Dozens of policemen stand guard at the main township of Pulwama, about 40 kilometers south of Srinagar. Gripped with deathly silence, its alleys are blocked with coils of concertina wires. Indian troops in battle gear rove the streets in this south Kashmir township where seven youth were killed as the army opened fire upon protesters. Outraged youth appear from a small street filling the silent enclosure with slogans, screeching and yelling at Government forces who rain tear smoke shells at them, they run, regroup, protest. Pitched battles between armed troopers equipped with riot gears and young Kashmiri protesters with stones and aluminium tin sheds in their armory continue unabated.
Into the heart of Pulwama in Karimabad, hundreds of people have gathered at the house of Abid Hussain Lone, one of the slain civilians killed in a gunfight that raged early morning on Saturday in the Sirnoo locality. Around 4 am, on Saturday morning, the 55 RR of Indian Army, Jammu Kashmir Police and Paramilitary troopers laid siege to Sirnoo area of Pulwama District. According to the forces, during the search operation, holed up militants opened fire upon troopers, triggering an encounter. Three Militants were killed in the ensuing gunfight. As the first gunshot was heard in the area, the entire neighborhood armed with sticks, stones and Molotov cocktails emerged from homes to take on the collective might of a thousand troopers who are armed with assault rifles.
Seven civilians were killed as Government forces fired indiscriminately upon the protesters. The Jammu Kashmir Police immediately issued a statement saying that the locals came ”dangerously” close to the encounter site in Sirnoo.
The roads of south Kashmir were filled with mourners on Saturday, while dozens of injured continued to arrive at Pulwama District Hospital. At least 65 civilians were injured. Hospital officials at district Pulwama say that they received 30 civilians with injuries on Saturday morning, six of whom were brought dead. Importantly, the killed civilians had upper-body injuries.
As appeals for blood donation and food for attendants were shared on social media, people in large numbers arrived at the hospital. Many gathered around the body of a teenager, who lay unidentified on a hospital bed, one man walked in, passed through the crowd to see the body, and fainted saying, “He is my son.”
The chaos in the areas could be easily felt after what is being described as yet another massacre. People were moving from one village to the other to join multiple funeral processions of the seven civilians and the three militants.
“We leave home, unsure if we will ever return”
Aamir Yousuf Pala, 18, a resident of Ashmander area of Pulwama heard the news of the gunfight in the nearby village, about 1.5 kilometers from his home. His mother served him tea. “He sipped only half a cup and rushed outside to check the situation,” his mother said while speaking to The Kashmiriyat.
He left home, promising that he will come back within ten minutes, “Soon, we heard that a bullet hit him.” In the following half an hour, Aamir’s blood-soaked body was shouldered to his courtyard.
“There was no stone throwing initially. People had just gathered near the encounter site. Soon the Government forces showered a volley of live ammunition at civilians. One of the bullets ripped Aamir’s chest and he lied unconscious for ten minutes where he breathed lying in the pool of his blood,”one of his friend told The Kashmiriyat.
“Now we have learnt that India does not want Kashmir, it wants slaves, not people. Those who denounce their rule in Kashmir have the same fate, but we are ready to face them, all, their might, their Army, BJP, Modi, everyone”, he said in anger.
A teacher, Abid Ganie from the area wants the bloodshed to stop. “We leave home in the morning, but our parents are never sure if we will ever return.”
“I wanted my son to take care of me in old age, i had brought him up with love and care, it had just been a few months that he had started to work and we had been doing fine now, things started to stabilize, but they (forces) snatched him from my lap,” the grieving mother of Aamir told The Kashmiriyat.
“How many children will have to live as orphans?”
Women standing by windows, wailing, thumping their chests and pulling their hair, while men in a separate space raise slogans of freedom and sing songs of valor for Abid Hussain Lone, thirty two years old who was one of the seven slain civilians.
Father of a three month old baby girl, Abid had studied Management from Indonesia and later got married to an Indonesian woman. “He Left home early morning to get milk for his daughter and as soon as he came out, we heard intense firing nearby, we went further ahead to inquire what had happened,” a local told The Kashmiriyat.
“On the way”, he continued, “we saw forces, hundreds of them who were chasing away the protesters, we hid in an orchard. Abid could not run and was shot with a bullet. People tried to take him to the nearby Pulwama District Hospital, but he succumbed on the way”.
“When boys saw more armed vehicles coming in, they became more angry, but the forces started firing at us. Abid did not throw any stones at forces. In fact there were no stones. How can anyone find stones in a dry orchard? One bullet hit him on the face and another in the neck, he died on the spot.”
