SRINAGAR: Four militants, a University of Kashmir teacher and five civilians were killed in a series of incidents that started from a bloody encounter in a Shopian village. Though the number of persons injured in the incidents is still unclear, a general belief is that it is in dozens.
The slain included one of the most high-profile militants Saddam Padder. He was the only survivor in the photo-frame in which Burhan Wani was surrounded by 10 other rebels. Only one of them has actually survived: Tariq Pandit, who eventually surrendered and is in jail.
Other militants who were killed in the Badigam encounter included Tauseef Sheikh, Aadil Malik and Bilal alias Molvi, all residents of south Kashmir. This was in addition to Mohammad Rafi Bhat, the contractual sociology teacher in the University of Kashmir.
Almost all the hospitals in south Kashmir received injured, hit by bullets and pellets. While most of them were treated locally, only in serious cases, were the injured shifted to Srinagar. Hospitals that Kashmir Life checked with had received a total of 38 injured, including the persons who later died or were brought dead.
The Badigam hamlet is located deep south between the villages Trenz and Imam Sahab. It is a small village but is surrounded by a series of garrisons. It has one garrison each in Imam Sahab, Heff, Homhuna, and Pohnu in addition to SOG permanent staff at Imam Sahab and Zainpora.
Informed sources told Kashmir Life that the counter-insurgency grid had information about the presence of three persons: militants Bilal and Tawseef Sheikh and the Kashmir University teacher.
Initially, only 44-RR, CRPF and SOG were involved in the operation. But at a later stage, a unit of para-commandos from Chogam was driven to the spot.
The cordon of the village took place around midnight and then the siege was squeezed after they zeroed in on the actual spot of the hiding. The operation was based on a specific intelligence input and it was with the army.
However, the crisis started after the operation was in progress. The news about Saddam Padder’s trapping in the village sent hoards of people, mostly youth, to the village. It led to intense clashes in which many youths were injured.
So far, five civilians – three from Pulwama and one each from Kulgam and Dooru, were killed. Scores were injured.
A number of youth were injured around the spot of the encounter. One of them was Sajad Ahmad, son of Manzoor Ahmad Rather of Dooru town. The youngest of the five brothers and two sisters, he belongs to a poor family. All the siblings have dropped out of the school because of resources and all the adult members including their father would work as labourers to feed the family.
Reports from the village said that he was hit by a bullet in his left eye and died. Hundreds of people attended his funeral prayers later in the afternoon. One report said he was hit by a bullet in Chitragam village near Zainpora.
The other civilian who fell to the bullets after the encounter was identified as Adil Ahmad Ganai, son of Bashir Ahmad. A resident of Ashmuji Bhan village, the 28-year was a graduate and MA Sociology (IGNOU). He was earlier appointed in CRPF but he gave it up after a few years. Later, he would run a local Darsgah and teach at a private school in Ashmuji. His brother is working in the state police. He has four sisters.
Police sources said Adil and another person were hit by bullets near Nagbal village when an Army convoy – driving the slain militants to the police station, came under stone pelting. They fired bullets and two bullets hit Adil. He was brought to the hospital dead.
There were three persons from Pulwama district who were killed after the encounter. Zubair Ahmad Nengroo a resident of Ayand Gund in Rajpora was killed somewhere near the encounter site but the exact details are still not known. Youngest of the three brothers, Nengroo had passed his matriculation recently and joined the Higher Secondary School in Rajouri in eleventh class. From an economically modest background, Zubair’s one brother is running an auto and another is an electrical fitter.
Another civilian Asif Mir, a resident of Rohmoo, was killed near Nulie Poshwari where intense clash had erupted. He received a bullet in his head. He had recently passed his twelfth standard examination and was a student of a local higher secondary school. He was youngest of the two brothers and two sisters. Reports said Mir was laid to rest in his ancestor village and huge funeral prayers were reported at least twice.
