A Decade Later, Dad’s Devotion Defines His Defiance

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Photo Courtesy: Syed Shahriyar

Ten years ago, Mohammad Ashraf Mattoo was living a different life filled with hope and promise. But then it just took a single shot to shatter his happy life and made him a lifelong campaigner for an elusive justice. 

By Fahad Amin

THREE boys were eagle-eying street footfall at Srinagar’s Saida Kadal area when a familiar figure emerged from an alley. Sporting snow-white hairdo and moustache, the man took a modest walk around, before quietly going for the court hearing.

“There we go again,” said a boy in blue shirt and grey trousers. “The poor father is again out to chase the long denied justice.”

“It’s not about justice only,” interrupted another boy flaunting a long hairdo, “it’s equally about injustice done to his son.”

“Rather,” a sulking one, among the trio, chipped in, “it’s his way to console himself: ‘Son, you can’t be forgotten’.”

Mohammad Ashraf Mattoo, the man about whom the boys were talking about one summer day in recent past, has indeed demonstrated through his decade-long court battle that he’s fighting to uphold his son’s memory against the concerted efforts of forgetfulness.

But what’s his idea of memory all about, he was once asked.

“It’s to remember him the way he was — the apple of my eye, who was badly plucked from my garden.”

Today, it’s his constant fight for elusive justice which explains Ashraf Mattoo’s resilient world.

But over the years, as the scope for justice got squeezed, the father only grew stronger in his resolve. He held his ground even after the official probe-makers termed schoolboy Tufail Mattoo’s killers as “untraceable”. Later, the father would be even denied the contents of the probe commission report.

And yet, he remains, as the boys in his neighbourhood described him, ‘the rebel with a cause’.

By now, his son’s seething summer obituary has fared on every possible global publication. But the details of that day, June 11, 2010, continue to unsettle the father who along with others has only become a courtroom campaigner for his son’s sake.

Today, Mattoo Sr turns taciturn when people say the slain son could’ve been a promising 27-year-old man right now. He could’ve been a scientist, as the father recall his treasured ‘aim in life’. He could’ve been anything, if not lying in his grave.

The father, however, has immortalized his son as 17-year-old boy who was last seen running for his life in a cricket stadium in Old Srinagar, before shot dead. The assault shell hit his head, opened his skull, and splattered his brains, not far from the place, where his lifeless body fell with a thud on the ground.

Tufail Mattoo in his School Group Photo

In that watershed year, the schoolboy’s killing only steamed the street simmer, and went on to consume over 100 lives in Kashmir.

But before rage would engulf the valley, it was a local shopkeeper who, as a courier of the fatal news, had rushed towards the address of the Mattoos of Saida Kadal.

Like any other day, Ashraf was waiting for his son’s return from tuition. As part of family fun routine, he would hide behind the door, and surprise his son with his sudden shouting appearance.

A hearty laugh would uplift the mood of the family—now grappling with a disturbing silence.

But that day, when his son’s fate was sealed, the father—who was still wearing young looks on his yet to be furrowed face—was running like a crazy person on Srinagar streets—uttering his beloved’s name: ‘Tufail Souba’—before spotting him dead to his heartbreak.

They had retrieved a five-rupee coin from his son’s clasped fist.

“What unsettles me now, is the fact my son is buried at two places,” the father lamented. “His brain lies buried at some distant corner of Gani Memorial Stadium where he was shot dead, while his rest of the body is sharing the sacred space with martyrs of Kashmir at Eidgah, Srinagar.”

That year, amid street slaughter, Omar Abdullah as the controversial chief minister of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir broadcasted a sentimental message—“my chips are down”. It hardly deterred the father from being the lifelong justice campaigner for his son.

What sets Mattoo and his tribe apart is their commitment for justice despite being denied the same so far. “Tomorrow,” the father once said, “I would at least face my son, and tell him: ‘Son, I did my best!’ ”

But to thwart his campaign, his son’s killers were time and again declared “untraceable and untraced”. He was offered blood money and told to move on. The father, however, continues to hold his fort.

And that’s exactly why on that summer day, those three boys in his neighbourhood were speaking high of the man who has already walked miles to seek justice for his dreamer son, now forever silenced.

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