Hayaat-e-Azadi, The Life of Freedom: Suvaid Yaseen


Ho Agar Khudnigar-o-Khudgar-o-Khudgeer Khudi
Ye Bhi Mumkin Hai Ke Tu Mout Se Bhi Mer Na Sake

[If the ‘ego’ is selfpreserving, selfcreating and selfsustaining, 
Then it is possible that even death may not kill you.]
— Allama Iqbal,  Hayaat-e-Abadi, Zarb-e-Kaleem

Hayaat / Life
Hayaat / Life

The News

On the evening of 14th July 2013, I received a text message from a friend saying Hayaat had been hit by pellets in the eyes. Both his eyes were damaged. As I read the text, I became numb. I was at loss how to respond, trying to sink in what had just happened.

Knowing Hayaat

I have known Hayaat since a long time, and seen him, literally, growing up. I met him first in 2006. I had just joined Delhi University for undergraduate studies and lived in Bhogal area of New Delhi, a street away from Hayaat’s house, with my brother. His father had moved to Delhi for business purposes much earlier in 2004 and Hayaat moved in with his family and began studying at a Delhi school.

Usually accompanied by a common friend of ours, I would see him around quite often. I would also see him at the Shahi Masjid located on Bhogal’s Masjid Road, which he seemed to visit somewhat regularly. A sweet and a well behaved young boy, with a pleasing sense of humour, Hayaat came to our rented flat on a few occasions. I remember a Sunday when we all played cricket together in a nearby park with local boys. He played well. (Recently, I got to know that he had been a member of Young Star Cricket Club that he had founded along with some his friends. There is a wall in Nowhatta which still carries the board of the Club).

I met him a few times in Srinagar too. During the summer holidays in 2008, a few days before the mass uprising began I, along with couple of my friends, were on our way back from Kashmir University when we decided to stop at Nowhatta chowk for a bit. Hayaat spotted us there and came over to talk. There was a protest going on at some distance. He lived nearby and had come out to see what was going on.

During my Masters in DU, I moved to a hostel on campus. Hayaat had joined higher secondary school at Jamia Millia Islamia by then. I remember him posting on Facebook about a protest in Bhogal area over the planned demolition of a mosque that had triggered controversy among Muslims of the area. He seemed angry.

In 2011, Hayaat joined the B.A. (Honours) course in Economics at Jamia Millia Islamia. I had enrolled for my M.Phil at JNU and would often visit Jamia to meet my friends. Once again, I started seeing him regularly. He was quite popular among the Kashmiri students at the university. Even the seniors knew him well. There was something in him which one could not miss. He always wore a disarming smile, and shook his head a little, when he disagreed with someone. He had strong convictions, yet was very humble and respectful of everyone around. In spite of the fact that he had come to Delhi at a very early age, his thinking and politics regarding Kashmir was very clear. He hadn’t ‘assimilated’.  I would often think of him, when I thought about Srinagar’s downtown – which, like the Casbah in Gillo Pontecorvo’s Le Battaglia di Algeri (The Battle of Algiers), retains its mystique as the bastion of Resistance. Hayaat, for some reason, symbolized the downtown Srinagar’s resilience in my imagination.

Kashmiri Students’ Protests in Delhi

Confrontation at Jantar Mantar during Protest Against Afzal Guru's Execution
Confrontation at Jantar Mantar during Protest Against Afzal Guru’s Execution

On the 9th of February 2013, the day Afzal Guru was hanged at Delhi’s Tihar Jail, Hayaat, along with many other Kashmiri students, was present for the protest at Jantar Mantar. He wore a light blue pathan suit, a sleeveless yellow sweater, black leather sandals and carried a grey keffiyeh around his neck.

Confrontation at Jantar Mantar Protest

When the Bajrang Dal hooligans started attacking Kashmiri students, in front of the media and police, Hayaat fought back bravely with indomitable spirit. One of the images taken at the protest rally shows him holding a yellow coloured poster in his left hand, the words As-Salaam, As-Salaam, Aey Shaheed-ou As-Salaam (Greetings O’ Martyrs! Peace Be Upon You, O’ Martyrs!) written across it in big bold red and black letters, while his right hand is raised in the air, index finger pointing to the skies.

