The ground realities could be hugely different from what the TV cameras record. Masood Hussain details his first-hand account about a gun battle in the village he was born and brought up
It was around 6 am, on April 13, the non-stop phone rings literally forced me to get out of the bed and pick up the phone. It was my younger brother on the line.
“We are in a crackdown and there is firing as well,” my brother, speaking from Shopian’s Gahind village, informed. “Do you have any idea what is happening here?”
I had no idea. But it did not remain a mystery for long. An hour later, it was known everywhere that two militants were killed. Now I got a second call: “where?” Again, I had no idea. How could a person, 60 kms away, know the details? I did not panic because gun battles in south Kashmir are just part of the new ‘normalcy’.
By around 10 am, I got another call: “Lot of angry youth have assembled in the village and they are pelting stones on the army and police. Shelling is going on.”
This caused panicky. Reason: If peppers are in action, what will happen to my father who has to use oxygen concentrator every two hours? And what happens to the tiny twins who were born barely five months back to my youngest brother. Rest of all was all right.
By afternoon, tensions were over as my brothers told me that the army had moved out along with two corpses and the recoveries. There were no civilian losses as the action was in the village periphery, in the open fields, although there were a few arrests from the crowds.
The next morning, I started quite early and took the chances of crossing the highway, otherwise closed for the civilian traffic, to reach home. For a 10 meter crossover, I was told to take a few kilometres long route. Finally, I reached the Nowgam junction to Pulwama road.
As I reached my village, I was shocked to see hundreds of cars and bikes parked on every possible space, outside homes, orchards, the small road and the courtyards. The footfall was massive. After some efforts, more than 24 hours after the twin killings, when I finally managed to park the car, I started enquiring about the huge rush of people in the small village. “They are coming to see the spot where the encounter took place,” a resident said. “It is quite a thin attendance; yesterday it was huge.”
The conversation led me to seek details about the spot that unveiled an interesting thing.
People living in cities and towns know villages have names. What they do not know is that in a village, every spot has its own name: rice fields, apple orchards, vegetable gardens or even wasteland. These names, some of them enigmatic, are interesting and have been there for centuries. These names are as physical as the spaces they denote. From my childhood, I have known these names as these were part of the eco-system that brought me up: the Katri daur, Kadihoul, Palshouth, Daiwus, Shouth, Toungripath, Satwouth, Bahwouth, Reshdar, Lamean. These innumerable names are part of the local geography. These names work as geographic coordinates for the residents though these revenue records have khasra numbers only.
During the conversation, an interesting name erupted – Kanisuond. This periphery of the village is something I have dreaded throughout my life. This area is a network of high land apple orchards, separated by deep gorges through which the toungri rivulet, a tributary to Jhelum that emerges from Ahrabal waterfall, roars out. It has narrow passages and dense vegetation. Throughout my life, the family has ensured that I avoid visiting the area because it has Tasruf as a lot of Djins live there!
Throughout my life, I have perhaps once used this trek to reach home when I was writing my BSc final year examination in 1986. The KMD bus that was carrying passengers home from Khanabal had a fault midway that delayed it. Late in the evening, somebody suggested to me that it was the shortest trek home from the road. I took the advice but the 15-minute trek was the most horrifying moments of my life. A pin-drop silence being broken by the cold winter winds creating interesting symphony as I walked on frozen snow and the foot-track deep in the mountains being interrupted by sudden owl flights was dreadful. As I reached home, it took me many hours to stabilise, and later when the reality dawned on my parents, it took them many hours more.
It was in these orchards that the militants had their hideout. Intelligently dug on the slope side of the rivulet, the cave was completely hidden from everyone. It was in the congested plantation with no trespass.
I could not visit the site, perhaps the Djins in my sub-conscious still prevailed. But everybody around was talking about it and everyone had something interesting to reveal:
“It was enough of space for five people but the entry was difficult.”
“They had enough of material for survival, the LPG, the utensils, and they had actually cooked a chicken that morning when it was raided.”
“The army had lobbed something inside and everything had roasted.”
“By God, it seemingly was an old hideout and we never knew it.”
“I cannot forget the scene when the sister of one of the slain militants cried in that cave.”
“It was so craftily dug that the army scanned the area twice before actually locating it.”
While getting into my parents’ home, I could sense that I was not the only ‘guest’. There were many others who had come to see my parents, mostly relatives from different villages. They had first come to see the “hide”, a reference to the cave, and then dropped in to ask about the welfare of my parents. It took me some time to understand the phenomenon and talk to my parents about how they managed peppers and tear smoke suffocation. They had actually moved to the basement and tightly closed the door to prevent the gases in. The residents were angry over the youth from other villages “invading” the village and taking over the streets.
The real impact of the incident unveiled after my mother suggested me to offer condolences to two families who have lost a member each in the last few months. In both the homes, I saw a lot many people, having tea and talking about the incident. They were their concerned relatives.
By around 5 pm, I asked for my nephew; the 11-year-old was born a year after his infant elder brother died in an accident at home. We gave the newborn his brother’s name and he retained his characteristics completely.
“Where were you for the whole day?” I asked him when finally he responded to the frequent summons.
“I had gone to see the cave. I went there nine times today,” he responded nonchalantly.
“But why?” I asked, almost in shock.
“Because everybody goes there,” he replied innocently. “All these people who come from andgam (other villages) go there.”
Before I could conclude the conversation, he finally had a “request”: “I have shot a video of the cave, can you put it on your Facebook!”
In Srinagar, almost 24 hours later, I had another call, again by my brother. While I was working in my office, he dropped the bombshell: “Rasul Maam Guzreav. Khas Jald” (Uncle Ghulam Rasool is no more, come fast).
I rang up other relatives in Srinagar and we left quickly but before we could leave the city, we were tasked to get his three kids studying in Srinagar. They provided a number and it was on call divert that devoured 90 minutes. By around 9:30 pm, we finally collected the two brothers and their sister, and then for next 80 minutes, our two cars were moving through harrowing silence in pitch dark to reach home, avoiding the garrisons and the patrols, ubiquitous in south Kashmir. By the time, we reached home, it was 10:30 pm and the elders had decided against going for the burial same night.
It was a long night of mourning with the corpse literally “sleeping” in the room. Born in 1947 summer, Rasul Maam died at 71. An interesting human being and part of my upbringing, he was the son of my grandfather’s cousin whom he brought up as his own son and protected the orphans’ inheritance until he settled in life. I have never seen him angry and never seen him miss a prayer.
His death was a reality but how did it happen? That was another interesting story. That morning, April 15, 2019, he had gone to see his sister in a distant village, almost 12 km, walking on foot. Although he owned a car he loved walking.
With his sister, he had lunch, and by around 4 pm, he decided to leave. But there were some other relatives who had also gone to see a recapturing lady, who offered him a lift. As they reached home, the host driver was inquisitive about the “cave” and requested him to show him. He could not disagree though he had personally gone there twice. The “guide” took them along and they were about to reach the cave when he stopped abruptly. He stopped and could not get up. There were some young men from Kokernag who sensed the crisis; they got water but he could not take a drop in. In minutes, they drove him to the nearest dispensary where he was formally declared dead. We laid him to rest the next morning.
Back home on Tuesday, as I was halting between the whistling CRPF men on the highway, I was trying to make out how complex the situation has gone? How effortlessly things are getting into the folklore and how the indoctrination, if at all it is around, is taking place informally. For the next 100 years, when the village will remember the always-smiling Ghulam Rasool, the cave will come in and with cave will the situation re-emerge that Kashmir is trying to come out from. The ground realities are completely different from the way the policymakers see it, or I presume so.