Body of Rayees Ahmad Dar during his funeral procession at his native Pakharpora village after he was killed in Pulwama during a gunfight between the government forces and the militants.

While Kashmir woke up for sehri today, Pulwama—south of the valley—sniffed gunpowder. In the main town Dalipora area, the family of Jalaluddin Dar sat terrified as government forces had launched a Cordon and Search operation (CASO) in their locality—20 meters away from home, precisely. Two sons of Mr. Dar, 25-year-old Rayees Ahmad and 33-year-old Mohammad Younis, who had spent their childhood together, running in the lanes, eating sehri with the family, and breaking fast on the same table—the brothers remained brothers in oppression, while forces used the duo as human shield, a criminal offense under Geneva Convention, one died and another survived.

Under the Statute of the International Criminal Court, “utilizing the presence of a civilian or other protected person to render certain points, areas or military forces immune from military operations” constitutes a war crime in international armed conflicts. Government forces have has a rough track record in Jammu and Kashmir in that particular context.

At around 2:45 am, while forces cordoned off the area, following a standard input of militants’ presence, Mr. Ahmad, the younger son, was offering prayer (Tahajud) on the second floor of his home.

Heavy knocks entered through the ajar door of prayers in Dars’ place in the holy month of Ramzan. Mr. Ahmad’s elder brother, Mr. Younis rushed towards the door. Abuses hurled inside. Questions echoed: “Where are the militants, who are on the second floor?”; panic and anxiety followed.

Leaving aside two minor daughters, Mr. Younis’s wife, Firdousa, barred her husband’s contact with the forces, and grabbing him by the shirt, firmly, she stood silently behind Mr. Younis. Ms. Firdousa whispered to her husband from the back, “Tell them no one is here,” while the mother of Mr. Ahmad, Mehmooda Akhtar, didn’t stir and clung to her younger son.

Mr. Younis and Mr. Ahmad were ordered to join the forces, by the forces, for the search and pushed them towards the second floor of their own house.

“My hands were shivering and my lips dried, their expressions were fearful,” said Ms. Firdousa. “We were repeatedly telling them; no one is here. After a few minutes, they asked them to come along.”

She could recollect the time when she, alongside her mother-in-law, begged to forces to not take the brothers along. “They told us that they will release them soon,” cried Ms. Firdousa over the death of her brother-in-law, Mr. Rayees, “But, we didn’t know that this oppression would kill him.”

The Killing

While forces were dragging both of his sons to search the house situated some 20 meters away from his home, Mr. Dar, the father, had said, “I will come with you, let my sons go,” but they took him as well, he told while talking to The Kashmir Walla. “Though, they went in a different direction, and took me in different.”

“After being taken along, forces ordered us to go inside the house and switch on lights and start searching, and to ask every family member to come out of the home,” said Mr. Younis. Sitting beside him at his home, his uncle Ali Mohammad said, “Who can deny them? Everyone is helpless before the gun.”

As per Mr. Younis, when he entered the home where suspected militants were hiding, Mr. Ahmad was standing in the premises outside the main gate.

Mr. Younis entered the house and did whatever was asked of him. As soon as the family members of the house came out, according to Mr. Younis, he was asked to check the house again. “When I was at the door of the house, lights went off in a room and heavy firing started.” He received a bullet on his thigh as the heavy exchange of firing continued.

“I started crawling from the house to another one,” said Mr. Younis, the elder son, “I didn’t know what happened to my brother Rayees.” As per the eye-witness, Mr. Ahmad had bullet marks on both sides of his body.

After a brief pause in firing, Mr. Dar, the father was asked by forces to lift a dead body of army personnel. He carried it on his back to the main road. After he returned, he heard people talking of anyone body lying in the premises. Mr. Dar couldn’t recognize but he was told it is his son, Rayees. “He was lying dead on the ground,” he said.

In the gunfight, three militants of Jaish-e-Mohammad, and a soldier were also killed while three persons including two army men were injured.

Funeral and a loss of life

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Relatives of Rayees Ahmad Dar, a civilian, mourn over his killing at his native in Pakharpora village after he was allegedly taken as a human shield by the army during a gunfight in Pulwama district of South Kashmir. Photograph by Bhat Burhan for The Kashmir Walla

The news of Mr. Rayees killing spread shock in his native village, Pakharpora – 17 kilometers away from Pulwama. Mr. Dar had shifted from his native village to Pulwama town a few years ago, the attachment stayed with villagers and vise-versa.

Mr. Ahmad was known for his two qualities in his native village—a warming smile on his face, and sober behavior. After completing his MBA from Islamia College of Science and Commerce, Srinagar, he showed a keen interest in Islamic literature.

For last one year, he was teaching the Quran, in the nearby Madrassa in Dalipora, Pulwama. “He used to spend most of his time on religious activities and was helping children to learn Quran,” said a close relative of Mr. Ahmad at his native village, while the mourners poured in.

After several rounds of funerals as thousands of mourners arrived in their native village to see his last glimpse, gloom and trauma took away the peace in the month of Ramzan. But Senior Superintendent of Police (Pulwama) Chandan Kohli told The Kashmir Walla denied the allegations that the Dar brothers were taken as human shields. Mr. Kohli added that in normal anti-militancy operations, “forces are not using any human shields but as per my opinion if this is the matter, we will investigate it.”

Back at their house in Pakharpora, Mr. Ahmad’s sister-in-law couldn’t stop wailing for his loss: “Bi ha lagai tath shakl’ie ti noora’s mai’ne baayo, zaalimo ne’ykho mai’ne jaanaano, mai’ne imamzaad shaheedo (I would give my life for your smartness and shining face. Oh, my brother, you were taken by oppressors, oh my, love. You are my martyr, like Imam Hussain A.S.)

The untimely separation of Mr. Ahmad has sent his mother into a deep shock, and an era of numbness. In Kashmir, a mother lost her son in a brief time between two times of meal in the holy month.

Kaiser Andrabi is a Features Writer at The Kashmir Walla.

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