Protestor with Sign at Jantar Mantar Protest after Afzal Guru's Execution
Protestor with Sign at Jantar Mantar Protest after Afzal Guru’s Execution

Another image shows Hayaat carrying a poster that read “KASHMIR WILL NEVER FORGET IT’S MARTYR!” He is walking sideways cautiously, his keffiyeh wrapped around his head and covering his face as his eyes stare somewhere into the distance. At one point, the hooligans had snatched most of the posters from the students and tore them. But he wrested that one back. “I wanted to carry that poster and kept it with me till the end. It had a special message”, he told me later.

When I saw him at the protest, sloganeering with full spirit and fighting bravely against Bajrang Dal goons, it suddenly dawned upon me that he was no longer the small boy who I knew from my undergrad days. He had matured and transformed into a confident and a brave young man. He was a son, a brother and a friend anyone would be proud of having. I was proud to have known him.

That evening, I kept thinking about him. I had this protective feeling about him as anyone would have of a younger brother. I felt this strange urgency to write to him. Next day, in the evening, I messaged him saying as to how I had seen him growing up over the years and felt proud about the way he had turned out. I asked him that he should take care of himself.

Student Protest at JNU, 22nd February, 2013
Student Protest at JNU, 22nd February, 2013 (Photograph by Aarabu Ahmed Sultan)

On the 22nd of February 2013, students had planned a Kashmir Solidarity Rally at JNU to protest against the clampdown in Kashmir after the murder of Afzal Guru. Hayaat also came for the rally. While the students moved through the lanes and by lanes of the campus, Hayaat was clearly the most articulate and most effective when it came to sloganeering – his voice magnetic, piercing; right tone, perfect rhythm, he changed the pitch when required, and mixed the slogans beautifully, while the crowd responded back loudly in unison – Azadi!  He filled the rally with energy. Even if there were no other people to shout slogans, he could have easily handled the crowd, for more than two hours that the rally lasted, on his own.

Some friends had made some recordings of the event. The parts where Hayaat is shouting slogans were clearly the best. I had especially saved those parts and would listen to them often. There was a charm in his voice that was uplifting. After his second year exams, Hayaat went home to spend the summer holidays with his family. He was supposed to come back and join his classes by the end of July.

Student Protest at JNU, 22nd February (Photograph by Aarabu Ahmed Sultan)
Student Protest at JNU, 22nd February (Photograph by Aarabu Ahmed Sultan)

Hai Haq Humara – Azadi!

When I got to know that he had got hit by pellets, I started looking at his video. Hayaat was dressed casually in blue jeans, a light green shirt, a striped grey sleeveless sweater, and a multi-coloured keffiyeh wrapped around his neck, revolving his right hand in the air in circular motions while he held the mike in his other hand.

The video kept repeating for a long time.

Ghabraana chhodo – Azadi, Sharmaana chhodo –  Azadi, Zor sey bolo – Azadi; he egged on the crowd.

Aey sher key bacho – Azadi, Hurriyat ke jawaanou – Azadi, Jamiat ke shero- Azadi; he called on to the brave spirit of Freedom and unity.

Geelani bola – Azadi, Hum sab bhi boley – Azadi, Masrat ney bola – Azadi, Kathua me bola – Azadi; he reminded of the elders in the movement.

Afzal ney bola – Azadi, Sopore me bola – Azad , Tihar me bola  – Azadi, Maqbool ney bola  – Azadi; he paid salutations to those Martyrs of Kashmir who had faced the gallows.

Tou tum bhi bolo – Azadi, Hai Haq humara  – Azadi; he reminded us of our Right.

O Nadiya boli – Azadi, Pahaad bhi boley  – Azadi, Darya bhi boley  – Azadi; he invoked the call to Freedom of Kashmir’s landscape.

Jou Ma sey poocha – Azadi, Tou mamta boli  – Azadi, Jou behan sey poocha  – Azadi, Tou asmat boli  – Azadi, Jou fir sey poocha  – Azadi, Tou cheekh key boli  – Azadi, Chilla key boli  – Azadi, Aur zor sey boli  – Azadi, O Azadi – Azadi; he remembered the mothers and sisters of Kashmir, shouting out loud, their desire for Freedom.  

Sangbaaz bhi bola – Azadi, Sangbaazoun waali – Azadi; he saluted the stone throwing youth of Kashmir.

