and also loved playing cricket.
“In cricket, he was an all-rounder but a better bowler. He could bowl very fast,” Hussain said. “He was a tall man, 5.9 feet in height. This gave him an edge in sports. He was always quick, energetic and witty.”
The youngest of seven siblings, Hussain said Shah was “everyone’s darling.”
“Everyone pampered him in the family but this had not spoilt him. He was also very loving and caring, and not just towards his family and friends, but strangers as well,” he said.
His family, Hussain said, was planning to get him married this year, but he wanted more time to focus on his career.
“He wanted to go to Dubai and hoped to get a well-paying job before he could marry,” he said.
He wanted to go to Dubai and hoped to get a well-paying job before he could marry.
Returning his body
Deaths often become statistics in Kashmir, a figure in the daily police bulletins, but Hussain’s death triggered outrage on Wednesday. Photos and videos of women wailing at his home in Budgam were widely circulated on social media. Followings street protests where anti-India slogans were raised, the local administration shutdown mobile internet services in the district.
A recent official estimate puts the number of people killed in Kashmir over the past 30 years at 41,000 including 14,000 civilians. However, according to an estimate of total deaths in the same time period put forward by the Srinagar-based human rights organisation Coalition of Civil Society, the number is 70,000.
But so far, no security forces personnel has been punished for any of these killings. Under Section 7 of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), they can only be prosecuted if it is sanctioned by the home ministry.
The one concession the J&K government made to Shah’s family was handing over his body for burial.
Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in March in J&K, the administration has stopped giving bodies of militants and civilians killed in operations carried out by security personnel to their families, citing the need for social distancing.
Observers say another reason is to prevent large gatherings at the funerals for militants.
Shah’s family received the body at nine in the night on Wednesday. He was buried an hour later in the local graveyard of Makahama village. Despite the late hour, his family says that around 3,000 people attended his funeral.