Kulgam Killings: A carnage that didn’t end with a gunfight

Soon after the October 21 mayhem in Kulgam, Kashmir Scan correspondent reached the spot to send us a ground report.

Kulgam Encounter site where three militants and 7 civilians were killed
Pic credit: Basit Zargar

At the onset of autumn in Kashmir, the road that leads to Kulgam has covered itself under the blanket of wrinkled orange leaves of Chinar. The trees that once were laden with the lush green leaves are now dull and lifeless. The autumnal nature of the Valley sets the symbolic tone to the horrific massacre in Kulgam that happened on a Sunday morning of October 21. Ten persons were killed and 43 left injured.

Kulgam, a small town of Kashmir located in south of the Valley is renowned for the birthplace of Allama Iqbal and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. Kulgam was initially known as Shampora but the influence of Lal Ded’s poetry made Syed Hussain Simnani rename the place. The district has seven administrative units and four assembly constituencies. Kulgam saw an upsurge in militancy in the beginning of the nineties. The district remains a tumultuous region of Kashmir where radicalisation and militancy expansion are intensifying.

On the midnight of October 21, Kulgam faced yet another catastrophe when troops launched a Cordon and Search Operation (CASO) to look out for militants they believed had sought refuge at a local’s place.

According to the officials, after the heavy exchange of firing between the troops and militants, three militants were killed.

However, the explosives were not defused due to which a massive explosion occurred during the post-gunfight clashes when locals visited the gunfight site. The explosion claimed the lives of seven civilians.

“All my sincere condolences to the family of the deceased civilians. This was an unfortunate and uncalled for the event. However, the repercussions could have been avoided had people not jostled around the gunfight site minutes after the gunfight was over,” said Muneer Khan, the Additional Director General of Police (ADGP), Law and Order, and Security.

According to Khan, the explosives had not been left “intentionally” and further investigation was underway to know whether the explosives belonged to militants or Police.

Talking to Kashmir Scan, Khan said amidst constant warnings over the public addressing system, people came to indulge in the post-gunfight clashes with the forces.

“The forces take extra precautions by placing banners at the gunfight site asking people to restrain from coming to the areas that are highly volatile. Yet, civilians started picking up grenades and explosives out of curiosity, inviting risk to their own lives,” he said.

The Valley observed shutdown over a call of the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL) and internet and train services were also snapped after the massacre.

The massacre gained attention internationally with Pakistan Prime Minister condemning the incident in which 10 Kashmiris including seven civilians had been killed.

In South Africa, people held a rally against the killings.

As the bright chirpy morning of Sunday brought along the horrific tales of the heavy coffins of the departed in Kulgam, the lives of the families of the deceased came crumbling down to dust.

Each family recounts the horrors of the massacre and the memories of their loved ones whose identities are now not more than a photo on the identity card, a broken bicycle, or the bits and pieces of the torn reports lying scattered on the floor.

Kashmir Scan team ventured into the uneven terrain of Kulgam where roads are distorted and un-built, mud and straws strewn over the two-inch broad lanes to unfold the stories that are yet to be told.

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MASROOR AHMAD DAR, 28, of Bogund, Kulgam, was the father of an unborn child and three-year-old toddler. He worked at the cable service department for a private entrepreneur.

“We had our little love marriage in October 2015. Ever since then, Masroor not only became my better-half but my perennial shadow. He followed me in the kitchen, to the fields and sometimes even to my parents’ home. His favourite pastime was to behold me in all my forms. From the colour of the Hijab on my head to the clinking of my bangles to the short-lived smile on my face, Masroor didn’t miss out on anything,” Masroor’s wife Masarat told Kashmir Scan.

