By Marila Latif
It was my first visit to south Kashmir, and I came back with a heavy heart.
As my first ‘conflict’ assignment, the trip turned out to be a shattering experience. In past, as a college-goer, I would mostly report happenings around Srinagar. But stepping outside city walls, for the first time, was going to be a different outing.
At the end of the day, I was returning home with a painful heart, tearful eyes and agonized sighs.
That’s what south Kashmir did to me, on my maiden visit there, to meet its new mourning families — whose sons were slaughtered at Sirnoo, Pulwama on 15 December 2018.
To understand the hardship of conflict and daily battling woes, this journey was a self awakening cruise, which expanded my vision on how the present life is so different in Kashmir.
But no sooner did I fasten my seat belt to proceed for the story, my editor called and cautioned me, “Be careful. An encounter has already started in Tral—where 6 militants have been killed.”
My colleague at the wheels took a ‘safer’ route, narrating how journalists have now become new punching bags of the conflict, especially near encounter sites.
But on that extremely cold day, all those concerns were making me excited for the reporting trip.
At Pulwama, we made a quick halt, to cross-check the direction from an elderly woman. She put us in our direction with a smiling face. Soon, we were heading to the residence of one of the seven civilians killed at Sirnoo.
We pulled over, outside the residential gates of a fallen youth. Scores of women were sitting inside a spacious room. Among them was a distraught mother named Jameela, in her 40s, and Dilshada, the dispirited widow of Tauseef Ahmad, a 28-year-old father of two infant daughters, killed at Sirnoo.
Dilshada was holding her two daughters in her lap. She resembled like a living corpse.
I set my tripod, fixed camera and placed microphone near her to shoot my video. “Who is going to cater your daily needs now?” I asked, putting up an emotionless face of an interviewer, in front of an emotional widow.
“None, but God,” she answered, with a haze of anguish in her eyes. “He is there to see, judge and decide everything.”
Her two innocent daughters were staring like two withered dolls, too young to understand their torment. My heart trembled, thinking about them, and their survival in the world full of complexities and crisis. They’ve no father to rely on, no shore to foot on, and no protection to proud on.
Holding one of Tauseef’s daughters, a woman relative would later come to see us off. I kissed on the kid’s red cheeks, her enlarged shiny eyes, and broke down over her broken fatherhood.
A few kilometers away, scores of shoes had crowded doorsteps of another slain civilian’s residence. I could see an exceptional unity among people, with neighbors consoling each other, like an extended family.
I turned to the slain’s mother, to record the details of the fateful day.
“His name was Aabid Hussain Lone. He was an MBA from Bangalore, and married to an Indonesian girl.” Aabid had stepped out to buy milk on the fateful morning, only to return dead.
A fortnight after his killing, Aabid’s widow was admitted in hospital. “She is ill and after this catastrophe, we’ve no idea how she is going to survive here without her husband,” the mother said, lapping her slain son’s 3-month-old child. “She had left her country for my son, but my son left us all.”
Before I could take her leave, the mother said, “I don’t want my daughter-in-law to leave for Indonesia. My grandchild would be separated then. We will see if she gets a job here.”
Inside another bullet-torn home, a feeling of letdown, created by Delhi-based “selective media’s selective coverage”, greeted us.
“Why are you here,” asked 20-year-old sister of Suhail alias Shahbaz, the 22-year-old boy, who was killed at Sirnoo. “You don’t show ground reality on TV. You record our bytes and later edit it. Why don’t you show truth to masses? Tell me, what was my brother’s fault? Why did they kill him?”
Her questions sounded like a piercing outcry of the innocence caught in cruel circumstances.
That day, the tearful sibling said, her mother had almost choked coughing due to intense tear-gas shelling in their village.
“Shahbaz went out with mother and in a blink of eye, they opened fire and killed my brother, on the spot,” she cried, recalling the torment. “Is serving your mother a crime?”
Another visit took me to the house of Aqib Bashir, a Class IX student shot dead while offering water to an injured civilian.
“He was our only hope, which they snatched from us,” said Aqib’s handicapped father.
For his younger sister and distraught mother, the schoolboy was the promising breadwinner.
“I taught him in a private school,” the mother said. “I wanted him to become a doctor. But now, who will do justice? Why was my son killed? He was no gunmen, no stone-pelter. He was a high school student. Do these atrocities occur everywhere? Do they also kill kids in other parts of the world, the way they kill ours?”
It was too much to take. I turned off the camera, and hugged the inconsolable mother. Placing her head on my chest, I started weeping, too, for Aqib—whose mother was unable to come to terms of his killing.
Most of these slain civilians were high school students, outlived by their young sisters.
I met Aaliya, 18, who was abandoned by her husband with their 7-month-old daughter. Her only hope was her 16-year-old brother, Amir Ahmad Pala. On 15 December 2018, Amir was one among the seven civilians killed at Sirnoo.
“My younger brother promised to take care of me and my newborn daughter when my husband dumped me,” Aliya said. “Now, even he dumped me!”
This story first appeared in January 2019 Print Issue of The Indus Post.