An ‘encounter’ that left nothing for us to wear

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On 28 November 2018, Hajibal Mohalla of Kuthipora village of central Kashmir’s Budgam district woke up to an ungodly-hour cordon in the area. In the ensued ‘encounter’, the fate of Lashkar-e-Taiba commander Naveed Jatt was sealed along with his associate. But one of the two house owners whose residence was blasted in a ‘gunfight’ continues to live the ‘nightmarish’ night, wondering why they were rendered homeless for none of their faults.

By Azra Yatoo

Even before I could react and make sense of their late night arrival, they were all over us. The street outside our residence had become a crowded military sight. They had come to hunt down militants. But none of us had any clue of militants’ presence in our area, till forces showed up and asked us to leave.

It was a petrifying moment, reminding one of those terrible times of nineties, when such nocturnal raids were norm.

As I took a look around, I saw forces dangerously lurking in dim light. Their arrival at our doorsteps, however, didn’t make sense, as we weren’t hosting any stranger—armed, or unarmed—in our home.

Even then, however, we were asked to get assembled in a small room that was not better than a cowshed. In that terrible cold, each moment passed like a bad dream, taking huge toll on all of us.

Being a heart patient, it was simply too much for me to take. With prayers on my lips, I pleaded my Allah, occasionally cupping my hands towards Heavens, “what have we done to deserve all this?”

It still makes me wonder as why commoners like us are being subjected to such sufferings in Kashmir.

Adjacent to me, in that dingy room, my husband, Abdul Majeed Yatoo, a poor mason, was sitting like a scarred soul — oblivious of our fate. Probably, he was again anticipating the nightmare that shook us five years ago, when we lost our son.

Since then, we both are taking care of our late son’s two children as their parents. It was their concern that freaked us the most that night.

Perhaps, muezzin was yet to announce a new dawn, when one of my grandsons pleaded before army: “Please don’t burn our house. We are poor people!”

But Hadi, my grandson, got a chilling rebuke as response. “Shut up! Or, we’ll shoot you!”

Being a default mother of my grandsons now, who are dear to me than my life, that rebuke only filled me with horror. And when they took Hadi for house searches as human shield in our nieghbourhood, I could only beat my chest in helplessness.

In Kashmir, we often get to hear, how someone taken for the house searches ends up dead. When I feared the same, those army men assured me that my grandson will be fine.

But they never kept their promise.

They punished him. Once done with him, they beat my aged husband, too. For the fear of our lives, we couldn’t even cry.

And then, we don’t know what happened. None of us had any idea what was happening outside. We were soon shifted to neighbouring house, where I felt numb, hearing blasts ripping through our home.

I want to ask, just like I did that day: Why did they raze my residence? For what? Were we sheltering anyone they were looking for? No, we weren’t. None of us was. Then why did they do it? Are they driving sadistic pleasures by inflicting doom on us, Kashmiris? This should end. It has to end. India has to stop blasting our homes, because what I lost that night was not merely my home, but an abode of fond memories and cradle of lively moments.

I don’t know how those families in south Kashmir console themselves, after losing their homes in military action. At least, I can’t make sense of it. They’ve robbed me of my lifetime spent in that home.

Now, in homelessness, we are staying at our neighbour’s place. It was only due to the help of villagers that we could lay the groundwork for our new house. Otherwise that gunfight had left nothing for us to wear. Even the clothes we are wearing are of our neighbours.

-As told to Sadam Hussain Pandow

This story first appeared in January 2019 Print Issue of The Indus Post.

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