Ashfaq ney bola – Azadi, Bandook sey bola – Azadi, Haan khoon sey bola – Azadi, Nadeem ney bola – Azadi, Haan khoon sey bola – Azadi, Bandook sey bola – Azadi, Pahaad pey bola – Azadi, Dahaad key bola – Azadi; he paid tribute to the heroes of Kashmir’s armed resistance.

BJP sunley – Azadi, NDA sunley – Azadi, UPA sunley; he challenged the fascists.

Wo mehki mehki – Azadi, Wo pyaari pyaari – Azadi; he recited the sweet essence of Freedom.

Aaagey bhi bolo – Azadi , Peechay bhi bolo – Azadi, Daayein bhi bolo – Azadi, Baayein bhi holo – Azadi, Sab milkey bolo – Azadi, Sab khulkey bolo – Azadi; he called on to unison and drove away the fear.

Hai Haq humara – Azadi, Jou tum na dogey – Azadi, Tou cheen key lengey – Azadi; he challenged the oppressor.

Kashmir key shero – Azadi, Zara zor sey bolo – Azadi, Arey haath utha key – Azadi, Arey haath bajaa key – Azadi; the crowd raised their hands, clapping.

Dilli mey bola – Azadi, London me bola – Azadi, Haan milkey bola – Azadi, Itifaaq sey bola – Azadi, Itihaad sey bola – Azadi; he called for unity in the struggle.

Hum lekey rahein gey – Azadi; he reiterated the hope and promise of Freedom.

Hayaat was leading, calling out the lead lines, while the students responded with the loud cry that perpetually echoes in the skies of Kashmir – Azadi!

The recording kept playing on and on. I couldn’t think of doing anything else. I kept listening to it. Hayaat seemed to be the only one present on the video, all the rest seemed to have blurred.

In my heart I prayed that his injuries be minor and his vision safe. I messaged a few friends hoping they could go and see him at the hospital.

The Incident

14th July was the month of Ramadhan. Hayaat was returning home for iftaar (the time for breaking the fast) after attending an ijtima (a religious congregation). There was some disturbance in Nowhatta area, where he lives, and he had to get down from the bus and walk towards his house. On his way home, he saw some policemen abusing boys, who were protesting, in an extremely foul language while also making obscene gestures towards them. The fact that they were doing this in the month of Ramadhan, just before the time for iftar, shocked him. He asked the policemen whether they had no shame as Muslims and no respect for the holy month of Ramadhan. At this point, the local SHO took out a pellet gun and pointed at him. Hayaat, thinking that the policeman was merely trying to intimidate him and there was no reason for him to fire, stood his ground. Suddenly he found himself lying on the road while everything turned black before his eyes. He heard the thud of the gun-shot later.

At the hospital when doctors put a drip in his veins, he asked them to wait as there was still sometime till iftaar. That night he was operated upon in both eyes at the JVC hospital for some four hours. His eyes were badly damaged and there were pellets all over his body. For further treatment, doctors referred him to AIIMS or PGI Chandigarh.

Treatment in Delhi

Next evening, another friend and me, went to receive him at the airport. He came out into the waiting area on a wheel chair, driven by his aunt, who was accompanying him. He was wearing dark sun glasses. When he reached closer, I shook his hand while calling out my name. I couldn’t ask him how he was. I wasn’t sure what else to say. I tried to humour him by saying that we expected him a week later for his classes at the university, and what the hurry was to come to Delhi. He smiled and slightly shook his head.

We took him straight to the hospital. The OPD had closed and there was a long wait at the causality. We pleaded with the doctors to check Hayaat urgently. One of them replied that the damage had already been done, and a few minutes would make no difference now. They started the treatment late in the evening. A CT scan, many other tests were to be done immediately.

While checking him, one of the surgeons asked us, “ye pellets kya hota hai? (What are these pellets?)” He seemed to have no idea. I explained what they were. Then he asked, “ye soldier hai kya? (Is he a soldier?) I told him that he was just a student.

The very next day, another young boy, probably some 13 years old, from Qazigund was brought to the hospital with pellet injuries in his eyes. The damage was less serious in his case.

His family members reached the hospital the next day. His father drove all the way from Srinagar straight to AIIMS hospital. “Delhi has never seemed so far to me,” he told me. He was a shattered man.

