by Farzana Nisar and Shah Hilal
KULGAM: October 22, 2018, a day after an encounter in Kulgam’s Laroo village sent ten body bags: seven civilians and three militants, to different houses, it was a day of mourning. As Kashmir was shut in mourning, all the seven homes witnessed an unending number of mourners.
Sitting in front of his two storey devastated and burnt house, reduced to rubble in the encounter, Sheeraz Ahmad Bhat, in whose house encounter took place, is still in shock. He says he is not worried for his house but he is more worried thinking of the hours when he was caught between the raining bullets between government forces and the militants.
“There was no effort from the forces to get my family of five members-three kids: eight years old eldest daughter, seven years old second daughter, two years old son, and the couple, out,” he says.
Bhat alleged that his neighbours were asked to come out of their houses but they refused to oblige until Bhat’s family was rescued. “At around 6.25 am, my family, came out from their main door and at the same time the three militants jumped out from the back window of the house,” Bhat said. “As soon as we came out Army blasted our house. I am not getting out of the shock, what if we had not come out ourselves before the blast.”
A few houses away, Hafizullah Bhat, a labourer by profession was watching the encounter from the window of his house. By 8 am when the encounter was over and forces left the encounter site, all of his family members decided to visit the encounter site. His wife and 18-years-old son Mohammad Muqeem Bhat also went and decided to return together.
As per eyewitness Muqeem once at the encounter site, took something in his hands and it exploded leaving his hands on the ground. When he reached the hospital, he was declared ‘brought dead.’
Muqeem was a class twelfth student and he was going to write his first paper on Monday. In his class 10th, he had scored a distinction and his family says they had more expectations from him. His younger brother is in class ninth and sister is in class fifth. The family is ruing over their fate that their ward who was to appear in the examination became the reason for the cancellation of the examination for all the students across Kashmir.
On the other side of Laroo, Talib Maqbool Laway had to write the last paper of his first semester today.
Talib, an orphan, was a BSC 1st-semester student and to continue the studies he was working as a labourer during the spear time. His father had died 16 years ago when he was just two years old. He was living with his mother and a sister who had to drop her studies because of poverty. In his two-room house, he had erected a tin room on top, where he used to study. He would save the pennies to manage his studies and run his family.
“When the firing started I requested him to come and sleep with me,” Naseema, his mother said. “He was sleeping with me and in the morning everybody went to the encounter so did he at 10 am. He received blast injury and when he was taken to the district hospital they declared him brought dead.” She was inconsolable and repeatedly calling her son saying, “Who will take care of your mother and sister now.”
Amongst them the first casualty was of Aquib Gulzar, 18, son of Gulzar Ahmad Sheikh, a resident of Makanpora, Kulgam, who died on spot at 11.30 am after the shell exploded. He was the eldest among his siblings. He was a BA first year student and to run his family he used to sell different seasonal things on a cart.
Aquib was living in a single storey house with his siblings: three brothers and two sisters. His two brothers are labourers and one is studying in class twelfth. Of his two sisters, one is married and another unmarried. His mother had passed away when he was a kid.
Muhammad Mansoor Dar, 26, son of Ghulam Mohammad Dar, a resident of Denaw Bogund Kulgam, was a cricket lover, had also gone to the encounter site, where he was seriously injured.
Mansoor had done PG and BEd, was married three years ago and had a year-old son. He was the lone son of his family and had two sisters; one of them is married and settled. He was working as a cable operator in Devsar to run his family. His father, who was a farmer, is bedridden from last one year.
His mourning friends still recall the days when Mansoor scored distinctions in the class tenth and twelfth class and was a celebrated topper in the whole area.
Irshad Ahmad Padder, 21, son of Syedullah Padder resident of Shurat, the area where no stone pelting or a casualty was reported for the last 17 years at least, had completed his BA recently with 84 per cent marks. He wished to be a KAS officer and was preparing for the exams. Meanwhile, he had recently appeared in the PG entrance for history at the Kashmir University.
He had two brothers and five sisters of whom three are married. His father, a labourer, says Irshad was injured at the encounter site but when he was taken to the district hospital, doctors declared him ‘brought dead.’
