“How long will they kill such budding flowers?”
questioned Shaheena Akhtar, an eyewitness to the Saturday mayhem in Pulwama district of South Kashmir, while showing the blood impressions of 20-year-old, Owais Yousuf Najar.
Mr Najar was standing on the gate of his house at morning, as per Miss Akhtar, when the government forces’ vehicle encountered youth on the way back to their bases, after wrapping from the encounter site nearby.
“Once they saw boys on the road, they fired indiscriminately on them,” she said. “Owais bent his body under the plinth of his home, but one bullet hit his head and I saw his brain spilling out of the head.”
Mr Najar’s father, Mohammad Yousuf was sitting beside his young son’s dead body — numb and shattered, and his mother kept cursing her ill-fate. Mr Najar had quit his studies one year ago due to family’s weak financial conditions. His father, a carpenter by profession, was hardly managing to pay the bills. He was working as a helper at the mechanic shop in Pulwama’s main town.
“Oh, Allah! don’t you feel mercy for this helpless person? How can you let your wrath on this innocent, and how long do we have to see this blood?” said a neighbour in a disappointing voice, while the compound was filing with mourners.
The villagers are demanding the authorities to conduct the proper investigation into his killing, as he was not even the part of protesters, “but government forces killed him mercilessly.”
On Saturday morning, a gunfight broke out between the government forces and the trapped militants in Sirnoo village of Pulwama district of Kashmir – 35 kilometres south of the summer capital, Srinagar. As the gunfight left three militants dead and two soldiers injured, the protestors surrounded the outskirts of the areas. Hearing the gunshots nearby, the people panicked amid the continuous clashes between the protesting youth and the government forces.
By now, the government forces had resorted to live-bullets, intense teargas shelling and pellets, aimed at the protesting youth, and many more in the vicinity. At least 60 civilians were injured by the noon, and six were declared brought dead at the district hospital, Pulwama. Soon, one more succumbed to his injuries on his way to Srinagar.
The Jammu and Kashmir police did say they were “deeply grieved” and by evening, the state Governor, Satya Pal Malik, directed the forces to minimize the collateral damage. However, by then, seven families had dug graves, and their kiths and kins were cold dead.
A three-month-old girl lost her father, a man found his son died while passing through a hospital. Many other ran from pillar to post throughout the day, only to make sure that their loved ones are safe.
Among thousands of people assembled in the graveyard, surrounded by dense poplars, the speaker at Mr Najar’s funeral mourned his martyrdom and glorified his sacrifice amid the pro-freedom and anti-India slogans.
“Oh, my son! what pulled you to go there,
my love, your mother is waiting for you to join for tea,
Oh, my Aamir! how long will you live in the grave?”
Wailed Fatima Bano, 41, over his 18-year-old son, Aamir Yousuf Pala’s killing. Bano had laid her shivering body against a wall of a playground where a pool of people had arrived to attend the fifth funeral.
Mr Pala, a resident of Aashmender village of Pulwama was among the seven civilians who died today. Like everyone else, he too had heard the news of the gunfight in the nearby village, about 1.5 kilometres from his home. Her mother served him tea. “He sipped only half a cup and rushed outside to check the situation,” said his mother, in a cracking voice.
She added that he was planning to go to his ‘Pollution Checking Center’ shop, where he used to work as a helper. “I don’t know how he reached the gunfight site. Soon, we heard that a bullet hit him,” she added. In the following half an hour, Aamir’s blood-soaked body was shouldered to his courtyard.
His mother fainted right there.
As per an eyewitness, Farooq Ganaie said, “After hearing about the encounter, we went to see the situation. Before we could reach there, forces had cordoned the area. They fired directly towards the crowd.”
From the pool of bullets, fired by the government forces, one ripped Mr Pala’s chest and bathed him in blood. He lied there for ten minutes. Soon, one of his friends picked him up, only to find him dead.
One could hear the chaos in the areas after the ‘massacre’ took place. People were moving from one village to another to join the multiple funeral processions of the civilians.
