He came down to office yesterday, and while he walked across to speak to me, I could see he wasn't his usual chirpy self. But I was preoccupied with something else, and put it down to my vagueness rather than his. A little later, I head a story that chilled me to my bones.
Last week, the police needed a couple of dead bodies of terrorists killed in a police encounter. They swooped down on the street where this youth lives, picked up four youth, took them away and killed them in cold blood. The police knew just who to pick- none of the boys who were picked up had family members who might look for them. They were all Muslim, so even if they had any religious signs on them, they would be of the right religion.
I made the person telling me the story three times before I was willing to admit that my ears were hearing what my brain refused to accept. You know that people murder other people, and that sometimes the wrong person gets killed by mistake. You are willing to accept that innocent bystanders get killed by terrorists. But how do you ever accept the fact that you are killed in cold blood by the people who are meant to protect you?
I have heard about fake 'encounter killings' where suspects are killed in staged battles. I know that the police often use brutal techniques to get information out of people. But I never suspected they could stoop to the level of killing innocents in cold blood only to boost their targets. And I can think of nothing worse!
And the boy I know? Last week, he had a providential escape. He's Muslim and doesn't have any relatives who even know where he stays. He could have been one of the four to be picked up, he wasn't. We are trying to convince him to move into an institution for youth like him. He would be able to ply his trade during the day, but would have to return to the institution at night. He is not sure he wants to swap the freedom of the streets for the regimentation of an institution, but even more, he doesn't want to die.
Naseer is a wonderful boy. I wish I could do more for him than just listen to his stories. But even more, I wish there were something I could do, we could do, to stop this.