At close to 10 am on 10 April 2017, thousands of people assembled on the Srinagar-Leh highway in central Kashmir to offer funeral prayers for Omar Farooq Ganaie. The 21-year-old was killed the previous day, after protests broke out during the by-poll for the Srinagar parliamentary constituency. Ganaie, a tipper driver, was a resident of a village in the Baroosa area of Ganderbal, one of the three districts in the constituency, located about 30 kilometres from Srinagar city.
On 9 April, separatist leaders had issued a call to all residents of the constituency, urging them to boycott the election and to not vote in the by-poll. The separatist leadership has made such calls several times in the past, although voters have not always heeded them. This time, however, the voter turnout was 7.14 percent—the lowest ever for the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat. Almost all polling booths across the constituency were bereft of voters, and even polling agents from mainstream political parties were nowhere to be seen. In Srinagar’s Habba Kadal constituency, of the 4,918 voters registered across seven polling booths, only 154 cast their votes. In several areas, protestors marched to the booths, and demanded that polling be shut down. Many videos from the day of the by-poll were circulated over WhatsApp. One showed young protestors in Budgam district attempting to enter a polling booth through a window on the first floor of a building. Another, also shot in Budgam, showed a different set of protestors—mostly young men—escorting personnel from the Central Reserve Police Force away from a polling booth. In several videos, protestors were yelling slogans opposing the Indian state and the election—“No Election, No Selection” and “Hum kya chahte? Azadi!” (What do we want? Freedom!) Over 200 instances of protests were recorded across the state. In many places, security forces opened fire during these protests. Eight people died as a result of the violence.
According to Ganaie’s paternal uncle, 35-year-old Ashiq Ahmad, a tipper driver, the 21-year-old was killed at around 6 pm in the evening on the same highway on which his funeral prayers were later held. Like many others, Ahmad told me, Ganaie had stayed home on the day of the polls, with his family, which included his parents and two younger sisters. Ganaie’s neighbour, a 28-year-old man named Abdul Majeed, said that in the afternoon, several residents of the village had gathered in a playfield next to Ganaie’s home to spend the sunny Sunday together. “No vote was polled in the polling booth in our neighborhood. The polling staff and deployment were withdrawn at around 4.15 pm,” he said. Both Ahmed and Majeed told me that no protests were ongoing in the area. “Omar was with us in the playfield till 4.30 pm,” Majeed said. Then, according to both him and Ahmed, Ganaie returned home.
Sometime later, Ahmed said, Ganaie left the house again, to walk around the village. At about 6 pm, Majeed said, a contingent of security forces was passing along the highway. A senior police officer, who asked not to be named, told me that it was a group of personnel from the Border Security Forces (BSF), who had been deployed in central Kashmir for the by-polls, which was heading towards a makeshift camp not far from the village. According to Majeed and Ahmed, the personnel opened fire on the villagers. “No protest was going on in the area. The forces might have been stoned somewhere else but not in our area,” Majeed said.
Ganaie was hit in the firing. His family members took him to the district hospital, where doctors referred him to the Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences, in Srinagar. Dr Syed Amin Tabish, the medical superintendent at SKIMS, said that when Ganaie was brought to the hospital at about 7.30 pm, he was already dead. “He had a firearm injury,” Tabish said.