Next few weeks at AIIMS hospital, Hayaat was the most courageous person among all. Everyone around had tears in their eyes. His family was visibly shattered. So were his friends who started trickling to the hospital to see him. He shook hands with everyone, gave details of his treatment. Took calls from well wishers back home, and talked to them politely, even when he was writhing in pain. His spirit kept everyone around going.

Only at one point he couldn’t control himself. We were waiting outside a lab for some tests. He was in pain and very tired. The weather was humid. At some point his aunt started crying. Tears trickled down Hayaat’s eyes. I wasn’t sure what to say or do in such a situation. How could I have told a young man of 21 years who had just lost his eyesight not to cry? I looked away for a while, gathered myself, and then tried to console him, and said he needs to be strong. He was making others weak too.

A few days after the first operation, I went to see him. The pain had once again increased. He sat on the floor, along with his grandfather, hugging him. In a few days another operation was performed.

Doctors had said that his right eye was less damaged, and had more chances of recovery. Doctors at AIIMS also applauded the work of doctors at JVC saying they had done a commendable job.

Before the operation at AIIMS, Hayaat could feel some light in his right eye. Post operation, it was gone. Doctors were non-committal saying that whatever recovery will happen, will take place with time. After some months, his parents took him to Indore. Doctors there said the same thing as AIIMS.

Hope in the Times of Despair

On Eid-ul-Azha, in October, he went home along with his family. I visited him along with some of our friends at his Nowhatta home. In Delhi, he kept his eyes closed all the time. Now his eyes were open. He looked ‘normal’. But he couldn’t see.

He seemed to enjoy discussions about Islam and politics. His faith was stronger than ever. And it was amazing how he was up to date with most of the news. He would ask his young cousin to read the newspaper to him every morning.

He was also aware of his medical situation; one doctor had even told him directly that there is no chance of him recovering his sight and scolded those accompanying him for giving him false hopes. He seemed calm.

Some journalists had come to meet him. After asking him a few questions, they requested that I ask him some since I was familiar with what he had faced in the past few months. I obliged and inquired as to how he had managed to be so strong amidst such tragedy? He smiled, shyly, and said, “They wanted to break my will. And of others who support the tehreek (movement). We are on the part of Truth. How can we let them succeed?”

“Life is returning back to normal”

In the beginning of November, Hayaat was operated again at Shroff Eye Centre at New Delhi in his left eye. The doctors had earlier said that this eye was more damaged, and possibility of recovery was negligible as even the retina was affected.

We went to see him the day after the operation. We were sitting in his room, along with his grandfather, to whom he is very close, watching Pakistan play South Africa. Hayaat in spite of the pain from the operation the night before listened carefully. At some point, a person, who was probably their neighbour, and had come to see him, started lamenting about the tehreek in Kashmir as to how it had caused hurt to innumerable families and how they suffered while many others carried on indifferently. Hayaat confronted him, saying, “It has always been the case in history that only a few people stood for the righteous cause. The numbers don’t matter, but the conviction of few can change the world. It is a test from Allah.” Everyone in the room felt silent.

On 21st of November, I opened my Facebook account to see Hayaat’s status message: “Alhamdulillah-i- katheeran katheeraa (Many many thanks to Allah)…… After 4 months of darkness, agony and fitan (chaos), life is returning back to normal……..”

“I saw my face after four months”

I met him a couple of weeks after reading his status. He came to the door to receive us. He joined us for nun-chai (Kashmiri salty tea) and snacks, and for the first time in four months I saw him eating on his own.

He told me that more than a week after the operation, he went to perform ablution for prayers, and when he looked up in the mirror, he could see a vague silhouette. He shouted, “alai, me ha wich panin shakal tsoer-i raeth (Alai! I saw my face after four months!)”

Initially it had been “like the negative of an image”. He could see some colour after a day or two. “Me ha kor tsoori reath az paanai saran (I bathed today myself after four months),” he added.

As his treatment continues, Hayaat is able to see partially from his left eye. For now, he wears glasses with a power of +12 in the left eye.

He recognizes people now, walks around on his own and is self-sufficient in his day to day chores. Sometimes he also goes out with friends.

Most of all, his smile is ever-present.


I did not write this story merely because I have known Hayaat. That, in fact, made writing this more difficult and I struggled over the past few months, typing a few lines, and the closing the file soon after.

