“It all started with a knock,” said Rukaya, 22. Two armed and masked men entered her home in Hariparigam village south Kashmir’s Awantipora, looking for her father-in-law Fayaz Ahmad Bhat, a special police officer. In less than a minute, eight bullets were fired.
“His wife and daughter lay on his body to shield him. They were also shot,” said Rukaya. While Bhat, 48, was shot in the face and died on the spot, his 46-year-old wife Raja and 22-year-old daughter Rafia succumbed to gunshot wounds at the hospital.
Inspector-General of Police (Kashmir) Vijay Kumar held two foreign militants of the Jaish-e-Mohammad responsible for the attack. Rukaya said that the attackers didn’t offer Bhat a chance to explain.
Surrounded by paddy fields and enveloped by dense trees, the serenity of Hariparigam was interrupted by the shrieks of the helpless Bhat family. The walls of their house bore the marks of bullets fired by the assailants.
On Monday morning residents of Hariparigam participated in the funeral prayers and later buried all three bodies in the nearest graveyard. In the packed tent of mourners at their residence on Monday, Rukaya told The Kashmir Walla that the entire incident played out in front of her one-year-old daughter. Her husband, Liaqat Ahmad Bhat, an Army trooper, was away on duty.
“When I saw three bodies lying before me I began to shout and the gunmen kicked me,” said Rukaya. “My little daughter cried and we both fell unconscious. Before the gunmen left, one of them threatened to kill me and my little daughter.”
“My father-in-law was an SPO but without giving any warning or a chance of apology, how can they kill him along with his family?,” Rukaya said amid sobs and mourners attempting to console her. “Gunmen have destroyed this family,” an angry mourner shouted.
Bhat’s nephew Muzaffar Ahmad, 35, who lives nearby said that he had called his uncle as soon as the gunshots rang through the village. “I could only hear cries. I reached [Bhat’s] residence and found him in a pool of blood,” he said.
“I do not have any idea who killed my relatives,” said a visibly disturbed Ahmad, “but I think as long as the Kashmir issue remains pending such killings can continue to take place from one side or the other. The long-pending Kashmir issue should be resolved so innocent people are not crushed under it.”
As per Ahmad, SPO Bhat’s duty was as a carpenter at the District Police Lines in Pulwama. “In September 2018 when militants warned SPOs to resign from the police, Bhat stayed home for two months and later joined duty again,” he said.
The killing of Bhat and his family comes amid a peace deal between India and Pakistan. Militant groups operating in Kashmir have increased attacks since the announcement of the initiation of dialogue between New Delhi and Srinagar.
On 22 June, two unidentified militants shot dead Parvaiz Ahmed Dar, a police intelligence officer, on the outskirts of Srinagar. On 23 June, gunmen shot dead Umer Nazir Bhat inside his shop in downtown Srinagar’s Habba Kadal. On 26 June, a grenade attack on a checkpoint in downtown Srinagar claimed the life of 31-year-old civilian Mudasir Ahmad Bhat.