As his body reached home, the neighbors including men burst into wailing and mourning and hundreds of people gathered in the area to attend his funeral.
“You see, India has turned Kashmir into a living hell. From the past thirty years we are witnessing death and more death. this cycle of killing must stop. I do not know how many more children will have to live as orphans here in Kashmir,” Abdul Rashid Ganie, a local resident said.
He with a low voice said, India must understand that Kashmir has overcome the fear of death. “Living here is worse than death, nobody wants to live, we cannot afford to see the funerals of our loved ones everyday.
Abid is survived by his mother, a brother who is pursuing MBA in Bangalore, a wife and a three month old child.
“They might get Gallantry award for killing a 14 year old kid”
Aqib Ahmad Bhat, 14 year old, a resident of Priczoo in Pulwama was the youngest among the seven civilians killed in the firing by armed forces on Saturday. The locals here clearly deny the Police version of the incident saying, “Everyone knows they lie.”
An eyewitness of the incident said that Aqib was killed after the encounter was over. “We were nowhere close to the encounter site, the Army while leaving from the site fired directly at a group of bystanders without even firing a warning shot. Four people fell down then and there and many lay injured,” a local from Prichoo who said he was one of the many people gathered near the site of the encounter, told The Kashmiriyat.
“When we ran for cover, we could not find Aqib. When the firing finally stopped, the 14 year old lay dead on the road side. He had been hit by a bullet in his head. Every resident here is sure that the Army man who killed him will be awarded a gallantry megal like Gogoi,” another Local from Prichoo said.
“Till when do we have to bury our sons,” his grieving father asked the crowd of mourners. Aqib Bhat is survived by a 10 year old sister and a seven year old brother.
Bashir Ahmed Bhat, the wailing father of Aqib said, ” We grow our kids to be consumed by their bullets, to be buried in the graveyards at a young age.”
“Father of 6 year old Girl and 3 year old boy killed.”
Among the 65 injured many were referred to Srinagar’s SMHS Hospital. One of them was Tawseef Ahmed Mir aged 30.
Tawseef, a resident of Urichersoo area in Pulwama left early morning from his native village to ‘help the militants escape.’ “While many youth from Urichersoo were trying to reach the encounter site, he ran and we completely lost track of him. We were later told that a youth from Urichersoo had been hit with a bullet,” a young resident told The Kashmiriyat.
We rushed to the hospital and found our friend lying in a pool off blood on the hospital stretcher at Pulwama. He was then referred to Srinagar hospital for advanced treatment where he breathed his last. Tawseef had worked for the Power Development Department and was a father to a six-year-old girl and three-year-old boy.
“He was very brave, scared of nothing. When they shifted him to the hospital, he had told us take care of his children,” his wailing friend said.
“The Youth of Kashmir are determined, they do not want to win a fight, they just want to keep fighting to open the eyes of the world and their ears to the wailing mothers of Kashmir,” he said.
Grief and Anger
The roots of the Kashmir issue date back to 1947, with the partition of British India into the new states of India and Pakistan. Kashmir today stands divided between India and Pakistan, with a de-facto border known as the Line of Control. The two nations have fought three wars over Kashmir, in 1947, 1965 and 1999. The armed Movement against Indian rule in Kashmir started around late 1988. Unofficial estimates suggest that since then more than 90,000 people have been killed in Kashmir.
In 2018, at least 50 civilians have been killed when the native population came out in heavy numbers to help militants escape from an encounter site. Saturday’s encounter was the second in recent months to witness such a heavy civilian death toll. Earlier, seven civilians were killed on 21 October, 2018 during a gunfight between militants and Indian forces in Laroo area of South Kashmir’s Kulgam.
“There were people lying around in their own blood. Bullets, pellets pierced into the bodies of those lying down and those who tried to run away. Some had blood oozing from their mouths, some had their abdomens and others had their legs pierced. It was a sight of hell,” Aadil, a resident of Sirnoo told The Kashmiriyat.
The cause of these deaths has triggered a fresh round of allegations, accusations and clarifications between Government forces and Kashmiri youth over social media. What does this mean for the seven families who had buried their dead shattering their lives forever?
The Kashmir valley on Sunday witnessed a complete shutdown as schools and railway services remained shut across the valley. South Kashmir, remained tense and restrictions on mobile internet services might continue on Monday as well.
Author: Qazi Shibli
Qazi Shibli is a News Editor with ‘The Kashmiriyat.’ A Documentary maker and writer, Qazi Shibli is a Journalism graduate from Bangalore University.