I wrote this because Hayaat’s story is not only his own. It’s the story of Kashmir’s Resistance. It’s the story of perseverance in the face of unimaginable adversity, the story of struggle in the face of oppression, the story of deep faith in times of utter despair. It’s the story of tremendous conviction in the cause of Freedom. It’s the story of hope, the quest for justice. It’s the story of Kashmir and that is the reason it is important and needs to be told.

Hayaat is no longer the son of his family alone. He is the son of every family in Kashmir. His family is bigger than ever before.

He is the brave son of Kashmir who sacrificed, along with countless others. He is a shaheed ­– a witness to a tragedy which is personal and collective at the same time.

Kashmir needs Hayaat much more than he needs us. His vision might have dimmed but the light of his heart is a source of hope for all of us and can lit the dark alleys of Kashmirs’ road to freedom.

Hayaat lives up to his name. His spirit personifies what Iqbal titled as Hayaat-e-Abadi – The everlasting life. Hayaat for us is the soul that gives light to our quest for Freedom.

He is Hayaat-e-Azadi – the Life of Freedom!


Excerpts from his interview

Following are some of his quotes from a story published in New York Times India Ink “Casualties of  Kashmir’s Unrest Live in the Dark” and later republished in Greater Kashmir as “I have been killed without leaving my dead body behind”

“… 2008 happened, and I saw people getting shot and dying on the streets of Srinagar. People I knew, I saw them bleeding on streets,” said Hayat. “I could never be the same. Something changed in me.” In the amnesic bustle of the metropolis, he felt like a stranger. “I began to assert my identity to save myself from being assimilated,” he said. “Otherwise, I thought, I would be lost.”

“It is a test from God and nothing will come out of crying. Inshallah God will restore my sight,” he said.

“I accept this blindness as God’s will,” Hayat said. “There is no other way. Or I will get depressed. And depression can be fatal, not only for me but for my relatives and friends too.” “And if I become depressed and broken, wouldn’t they, who shot me, succeed. Didn’t they want to make an example out of me and scare the people around me from resisting the oppression.”

“God can never do injustice,” he said. “And I am not an isolated case, an individual story. I am a dot in a pattern of oppression. Justice will be the end of that oppression. And the return of my vision”.

“We are in a state of war; I know that now more than ever. It is just that it is a camouflaged war, and the façade of normalcy is another front of it,” he said. “I have been killed, without leaving my dead body behind.”

12 thoughts on “Hayaat-e-Azadi, The Life of Freedom: Suvaid Yaseen”

  1. I have seen Hayaat and talked to him too. One of the most humble person I have come across in life. He’s an asset to the struggle. He’s shown that holding on to the truth can scare even the worst of adversities.

    May Hayaat live long.



  2. Hum lekey rahein gey – Azadi; The life and struggle of Hayat continue to inspire many more in all the regions of Jammu and Kashmir to remain steadfast in our struggle for freedom and more so believing in ourself. Long Live Hayat, We are proud of you. Thank you for giving meaning to ‘hope’ in Jammu and Kashmir.


  3. This chilling account actually gave me goosebumps. Relating this to the agitation of delhi rape case protestation, of which i was a part of(the only one), and knowing ‘standing’ your ground means so much. Many hopes and best wishes for Hayaat. Thankyou for writing Suvaid.


  4. is his full name Hayat Ashraf? if it is, then it’s more concerning me..
    I know one Mr. Hayat Ashraf at jmi in economics…always wares a keffiyah…
    was it he who’s shot by the police?
    when I met him after a long time and I persisted in asking “where were you?”, he answered me that he had been in Bhopal for a period of time…
    Hayat, I loved you always and still continues loving..
    May Allah bring justice and peace to everywhere on earth and particularly in Kashmir…


  5. Hayaat ws among d frst few frnds i made on day 1 in JMI….d rating games…ManU discussions…( he wl kw wat i mean) ..n nw time z diffrnt..bt wat remained same z his positive attitude twards life..one of d most strong n positive human beings i met..may Allah bestow His blessings upon him..v r wid u in dis hayaat!!


  6. A moving account that should make those who have not lost their humanity think. If freedom and dignity is so fundamental to our being, how can we deny it to others and still claim to be human?


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