On Wednesday, a four-day flare up between Pakistan and India began winding down, with Pakistan, Prime Minister announcing to hand back the Wing commander of Indian air force captured by the Pakistan army two days earlier. He had been shot down in the first aerial fighter combat between the two South Asian Nuclear powers, India and Pakistan since 1971.
A few miles away from the border on thursday, when Indian public was out on the streets to welcome the pilot, the himalayan region of Kashmir was engaged in what has become a routine, encounters, protests and deaths.
‘Collateral damage’ has been one of the most noticeable change in these recent encounters between Government Forces and Militants in Kashmir. As more youth continue to take up Arms in Kashmir, encounters have become a daily happening, leaving behind dead bodies, rubbled households and homeless inmates.
The fillip in militant recruitment began in July 2016 after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen leader Burhan Wani. His death triggered a massive public outrage that crippled the State machinery for more than five months. The uprising was quelled with brute force that left scores dead and thousands injured.
On the Night of 28th February, bullets and grenades ripped through the buildings in Babagund area of Sopore, walls damaged by the explosions, ceilings cracked, the windows and doors and glasses smashed to pieces. The houses are the only testimony left to one of the longest gunfight that raged in the Kashmir valley in the recent past.
According to Official data, at least 5,368 shops, houses and other privately-owned structures in Kashmir suffered damage from 1989 to 2001. No such data is available for the last 17 years but the number can be reasonably estimated to have increased manifold.
Credible Sources informed The Kashmiriyat that forces had raided the house of Imtiyaz Ahmed Bhat looking for two Militants inside the house post which a four-tier cordon was put in place. A gunfight of nearly sixty two hours ended with the killing of two Militants, the initial exchange of fire had reverberated in the air at around 11:10 pm on Thursday.
As soon as the bullet sounds penetrated the air, It was a reminder that Kashmiris including women are rushing to encounter sites despite warning and the eminent danger of being shot in crossfire. Among those who reached the encounter site was 21 year old Waseem, who fell to the bullets that Army men fired towards the protesters.
The Sunday was a reminder of the festering insurgency in Jammu Kashmir; of the fact that the locals are once again leaving the comfort of their classrooms and disappearing into the mountains to train as militants in makeshift camps.
“I ducked under the floor and lay flat on the floor holding my kids as the firing began. The bullets were piercing the windows and the gunfire was raging on both the sides,” recalls Abdul Majeed Khan, whose ration store was allegedly burnt down by the Government Forces.
By 9 in the morning, the guns fell silent when the two militants of Jaish-e-Mohammad outfit were ‘presumed to be dead’. However, taking the Forces by Surprise, the ‘dead Militants’ rose from the rubble of the house of Imtiyaz Ahmed Bhat and ‘fired indiscriminately at the Forces.’ Ten Government Force personnel were injured, two died on the spot and three succumbed to their injuries hours after.
The Forces within minutes blasted another house using an Improvised Explosive device (IED) explosion in the locality belonging to Fayaz Ahmed Shah and within an hour around 6 in the evening, the forces IED blasted the house of Mohammed Ashraf Bhat, five houses also suffered partial damage at the site of the encounter.
“Four sheds, that sheltered three cows and two goats were burnt down and eight households that sheltered ten families of fifty people were damaged during this heated exchange of gunfire,” Zakir a Local resident told The Kashmiriyat.
Buildings hiding militants are blown up as punishment. The police and army claim it is a safety measure to avoid booby traps and undetected militants who might take forces combing the area by surprise.
The year 2018 has been one of the bloodiest year since a decade as at least 470 people were killed during the year. A total of 245 Militants, 150 civilians and 84 Government Force personnel were killed during the year.
A total of at least 107 structures have received partial or have been completely destroyed during 108 encounters that raged between Government Forces and Militants in the Kashmir valley during the last year.
“Fifty People trapped in a Single Room”
Kashmiris who lived through the 1990s still recall the announcements of cordon and Search operation at the local mosque, asking everyone to leave their house and come out. And if ever contact was established with Militant, people would run for cover.
However, in Kashmir post-2015, Encounters are violent confrontations between Government forces and militants in small, concentrated areas, often with local residents rushing in to intervene. On Friday morning hundreds of youth from nearby areas Khanoo, Pohru Peith, Ganopora, Yaroo stormed onto the streets raining stones on the Government Forces.
Near the ruble of mud and wood, 50-year-old businessman Khan’s other neighbour Fayaz Ahmed Shah stand quietly, his eyes bloodshot, his hands stretched out and pointing towards the burnt scatter. Seemingly frail and lost in thoughts, Fayaz told The Kashmiriyat, “As soon as the bullet sounds reverberated in the air, the Forces saying that we need to be safe locked us inside a single house, where 50 people remained locked for almost 68 hours.”
“India is Killing us, also damaging our houses, why do Indians think we must be happy with them, every Indian who asks us, why we demand freedom should come and see life here.”
Expressing anger over the fact that their movement was being closely scrutinized, he said that it had become tough for anyone to even stand up. “Quite normal, after a gap of almost 20 hours, people started feeling hungry and thirsty, kids as young as three cried in dire need of food and milk,” Zakir, one of the fifty people inside the house told The Kashmiriyat, adding that when we tried to avail the food, the paramedics staff was also disallowed to reach us.
“It is highly anguishing how India boasts to the world about their humanity and compassion, the forces did not even let us feed these young children or did not eve get water for them,” another young boy Faizan told The Kashmiriyat.
Zakir said that he tried to contact the administrative officials and the electoral representatives of his area, however they did not respond.
A top rank Police official from the District said that due the area was too densely structured with house so the operation had become a ‘little tough’. “The operation took a longer than we expected, we have less operations like such.”
Families Seek Help
The eight families have sought the help of people in reconstruction of their damaged houses, if anyone wishes to donate to the grief- struck families, You can make your donations to the following account:
Title: Social Welfare Committee, Khanoo Babagund
Account Number: 0624 0102 5000 0052
Branch: JK Bank, Younsoo