Kashmir Life’s photojournalist Bilal Bahadur dodged death once again when a teargas shell, aimed at his head, missed and hit his arm at Bijbehara, where he had gone to cover Hizb-ul-Mujahideen militant Adil Reshi’s funeral. As he nurses his injuries at home, he tells Heena Muzzafar about the events of the day
On the morning of January 16, 2017, as it was snowing outside, I began walking towards my office in Press Enclave.I got a call from my friend Yaseen Dar, a photojournalist, who said he was waiting for me near the office. He said that they had planned to go out for a photo shoot.As I joined them and drove off, I thought we were going out to capturesome shots of the snow.
But, the moment we reached near Sonwar, I came to know that we were actually going to cover the funeral of three slain militants: Adil Ahmad Reshi of Bijbehara,Abid Ahmad Sheikh of Satkipora and Masood Ahmad Shah of Bewoora.
The trio were killed the same morning in an overnight encounter inAwoora village near Bijbehara.
Usually I do not miss any militant funeral, but that day, I had a feeling that I should not go.
At 10:30 am, as we neared Bijbehara town, we were greeted by thousands of mourners, who advised us to leave our vehicle somewhere safe and cover rest of the distance on foot. It was around 2 kms to Adil Reshi’s home. We must have walked almost a kilometre, when huge crowds began appearing on the road. It took us another half-an-hour to walk the remaining distance. A vast 11 Kanal compound of Adil’s house absorbed almost every single mourner. His spacious three-storey house was located at a corner.
Ibegan to think what could have motivated slain Adil to abandon such a comfortable life and pick up a gun.
Once the funeral was over, I grabbed my camera and followed Adil’s body to his final resting place, half-a-mile from his house in Hassanpora.
As we walked towards the graveyard, we could sense how the number of mourners was swelling by every minute.
Within minutes there were gunshots and sound of teargas shells, but people didn’t run. They wanted to give Adil a proper send off.
To save ourselves, and at the same time click pictures, we ran towards nearby district hospital premises.
I hid myself behind a wall and began clicking for some close-up shots. As I focused my camera on a J&K police personnel, who had just fired a teargas shell towards the mourners, I saw his colleagues stare at me. But without thinking about it much, I kept clicking pictures. Suddenly I saw one of the policemen point his teargas gun at me. Before I could have reacted, he shot it, aiming right at my head.
Instinctively, I raised my arm to save my face, as the teargas shell zoomed at me.Next thing I remember, I was asking my colleagues if my arm was snapped from my body. I somehow managed to pick up my camera and, fainted.
I opened my eyes in the same district hospital, only to feel intense pain in my arm. The first thought that struck my mind was, ‘What if the shell had hit my head or chest? I would have been dead for sure.’
I was in tears when I thought about my family: elderly parents, wife and two little sons. Who would have taken care of them?
After the situation improved, my colleagues drove me back to Srinagar. I went straight to my office, unloaded the pictures that I had clicked, with a friend’s help.
At 5 pm, as the pain became unbearable, I was taken to SMHS. After the doctors examined my arm, they referred me to Bone and Joints hospital in Barzulla.
There, after a few quick X-rays, the doctors removed plaster from my arm, which was done at Bijbehara. I was told that my bone is saved but the teargas shell has burned through arm muscles. After spending almost two hours at the hospital, I was finally allowed to go home.
When I reached home, my family and relatives had already assembled there, waiting for me.It was an emotional reunion. After all I had missed death by just a few inches, literally.