Irshad had four funeral prayers.
“We decided to work as labourers at any orchard for the day because it is apple picking and packing season and we were looking for work,” Mashooq, who was accompanying him before death, said. “Irshad said let us go to the encounter site and see what happened. There he was injured and later he died.”
Javeed Ahmad Lone, 26, son of Mohammad Ibrahim Lone, a resident of Hawoora Mishpora, Kulgam, a driver by profession was also injured at the encounter site. He was referred from Kulgam district hospital to SKIMS, where he succumbed to his injuries. His funeral was offered on Monday as he was identified late Sunday evening around 11.30pm. Four brothers, five sister and parents survive him. His father is a farmer.
Youngest of all, Uzair Mushtaq, 12+, son of Mushtaq Ahmad Dar, a resident of main town Kulgam, died of a ‘bullet or shell’ injury on his head. Instead of a direct route, he wanted to reach to the encounter site via an orchard, half a kilometre away from encounter site, where he got injured.
His father Mushtaq Ahmad Dar is a farmer. He had one more sibling, a sister who is in class fourth and Uzair was a class eight student in Simnani Higher Secondary School.
After getting injured he was referred to SMHS hospital where he succumbed to his injuries. His funeral was held at the compound of the shrine of Syed Simani. “We were struggling to take the body to the graveyard after the funeral prayers were offered,” Abdul Rasheed, one of his relatives said. “But they were firing shells continuously. We had kept the body of Uzair on road and it was only after 20 minutes that we were allowed to go.”
Uzair had left his house at 10 am after taking his Adhaar card from his sister. Uzair was part of a joint family. They were living with three more uncles. “We have only daughters in our family. Uzair was our only son. We have another son but he is not mentally well. We three brothers had all of our hopes tied with Uzair,” said one of his uncles.
When the shell exploded at the encounter site, Uzair’s father Mushtaq Ahmad was busy harvesting paddy. He heard many of his neighbours were injured so he rushed to the hospital so that he could help the injured.
At the hospital, Dar saw Uzair’s friend injured and as he went out to get an injection for him, he saw his other neighbours got his son to the hospital.
A day before the encounter, the whole of Kulgam was in celebration mode following the Urs of the local shrine. The locals witnessed frisking late Saturday night but they mistook it with normal checking. There were announcements being made through the loudspeakers asking people to remain indoors but due to the celebrations, they couldn’t hear that properly.
It was around 12.30 in the night when forces laid seize in the area and it was around 2.50 am when the cordon was laid in Laroo area following the inputs of militants in the area. It was a pre-dawn encounter and by 8 am the encounter was over and the forces left.
Soon after forces left, the vehicles of fire and emergency services were ready to douse the flames of Bhat’s house where the encounter had taken place.
One of the fire and emergency service employees said: “Once we came out of the area, the local SHO called us again to reach back to the spot as our services were needed again but when we turned our vehicles this time forces didn’t allow us to enter the village.”
Meanwhile, Bhat’s neighbours, who live very near to his house and claim to be witness, alleged, “After the fire and emergency vehicles left, around eight army personnel came again to the site and we suspect they left something there because the explosive that exploded was present outside the encounter house not inside the rubble of the house.”
Police said they recovered a lot of arms ammunition from the spot of the encounter. These include one damaged Claymore IED, 500 gram, one AK 57 with shilling, one 56 magazine, 36, AK 57 rounds live, 11 AK 56 empty cartridges, 11 56 fired rounds , 2 Chinese pistols, 3 Chinese pistol magazine, 8 Chinese pistol rounds live, 5 Pika rounds live, 1 Pika rounds empty cartridges, 1 UGBL thrower, 7 UGBL grenades, 3 Pouches, 2 belts, 1 raincoat, 4 Identity cards, one Samsung mobile charger without cable, 1 mobile battery, one sharing blade with handle, one machine oil (fine 90) bottle, and one wallet (black purse).
The scare in the village has prevented people from getting close to the encounter site. Police said they are in the process of clearing the debris after proper scanning.
Saima Bhat edited the copy