Post-Eid, Reconstruction of Gutted Srinagar Locality Will Begin

by Khalid Bashir Gura

SRINAGAR: On the eve of Eid, the Kani Mazar Mohalla Committee overseeing the rehabilitation of the families whose homes went up in the encounter fires, have thanked people for donating graciously. They have asked the people not to deposit any money in the bank account, any more.

A group of Women shout slogans near houses which were damaged during a gunfight in old city area of Srinagar May 19, 2020. Two militants were killed, while two security personnel were injured in the encounter.KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

The appeal by the Intizamia Committee was shared widely on social media. “This is to inform all concerned that we are highly thankful to all who wholehearted supported and donated for the fire victims at Kanimazar,” the handwritten statement said. “Intizamia Committee has decided that donations through already uploaded account number will not be accepted now. Any donation, if any, should be provided to the Intizamiya Committee personally”

Almost 20 homes were either completely destroyed or partially damaged during the May 19, 2020 encounter in which two militants were killed. Three security men were also injured. A minor from Karan Nagar also died after he came under a collapsing wall while visiting the encounter site. On Sunday, the day of Eid, two persons, Manzoor Ahamad Khan, a resident of Hawal and Fayaz Ahmad Bhat, 35, son of Muhammad Hafeez Bhat of Jamalatta, Nawakadal died of their burn injuries. They were two of the four persons who had come under a collapsing wall.

The slain militants included Junaid Ashraf Sehraie and Tariq Ahmad Sheikh. The latter was from Pulwama. Police somewhere in north Kashmir buried both the militants. In case of Sehrai, a funeral prayer in absentia was held at his Barzalla residence.

Though the operation started at midnight, it peaked only at around 8 am on May 19. It ended soon within a few hours. By later afternoon, the mixed column of SOG and CRPF were leaving the spot.

Residents said the counter-insurgent forces blasted the houses where the militant dup had taken refuge. One of the militants was killed in a house that is burnt now. The other one was traced by a sniffer dog in the washroom of another house where he was eventually neutralized.

The inhabitants of the house recall that they were unaware that the bleeding militant had taken refuge in their bathroom located in the courtyard.

Fearing protests, the administration snapped the mobile Internet and voice calls barring BSNL in Srinagar district. However, after the encounter was over, the roads swelled with people; young, old, children, and women. Most of the people were seen recording the destruction with their cell phones.

Firefighters and locals try to douse the flames as several houses caught fire during a gun battle between militants and counterinsurgent forces in Srinagar on Tuesday, May 19, 2020. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

The scenes of destruction were frightening. The half-burnt books flip fitfully in the smoky grey air staring at the black and grey world inside houses. The mountain of rubble was emanating smoke like the un-erupted mountain with lava. Initially, the people were moving around the rubble but after an accident in which four boys were injured – of whom one later died, people stayed at safe distance.

According to the local Mohalla Committee, the losses were huge amounting to more than Rs 15 crore. They said 19 houses were impacted and identified some of the victims as following:

  1. Ghulam Mohammad Sofi, a retired government employee.
  2. Mushtaq Ahmad Gandroo, 60, a mason,
  3. Fayaz Ahmad Gandroo, 45, businessman,
  4. Ghulam Mohammad Najar, 71, a carpenter,
  5. Hilal Ahmad, 45, an unemployed since August 2019, was earlier working as an ATM guard,
  6. Javid Ahmad Sofi, in his late 30s who works for the government,
  7. Mohammed Sidiq Sofi, 50 plus, government employee,
  8. Nazir Ahmad Gandroo, 60, a retired government employee,
  9. Gulzar Ahmad Malik, 45, also a government employee,
  10. Nusrat, 45, widow of Mohammad Rafiq Gandroo.
  11. Fareeda, widow of Mohammad Amin Baba.
  12. Ghulam Qadir Bhat, 60, businessman.
  13. Noor Mohammad Sheikh, 40 plus, also a government employee.

After the encounter was over, the local committee made an appeal seeking help for rebuilding the homes. The people instantly responded to it. From the next day, people started depositing their donations in the bank account of the local committee. With four days, the Committee appealed people that they require not to make any donations.

The families may have some kind of shelter by this fall but they have harrowing experiences to share.

“It has broken our back,” said Mukthar Ahmad Sofi, 38, a shopkeeper in Chotta Bazar Srinagar. Mukthar still doesn’t believe he is alive after what he encountered. As the bullets were flying, he had to evacuate his aged, unwell father, Ghulam Mohammad Sofi on shoulders to a safe place. His father is battling clinical depression and is on medication since more than a decade.

His family, Mukhtar said was permitted to move out by 5:30 am but the police and CRPF in the locality retained him. “I was asked to go in and search my own house twice before I was told to move into other houses,” Mukhtar alleged. “I was also told to record the video with my phone.”

Once he returned after scanning the house, the security men watched the video and deleted it from his device. He said he was reciting the Kalima and muttering in the Kashmiri language so that the militants, if any, would understand that he was not a fighter but a civilian.

After scanning his home, he was asked to repeat the same with other houses.

Besides, Mukhar said, his father, a retired government employee, had kept his pension with his son. “I handed over around Rs 63,000 cash to paramilitary forces. I haven’t received it back yet and I Have not demanded it yet,” he said. Mukhtar was eventually permitted to leave at 8:30 am.

Many others, like Mukhtar were also sent inside the homes to locate militants. These included Mushtaq Ahmad Gandroo, a 60-year-old mason.

Residents whose homes were destroyed or seriously damaged alleged loot of their valuables. In various cases, the residents alleged that when they were asked to leave, they did seek permission to remove movable assets like gold and cash but the permission was denied.

Sehrish, a twelfth standard student at the Nawa Kadal Higher Secondary said the table on which her DSLR and laptop were has somehow survived but both her prized possessions were missing.

Beigh family said they shared their Sehri with two cops who said they were Muslims and have to fast. After they left their women alleged that a box carrying the ornaments is intact along with the bronze items. “Only the golden jewellery is missing,” wife of one of the Beigh brothers said.

Police Response

In a presser after the encounter, Director General of Police, Jammu and Kashmir, Dilbag Singh said the operation was “clean and only one residential house caught the fire which was controlled immediately”.

A cop rescues an elderly woman from the site of encounter in Srinagar on Tuesday, May 19, 2020. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

“The first thing we did in the morning was to evacuate the inmates. In that process two forces personnel suffered injuries”, he said.

On the allegations of theft, SSP Srinagar has said two things. First, that cops who are getting Rs 50,000 monthly salary cannot resort to looting during an encounter. Second, the people have made allegations but none of them has come and registered an FIR so that the allegations can be investigated. He even suggested the residents to approach his office directly and register the case.

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