‘We hud­dled up in a small room as gun­fight broke out next door’

The Asian Age - - Nation - YUSUF JAMEEL (First per­son ac­count of The Asian Age’s J&K re­porter caught in a ter­ror at­tack)

I was sit­ting with a guest, a saintly per­son from Tral, in our liv­ing-room, chat­ting about the un­end­ing may­hem and how it is ru­in­ing more and more lives across the Val­ley with each pass­ing day.

My wife and el­dest daugh­ter Umme Kulthum were busy in the kitchen pre­par­ing Das­tarkhwan for meals. My youngest daugh­ter Fa­tima Zahra in­ter­rupted us to an­nounce ‘Dinner is ready.’

Her el­der sis­ter Zainab brought Tasht-Naari, a pair of cop­per ap­pli­ances with beau­ti­fully en­grav­ings of Chi­nars and their en­tan­gled vines, tra­di­tion­ally used to wash hands be­fore meals.

Sud­denly the sound of gun­fire rat­tled out­side and ev­ery­one got flus­tered. Shortly the en­tire lo­cal­ity res­onated with gun­fire and the noise fright­ened every other house­hold too which be­came ap­par­ent as lights were switched off at each home. So did we and then hud­dled up in­side a small room.

As the firing in­ten­si­fied, Zainab started cry­ing and my wife and I be­gan nar­rat­ing some of the epic ex­pe­ri­ences which we had gone through dur­ing the hey­day of militancy in the 1990s and how we sur­vived even in the worst sit­u­a­tions in or­der to en­cour­age her.

Fa­tima said, “Okay we will not die be­fore our time but what if our house is bombed or torched?”

Ap­par­ently, it was the dev­as­ta­tion caused dur­ing a re­cent fire­fight in Srinagar’s Nawa Kadal neigh­bour­hood that had come to her mind.

“Noth­ing of the sort will hap­pen. It seems mil­i­tants have been holed up in a house way away from ours,” I tried to com­fort her yet keep­ing fin­gers crossed.

Af­ter the firing stopped, I started re­ceiv­ing phone calls from some of our neigh­bours, rel­a­tives and friends — some want­ing to know from a re­porter what and where ex­actly had hap­pened and oth­ers in­quir­ing about our well­be­ing.

A tweet from J&K police con­firmed it. It said, “En­counter has started at #Mal­bagh area of #Srinagar. Police and se­cu­rity forces on the job. Fur­ther de­tails shall fol­low.”

Since the firing had already ceased, I told my wife and chil­dren and the guest that they should pre­pare them­selves for the re­sump­tion of the fight­ing which could be more in­tense at first light. Nor­mally, se­cu­rity forces sus­pend op­er­a­tions in such sit­u­a­tions for the night to avoid ca­su­al­ties.

But by quar­ter past mid­night, we came to know that the ‘en­counter is over’. The J&K police re­ported the death of one mil­i­tant and one CRPF jawan. I looked into Zainab’s eyes…she was still fright­ened. Umme Kulthum and Fa­tima too were sit­ting silent, glanc­ing with a fright­ened look.

My wife was in con­ver­sa­tion with her sis­ter who also lives in Srinagar over the phone to tell her Kho­dayan bachaiv (God saved us)’.

On Fri­day morn­ing, word spread in our neigh­bour­hood that it was a fake en­counter.

A res­i­dent claimed that the se­cu­rity forces en­tered the house of his neig­bour af­ter climb­ing over its com­pound wall, searched the premises and af­ter com­ing out shot dead some­one at point blank out­side on the street.

But how was the CRPF jawan iden­ti­fied by the of­fi­cials as head-con­sta­ble Kuldeep Ku­mar killed then? He had no an­swer to of­fer nor did the oth­ers who in­sist it was a “fake en­counter” know it.

The police iden­ti­fied the slain youth as Zahid Ahmed Dassm, a cadre of Is­lamic State Jammu Kash­mir who, it claimed, was in­volved in a se­ries of ter­ror crimes in­clud­ing the June 26 sneak at­tack in which a CRPF jawan and a 6-yearold boy were killed in Pad­shahi Bagh area in the high­way town of Bi­jbe­hara of Anant­nag dis­trict.

Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi meets in­jured sol­diers at a hos­pi­tal in Ladakh on Fri­day.

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