While the roads in South Kashmir filled with mourners on Saturday, at Pulwama district hospital injured continued to arrive. People went to see the situation at the hospital, while many gathered around the body of a teenager, till then unidentified. Only when a man walked in, passed through the crowd to see the body, and said, “He is my son.” It was Aqib Bashir, a class eighth student, from Prichoo Pulwama, one among the seven.
Same was the case with Abdul Majeed Dar’s family. He was numb over his younger son’s killing; walking along with hundreds of people to bury him. He stopped in the middle and laid his feeble body on the road and cried, “What will I do now, who can help me in my work, my Liyaqat, please open your eyes for once. Please don’t leave me alone, O! my heart,” he wailed.
Liyaqat Ahmad Dar, 17-year-old boy, a resident of Darzi Mohalla Parigam area of Pulwama district went early morning to attend tuition for his class 11. He only got to know about the encounter on his way to Pulwama. Once he stepped in the main town, he found his other friends walking towards the gunfight site. And he followed them. But the government forces had sealed the area for any movements right at the nose of the road.
As per one of his friend, the boys started throwing stones at the forces, who retaliated with the indiscriminate firing. “We got scared and ran away from the scene. But, Liyaqat couldn’t find any safe shelter. He ran straight back,” in-between, one bullet hit him on the back of his head and he fell.
His father, who is not financially strong, is left with two sons, among which, one was born handicapped.
Youth march towards the encounter site with an aim to help the trapped militants escape. Eventually, it became a new norm in the ongoing volatile conflict in the Valley, mostly in the southern Kashmir, and leads to increased civilian killings. Many parents have shouldered the coffins of their only sons, who left homes to reach near the gunfight sites and returned dead.
The Saturday massacre did not end there, it has laid the tragedies on seven families, who are claiming that the government forces have an aim to kill the younger generation in Kashmir. They believe that the state is pushing young boys to choose a gun over any other thing by such actions.
When the news of the despair also knocked at the door of Ghulam Nabi Lone, as his son, Aabid Hussain Lone, 35, became the victim of bullets fired by the forces. In-between the chaos, two bullets pierced through Mr Hussain’s body, forcing him to fall dead— on spot.
At morning, Mr Hussain had heard about the gunfight about two kilometres away from his home. “When I checked my phone, I saw the news of the encounter in the village,” said Aaqib Javaid, a neighbour. “There was one militant from our village. (Adnan Ahmad Bhat who had reportedly joined the militant ranks on 31 November 2017). We marched to help the trapped militants in escaping.”
As the government forces had cordoned off the area, they choose a different route to reach near the site. As per one eyewitness from the village, they were watching the operation via an apple orchard without any protest.
“They called more forces. When boys saw more vehicles coming in, the visuals encouraged their anger, but the forces started firing at us,” said Mr Javaid. “Aabid [Mr Hussain] did not move from his place as he did not take part in the protest. Also, there were no stones; how can anyone find stones in a dry orchard. One bullet hit him on the face and another in the neck; he died on the spot.”
Mr Hussain’s body was placed inside their courtyard, and one could see a huge number of people gathered around his body. His mother sobbed and said, “Baangh ha parha’ie mai’ne jaana-noo, wouth nimaz par mai’ne janaa-noo. (Oh my son! Call for prayers is recited in the Masjid, get up my son and offer prayers)”
His three-months-old daughter was crying in her mother’s lap. Her mother, Saima, paying no attention over her cries was sitting on the balcony of the house. Around her traumatized body, women mourners were tapping her shoulders, paying sympathies. “Sab’ir, Sab’ir (Have patience),” said one of the women mourners.
In between this, two other families were also mourning the dead. As Suhail Ahmad of Bellow and Tawseef Ahmad Mir of Urchersoo Pulwama were the other who were dead.
For these seven families, patience was the only the word people could offer. While the Governor of the state has called for an inquiry, similar to many others, for mourners it was clear, the dead do not return, and only the pain remains.