Oct/Nov 2022  •   Nonfiction

Shooting a Kashmiri Boy

by Haseeb Andrabi

Organic mixed media artwork by Kay Sexton

Organic mixed media artwork by Kay Sexton

As a policeman in India, I was hated by large numbers of people—the only time in my life I was important enough for this to happen to me. I was a sub-divisional police officer of Shahar-e-Khaas, or Downtown, where in an aimless, petty kind of way, anti-Indian feeling was very bitter. No one had the guts to raise a riot, but if a policeman went through the bazaars alone, someone would probably throw a stone over his head. I was an obvious target, baited whenever it seemed safe to do so. When a nimble Kashmiri tripped me up on the cricket field and the referee (another Kashmiri) looked the other way, the crowd roared with hideous laughter. This happened more than once. The sneering yellow faces of young men met me everywhere, insults hooted after me when I was at a safe distance, and it all got badly on my nerves. The young followers of Marwaiz were the worst of all. There were several hundreds of them in the town, and none of them seemed to have anything to do except stand on street corners and jeer at Police vehicles.

It might have come as a surprise to my tormentors that I had already decided imperialism was an evil thing, and the sooner I chucked up my job and got out of it, the better. Theoretically—and secretly, of course—I was all for the Kashmiri people and against their oppressors, the Hindustan. As for the job I was doing, I hated it more bitterly than I can perhaps make clear. In a job like that, you see the dirty work of Hindustan at close quarters. The wretched prisoners huddling in the stinking cages of the lock-ups; the grey, cowed faces of the long-term convicts; the scarred buttocks of the men who had been flogged with willow lathis—all of these oppressed me with an intolerable sense of guilt. But I could get nothing into perspective. I was young and ill-educated, and I had to think out my problems in the utter silence imposed on every Kashmiri in the East. I only knew I was stuck between my hatred of the Hindustan I served and my rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible. With one part of my mind, I thought of Hindustan as an unbreakable tyranny, as something clamped down in saecula saeculorum upon the will of prostrate people; with another part I felt the greatest joy in the world would be to drive a bayonet into the gut of one of Marwaiz's followers.

These inner conflicts came to a head early one morning when the sub-inspector at a police station the other end of the town rang me up on the phone to report a Kashmiri boy was hurling stones in the bazaar. Would I please come and do something about it? I did not know what I could do, but I wanted to see what was happening, so I got on a pony and started out. I took an old AK-47, more for the noise it would make if I needed to discourage a crowd from interfering. Various policemen stopped me on the way and told me about the boy's doings. Most of the policemen had no weapons and were helpless against hurling stones. The boy had already destroyed somebody's head.

The Kashmiri sub-inspector and some Indian soldiers were waiting for me in the quarter where the boy had been seen. It was a jumbled labyrinth of streets and houses on a cloudy, stuffy morning at the beginning of the rains. We began questioning the people as to where the boy had gone and, as usual, failed to get any definite information. That is invariably the case; a story always sounds clear enough at a distance, but the nearer you get to the scene of events, the vaguer it becomes. Some of the people said the boy had gone in one direction, some in another, some professed not even to have heard of any boy. I had almost made up my mind the whole story was a lie.

Then someone told us the boy was in the nearby street, only a few hundred yards away. My fellow policemen followed me forward. They had seen the AK-47 and were shouting excitedly that I was going to shoot the boy. They had not shown much interest in the boy when he was merely hurling stones, but it was different now that he was going to be shot. It was a bit of fun to them. I had no intention of shooting the boy, but I marched down the street, looking and feeling a fool, with the AK-47 over my shoulder and an ever-growing crowd jostling at my heels.

I halted on the road when the boy was 80 yards away, his left side towards us, taking not the slightest notice of our approach. He was hurling stones, but then he stopped to drink some water. As soon as I saw the boy, I knew with perfect certainty I ought not to shoot him. Moreover, I did not in the least want to shoot him. I decided I would watch for a little while to make sure he did not throw stones again, and then we would all go home.

But then I glanced round at all the people who had followed. It was an immense crowd, 200 and growing every minute, with many Indian soldiers among them. The crowd blocked the road for a long distance. I looked at the sea of young faces, watching me as they would watch a conjurer about to perform his magic. They did not like me, but with the rifle in my hands, I was momentarily worth watching. And suddenly I realized I would have to shoot the boy after all. The soldiers expected me to do it; the crowd expected me to do it. I could feel 200 wills pressing me forward. It was at this moment, as I stood there with the AK-47 in my hands, when I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the Hindustan's dominion in Kashmir.

