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