Last Friday evening a news travelled across the newsrooms about a civilian Mohammad Ashraf, who was shot dead in the outskirts of north Kashmir’s Sopore area by unknown gunmen. In this deadly assault, his wife Saima Begum also suffered critical injuries.
This was a second major assault on civilians by unknown gunmen in North Kashmir. Few days before this tragic incident three youth in evening hours in Khanpora area of Baramulla town were killed.
The killings by the unknown gunmen had triggered a massive fear among the people while government accused militants and the separatists strongly condemning the murder of three civilians. Separatist leaders including Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq and Mohammad Yasin Malik maintained that any civilian killing merely on the basis of political differences is unacceptable and adverse to the “Kashmir cause”.
However, some kilometres away from Sopore in Hajin town of Bandipora district the unknown gunmen again picked up two civilians in an interval of few hours during midnight and shot them dead. In just five days- the media reported six civilian killings and a woman injured.
While the Kashmir was yet to come to the terms with those civilian deaths by the ghosts (unknown gunmen), yet again distressing news travelled on the Saturday afternoon about the killing of three militants in Srinagar city along with another youth apparently ‘stone thrower’ mowed down by the armoured vehicle of police.
The incident which was initially played down by the police terming it ‘accidental death’ until the video footage recorded on the spot started making circles in the social media. The amateur video footage showed youth brazenly crushed down by the police vehicle prompting authorities to retract their earlier statement to take cognizance of this distressing incident.
As the burial of these killings wasn’t over yet, the region woke up to the fresh news on a Sunday morning about five militants’ killings in Shopain district of south Kashmir. This didn’t stop here and resulted in five more civilian killings after security forces accused protesters obstructing the counter insurgency operation inthe area. In this mayhem, 50 more civilians also suffered injuries some of them critical.
As I am writing this story, I keep my eyes on the developing situation since the fragility of life has reached an extreme end here. The killings, be it civilians, security forces or militants seem to have turned a routine affair in Kashmir. With more than 200 militant killings in 2017, 2018 seems to surpass the last year in terms of causalities since the beginning of the year has already proved deadly though also predicted recently by the former DGP, Jammu and Kashmir Kuldeep Khoda.
“The year 2018 may prove bloody for Kashmir compared to 2017. There is a need for political outreach,” he recently said while commenting over the situation of Kashmir. Khoda had a long tenure in Kashmir serving at various police ranks before attaining superannuation a few years ago as DGP.
As a journalist, I tried to meet some of these victim families of this Kashmir tragedy to understand the magnitude of withering pain on their families. However, the growing number of causalities left me frustrated to move beyond this one family. I visited the family of Mohamamd Ashraf of Gojri Mohalla, Harwan Sopore. As I entered his modest single story house, I came across the most haunting scenes. Over a dozen of his relatives and neighbours had gathered outside his house attending mourners.
Ashraf was the lone male member of his family and is survived by his two wives and three young children including two daughters and a son. His elder daughter Rifat is just 10 years old while son Umar is two years old and another daughter Zainab is three years old.
One of his neighbour and relative ushered me inside Ashraf’s house to show the place where he was shot dead. The frontal room of the house where Ashraf was shot dead has just a muddy floor covered by a plastic sheet.
As I proceeded further, I saw few blankets and few utensils –all that Ashraf had left for his two widows and the three children. His story of poverty has started the day when he was born and died in an abject poverty.
“He had sold his only piece of land to construct the house and buy a Sumo to feed his family. However, his small endeavour of running a sumo to meet family needs ended up in losses and forcing him to sell the Sumo. Since then he was working as a labour,” says Mushtaq Ahmad.
“Many times this family have slept without having a morsel. Even on the fateful day when he got killed the family had no food for dinner and we managed to donate some rice to them to ensure these little kids won’t sleep hungry. We would collect our ration tickets every month in the neighbourhood and buy the subsidized ration for this family since the earnings by Ashraf were quite low to meet the family expenditures.”
Ashraf was shot dead, according to his neighbours by two masked gun men who first burst some fire crackers to deceive the people in the locality. To avoid his neighbours and relatives rushing to save him, the unknown gunmen had already locked their rooms from outside.
“One of our boys was outside and when he threw the door open after hearing gun shots and we tried to come forward to save him and the gunmen fired in the air and threatened us to go back. We step backward until they left and disappeared in the nearby dense forest mountains,” says his relative. As the gunmen left “We rushed to the house and found the young couple in a pool of blood.”
While Ashraf on reaching to Sub District Hospital Sopore succumbed to his injuries, his wife was referred to Bones and Joints Hospital Srinagar in critical conditions.
“Ashraf had received multiple bullet shots in head, ribs and in legs while his wife was shot at in legs and back,” the neighbours recall who evacuated the injured couple.
Since there are hopes for the survival of Saima Begum, both of his wives will be suffering from life long illness. Mubeena, the first wife has undergone five major surgeries and had developed cyst in the uterus.
“Due to her continuous illness and after doctors saying that she can’t conceive a child, Ashraf married a second time to Saima to have a son in the family,” says his cousin. Back home the death of Ashraf had left the tale of tragedies that his two ailing wives and three children will continue to confront in life ahead. Ironically, the family and the locals accuse that no one from the government or separatists turned up to the family for any support.
While I was writing this story yet news about the killing of Assistant Professor of Kashmir University Mohammad Rafi travelled across Kashmir among other five militants killed in Shopian gunfight. Rafi had joined the militant ranks two days ago after leaving the Kashmir University campus in the evening.
Instead of going home in Ganderbal-central Kashmir he left to the highly militancy infested town of Shopian in South Kashmir while his family was desperately searching him and certain that their son won’t choose the extreme path in life. Much against their expectations, the family received his body bag leaving them dejected.
The death of highly qualified youth again shattered me and I felt terrible about the happenings around. I stopped here to know more about the stories these deaths leave behind.
My hands tremble to write about these young coffins. The vicious death cycle that has engulfed Kashmri and contious to consume our young and talented youth must see an end. While the political outreach is the only solution, it also requires collective societal efforts to explore more effective and innovative methods to resist. The idea shall be resist to exist not to perish.