Here was I, Kashmiri man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native youth. I was seemingly the lead actor of the piece, but in reality I was just an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of others. I perceived when a man turns tyrant, it is his own freedom he destroys. He becomes the conventionalized figure of the colonizer. For it is a condition of his rule that he shall spend his life trying to impress the "natives," and so in every crisis he has got to do what is expected of him. He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it. I had to shoot the boy. I had committed myself to doing it when I brought the rifle. A slave must perform his duty. To come all that way, AK-47 in hand, with 200 people marching at my heels, and then to trail feebly away having done nothing—no, that was impossible. The Indian soldiers would laugh at me, and my whole life in Kashmir had been one long struggle not to be laughed at.

I did not want to shoot the boy, but he had resumed hurling stones with tremendous effort, shouting the slogans of Azaadi. His parents were now shouting at him. The scene was becoming fraught, and I knew I had better act quickly. I decided to walk up to within 25 yards of the boy and test his behavior. If he charged, I could shoot; if he took no notice of me, I could justify leaving him alone. But then I also knew I was going to do no such thing. Without time to aim, I was a poor shot with the rifle, and the streets were full of dogs. If the boy charged and I missed him, I should have little chance of surviving this encounter. But even then I was not thinking particularly of my own skin, only of the watchful Indian soldiers. I was not afraid in the ordinary sense, as I would have had I been alone. The sole thought in my mind was if anything went wrong, those 200 onlookers would see me pursued, caught, trampled on, and reduced to a grinning corpse. And if that happened, it was quite probable some of them would laugh.

There was only one alternative. I shoved five bullets into the magazine and lay down on the road to get a better aim. The crowd grew very still and emitted a deep, low, happy sigh, as of people in the theater who see the curtain go up at last. They were going to have their bit of fun after all. The AK-47 felt both heavy and light in my hands. I ought to have aimed straight at his ear-hole, as the boy was sideways on, but inexperienced at shooting young boys, thinking the brain would be further forward, I aimed an inch or two to the front of his head.

When I pulled the trigger, I did not hear the bang or feel the kick, but I heard the devilish roar of glee from the crowd. In that instant, in what one would have thought too short a time for the bullet to get there, a mysterious, terrible change came over the boy. He neither stirred nor fell, but every line of his body altered. He looked suddenly stricken, shrunken, immensely old, as though the frightful impact of the bullet had paralyzed him without knocking him down. At last, after what seemed a long time—it might have been five seconds—he sagged flabbily to his knees. His mouth slobbered. An enormous senility seemed to have settled upon him. One could have imagined him thousands of years old. I fired again into the same spot. At the second shot he did not collapse but climbed with desperate slowness to his feet and stood weakly upright, legs sagging and head drooping. I fired a third time. That was the shot that did for him. You could see the agony of it jolt his whole body and knock the last remnant of strength from his legs. But in falling, he seemed for a moment to rise, for as his legs collapsed beneath him he somehow towered upward like a huge rock toppling, his nose pointing skyward like a tree. He cried, for the first and only time. And then down he came with a crash that seemed to shake the ground where I lay.

I got up. The onlookers were already racing across the streets. It was obvious the boy would never rise again, but he was not dead. He was breathing very rhythmically with long, rattling gasps, his belly painfully rising and falling. His mouth was wide open, and I could see far down into caverns of pale pink throat. I waited a long time for him to die, but his breathing did not weaken. Finally I fired my two remaining shots into the spot where I thought his heart must be. The thick blood welled out of him like red velvet, but still he did not die. His body did not even jerk when the shots hit him. The tortured breathing continued without a pause. He was dying, very slowly and in great agony, but in some world remote from me where my bullets could not damage him further. I felt I had to put an end to the dreadful noise of his breathing. It was awful to see the boy powerless to move and yet powerless to die, and to be powerless to finish him myself. The tortured gasps continued as steadily as the ticking of a clock.

In the end I could not stand it any longer and went away. I heard later it took him half an hour to die. The youth were hurling stones.

Afterwards, of course, there were endless discussions about the shooting of the boy. His parents were furious, but they where only Kashmiri and could do nothing. Besides, legally I had done the right thing, for a mad boy has to be killed, like a mad dog. Among the police, opinion was divided. An older inspector with a white beard said I was right; a younger officer said it was a damn shame to shoot a boy for wounding a sub inspector, because the boy was worth more than any damn inspector. The wounded sub inspector went to a psychiatrist to heal his nightmares, which ultimately put me firmly, legally in the right by giving sufficient pretext for shooting the boy. I often wonder whether any of the others grasped I had done it solely to avoid looking like a fool.


In this account, it is not my intention to reinforce or corrupt the minds of the Kashmiri people to go against India and to support Pakistan, but rather to show the clear picture of how human beings kill each other in the name of peace. It happens everywhere in the world. Human beings are killed when power is corrupted. Human history is full of corrupt and divine leaders and both changed the fate of human history towards good and bad. I pray to God for a good leader who activates the faith in human beings for the pursuit of truth, goodness, and beauty. Amen.