Naseer Kumhar was reported dead in the SMHS hospital. It, however, was not immediately known where he received the bullet. He is reportedly a resident of Arihal in Pulwama. He was hit by a bullet near the encounter site. A resident of Hergam in Arihal, he was a student of ninth class in the state-run high school. He is survived by two elder brothers, parents and a settled sister. Both his brothers are labourers.
A number of people were injured. A senior official in Shopian said the local district hospital received 20 injured persons of whom 17 had pellet injuries and three had bullet injuries. “One of them was from Rajpora and he was brought dead,” he said. “We referred two cases to Srinagar.”
Dr M Yousuf, BMO Shopian told Kashmir Life that a hospital in D K Pora received 10 injured of whom three carried bullets and seven had pellet injuries. “In Zainpora hospital we had four pellet injured who were treated locally,” he said.
Dr Rasheed Parra, the medical superintendent of the district hospital in Pulwama said they received four injured persons. “One was had a bullet injury and he was brought dead. He was from Rohama village but we have no idea wherefrom he was brought,” Parra said.
An official at Kulgam hospital said they received five injured. “Adil was brought dead and two were shifted to Srinagar,” the official said. “Of the five we have three with bullets and two carrying pellet injuries.”
A number of injured were shifted to SMHS where at least one person identified as Nasir Kumhar died. He was later taken by the attendants in an ambulance and that was chased by three police vehicles. The police wanted to retain the corpse for some time. It was not immediately known if they succeeded. SMHS hospital witnessed a sort of serious crisis. Initially, the police would control the situation by taking over the injured. Later they also left as the numbers surged.
But the day that witnessed the lowering of as many as 11 bodies including five militants, five civilians and Showkat Ahmad Tak – a resident of Panzgam (Pulwama), another militant who was killed in Chatabal (Srinagar) on Saturday, started quite early.
The First Knock
It was at around 4:45 am when the soldiers knocked at the residence of Waseem. They took him along to show them the residence of a farmer Ghulam Mohammad Bhat. It is a two-story house located almost in isolation from the main village. It is slightly away from the main village.
By then, the house was in a siege. It was Waseem who told the family members comprising Bhat and his wife, their two daughters and the son, to move out of their home. They did move out quickly.
Then Waseem and the Bhat’s son were sent up for searching the house. They went inside the house and found nothing. When they reported back, they were asked to go for the search again because the army was sure that the information was highly credible.
In the next search, he was alone and accompanied by members of the army and the CRPF. After they started searching the two levels of the house, they were asked to go to the attic as well. On the attic, there was a small room that was almost closed. The soldiers asked Waseem to open it. He picked one lose brick and then he was asked to pull another one.
“As I put down a few bricks, I felt like some people are inside,” the young man told Kashmir Life. “There was a sort of smell I could feel and I was in a fix. Then there came a burst of fire. Three persons were hit. The first fire came at 5:10 am.”
In this fire, that was not returned, three persons were injured: an army was hit in his face, a CRPF man got an injury in his hand and another probably in his thigh. With this burst, Waseem and the group of army and para-military men started running towards the basement. They would fire toward the attic till they reached the ground floor and then outside the premises. For some time, Waseem was caught between the two sides but nobody fired at him. Somehow he managed to move out of the harm and fled.
It was only after that the two sides started a battle formally. The Shopian Police Chief making a call for the trapped militants to surrender, in the backdrop of heavy exchange of fire, happened much later in the day light. By then, thousands of bullets had been fired from both sides.
The initial exchange of fire was intermittent. One reason for the steady pace of the gun battle, according to sources, was the efforts to get Mohammad Rafi Bhat convince to get out of the house. The police had brought in his family including his father, brother and wife to get him surrender.
“We had specific inputs about the presence of militants and it was cordoned off,” SSP Shopian Shalinder Misra said. “Once we knew that there was an educated militant, we halted the operation and got his family.” He said five bodies were recovered eventually and five weapons were recovered from the spot of the clash.
Sources, however, said the family had left Ganderbal but well before they could reach, the operation was over. However, in the morning, Bhat had rung up his home talked to his father, brother, mother and others. He had sought apologies if his decision had hurt them while insisting that it was his last call.
After the bodies were retrieved, these were driven by the army to the police station Zainpora. There, the family of Bhat was given his body which is right now, on way to his Ganderbal home. By the time this report was filed, his funeral prayer was over. He is being laid to rest tonight, the reporter added.
Mohammad Rafi Bhat
The sociology teacher went missing from the university late Friday afternoon and was killed Sunday morning. Going by what officials say, he proved to be the youngest militant whose lifespan as a rebel was less than 36 hours.
A resident of Chunduna village in Ganderbal, Mohammad Rafi Bhat was initially working in sheep husbandry department and later joined the university as a post-graduate student. He continued his studies and was awarded PhD degree in 2017. He worked on Globalization and emerging trends in consumerism: Comparatives Study of rural and urban Kashmir that fetched him a doctoral degree.
“As far as I know him, he was humble, capable and hard-working,” Peerzada Amin, his head of the department said. “He was one of the two contractual lecturers and there was not a single complaint against him as far his responsibilities are concerned. He was mostly silent and talking to people only when required.”
Peerzada said he had earlier sent him on field work to Ladakh and his work had no issues. “Everybody in his class and the department was happy with him,” he added.
Rafi met Peerzada on Thursday and wanted to hand over some question paper. “I suggested him to get it in a sealed envelope,” Peerzada said. “On Friday, I even visited his room but was told he had gone to political science department and then I left.” Later on, Saturday when people came to me seeking details about him, I told them what I knew. “I still do not believe he became a militant,” Peerzada said.
Interestingly, his lost post on his Facebook wall was on May 4, Friday, at 3:06 pm when he uploaded a poem that a student had dedicated to him. “Gift from my students. I will remember your love and respect,” he wrote. “Allah bless you all.”
The students of the outgoing batch had actually gifted him a wristwatch the photograph of which he also uploaded on his wall. Earlier, on April 25, he had posted: “As a teacher, if you have such students to whom you really mean much more than merely something what else may you ask for. I am proud of you my dear students. I cannot forget your batch. You will be with me with utmost loving memories. May Allah bless you all. Today I really feel proud of being a teacher. (Sociology PG students – supplementary ) University of Kashmir Batch 2016-17-18)”.
Reports appearing in media said that he had attempted joining militancy at the age if 18 but was prevented by his family. Incidentally, his two cousins had been killed during the nineties. He was married but had no children.
The inmates of various hostels and faculty members in the University of Kashmir joined for funeral prayers of the slain teacher. It was an emotional sight, those who attended the funeral prayers in absentia said.
The most high profile Hizb ul-Mujahideen militant was killed in the encounter was the most senior of them. He was part of Burhan Wani’s photo-frame that was viral on the social media since 2016.
A resident of Heff Sheermal, in outskirts of Shopian, on the Mughal Road, he had dropped out of school in his twelfth class and joined Lashkar-e-Toiba in late 2014. He joined Burhan group in 2015 summer. He was the son of a local timber merchant and would operate within south Kashmir. His last picture that was on social media showed him with Naveed Jatt, the jailed Lashkar militant who fled from SMHS.
A daily-wager in the Public Health Engineering for around 18 years, Bilal Ahmad Mohand was arrested and booked under Public Safety Act for being over group worker of militants. His release, after five months of detention, coincided with the government policy of accommodating these temporary workers as permanent staff but it required clearance from the police, which it denied. This frustration led the father of two minor daughters, to join militancy in 2016, in the aftermath of Burhan’s killing. He was one of the five militants who was killed in the Shopian village encounter.
Bilal was a resident of Heff village in Shopian.
The other militants who were killed in the encounter included Adil Malik of Malikgund in Shopian and Tawseef Ahmad Sheikh, a resident of Rampora in Qaimoh (Kulgam). Adil was studying in Pulwama where he was undergoing a training of Multi Purpose Health Worker when he went missing in 2014. Police sources said he had a religious bent of mind as well.
The police have already handed over bodies of all the civilians and the militants to the respective families. In most of the cases, the funeral prayers of all of them are over. Militants have reported in good numbers at the funerals for paying their “tributes”. In certain cases, a police officer said, more than two groups reported to bid adieu to their colleagues.
There were massive reactions to the killings of the civilians in the aftermath of the killings. Initially, JRL leader Mirwaiz took to twitter and announced a day-long strike. He announced a “peaceful” sit-in near the secretariat. Incidentally, the strike coincides with the re-opening of Durbar in Srinagar for the next six months.
“There is no remorse no regret by the perpetrators at these gruesome killings and in fact they are justified as if Kashmiris are not humans but serfs of India who have to be crushed and taught the lesson in servility,” the JRL statement quoting the three separatist leaders said. They have called people from all walks of life to join the noon protest outside civil secretariat.
Authorities for the whole day were busy with inspecting the preparations for the re-opening of offices. Chief Secretary B B Vyas was seen inspecting the secretariat with other top officers.
But the Sunday aftermath will hit the governance on its day one in Srinagar for 2018.
“When educated, gainfully employed young men choose the path of militancy – it should serve as a wakeup call for those who have turned a deaf ear towards repeated pleas for initiation of dialogue with all stakeholders to find a solution to this quagmire,” Omar Abdullah, the NC leader currently visiting Ladakh region said. He was addressing people at Drass. “Turning a blind eye towards the alarming situation won’t change reality. The growing levels of alienation and isolation are alarming signs and need to be acknowledged and addressed politically. This is not an economic issue and cannot be resolved through economic packages.”
Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti has also expressed grief over the death of five civilians. Today’s deaths, an official statement quoting her said, have brought a stark fact to fore that gun, either way of a militant or that of security forces, is no solution for resolving issues. “I have reiterated it time and again that Political issues need political interventions”, Mufti said while appealing youth that their energies, youthfulness, dreams and aspirations are far more important and sacred to the society than their dead bodies or graves.
Police issued a detailed statement which is being published unedited. It offers not much of the details about the file civilians who were killed in the aftermath of the encounter.
“Apropos the encounter which took place at Badigam Shopian, the slain terrorists have been identified of outlawed HM outfit known as Saddam Hussain Paddar of Heff, Shopian who was active since September 2014.
Bilal Ahmad Mohand of Heff Shirmal, Shopian was active since October 2016. Adil Ahmad Malik of Malik Gund, Shopian was active since August 2014.
Tauseef Ahmad Sheikh of Rampora, Quimoh was active 2013 and Mohammad Rafi Bhat of Ganderbal who had recently joined them. Saddam Paddar and his associates were involved in a number of civilian killings and in terror attacks on Security Forces. Besides instigating youth to join the terrorist network. Pertinently Police made repeated attempts to make them surrender which did not materialise.
During the encounter, unfortunately, while handling a highly volatile situation civilians were injured in cross-firing among them five civilians succumbed to their injuries. The condition of other injured persons is stated to be stable. We once again reiterate that encounter sites are prohibitory zones and highly susceptible to cross firing so must be avoided by civilians. The three SFs injured including one policeman is under treatment at the hospital. In this regard, a case has been registered under relevant sections and investigation has been taken up.”
(The report is based on the reportage of Sheikh Hilal (Shopian), Shah Hilal (Islamabad), Ishtiyaq Magrey (Ganderbal), Hikmat Yar (Kulgam), Tahir Bhat, Umar Khurshid and Shuaib Wani (Srinagar). Masood Hussain edited the copy.)