“We were living a happy life until this Sunday when Masroor rushed toward the gunfight site as he presumed Riyaz Naikoo was trapped in the gunfight. Soon after he left, I paraded toward the hospital as I was feeling nauseous. The doctors after conducting some tests declared that I was pregnant and as the clock struck 12, I was handed over the reports. As our third marriage anniversary was around the corner, I wanted to gift Masroor this report,” Masarat says. “Impatient and nervous, I sat right by the clock and longed for Masroor’s arrival. However, before I could give him the news, the news of his demise reached me, the news that I wasn’t ready for, the news that plagued our small happy family, the news that this family is set to welcome a new guest while bidding adieu to its main member. I tore the reports into pieces and donned the garb of the mourner for my lover, my friend and my better half.”

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MUHAMMAD MUKEEM, 15, was a 12th standard student. Mukeem was one of the most intelligent boys his village Laroo has ever known. Mukeem secured 420 marks out of 500 in his 10th standard exams and was rewarded with a bicycle by the government.

“I am 14-year-old and my brother was 10 months elder to me. He was extraordinarily brilliant and aced at studies. He was promoted two classes. At 14, when every student is supposed to be in 10th grade, he surpassed them and studied in 12th standard,” his brother Muhammad Hafiz says. “Muqeem was also rewarded with a bicycle by the authorities. I still recall the day when he got his bicycle and jubilantly started riding it down the narrow lanes of Laroo as villagers cheered for him. Such a glorious day it was!

“My parents work at a carpet-making industry. They sew carpets during winters when we sit back relaxing with our kangris. This moved my brother deeply and he started to put in extra efforts in his studies.

“Few days back, he broke one of the gears of his bicycle and wanted to fix it by himself. Mukeem wanted to fix that as soon as he could so in order to sell more carpets on his bicycle. However, after his demise, the bicycle is still in his room – broken as only silence and the dim light greet it every day. Mukeem is gone and so is the bicycle for us.”

As Hafiz narrates the woeful story of his brother’s killing, his 12-year-old sister faints near Kashmir Scan reporters.

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TALIB MAQBOOL, 18, of Laroo, Kulgam was the freshman pursuing Bachelor of Arts (BA).

Talib was raised by the Masjid’s Zaqat (charity) as he was fatherless and his sister was suffering from a chronic heart disease. Talib wanted to become the breadwinner of the family that had for long been impoverished and lived under the shadow of poverty since he was four-years-old.

Talib went to the college to appear for his semester examination. He used his preparation leaves to work as a daily-wage worker in the fields to provide succour to his ageing mother and deteriorating health of the sister.

“The day Talib came to me, he caressed my hair and asked for my permission to work as a labourer to support us, is still etched in my mind. I wanted my son to study so that he would never face the difficulties I faced to raise my children. However, he was resolute to work in fields,” his mother Nasreen says. “I myself am a daily wage worker and clean rice at the homes of people for the living. As I grew older and weaker, my hands started trembling while cleaning rice. So, Talib took the responsibility on his shoulders and started working hard for our sustenance. Little did he know that his sudden demise would leave our only hope shattered.”

Nasreen also recites the poem for her song in a sing-song style manner, “This mother in despair calls upon her son to come and see his poor mother sitting under the shelter of poverty and crying for him. I didn’t need anything but you, my son, Talib! I also call upon the reporters if their reports can anyway lessen the grief I am going through.”

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JAVED AHMAD LONE, 25, of Hawoora, Kulgam, was a driver. Lone had nine siblings and was the sole breadwinner of the family. He worked day and night to see his sisters getting settled.

“Even after my father’s relentless efforts to persuade him to stay, my brother was adamant to go to the gunfight site. He whispered in his ears, ‘My dear beloved father, let me go for this is our last meet and on this threshold of my house, I bid farewell to you my father,’” Javed’s younger sister Naheed said.

“He knew he was not going to find his way back home but went there nevertheless. My brother loved the birds and as his last deed to show his obedience to the almighty, he fed the pigeons who were hopping in our backyard and left to serve his fate,” she said. “We were later called to Srinagar to identify his body. As we wandered clueless in the hospital, someone tapped gently on my shoulder. A doctor told me that he knew who my brother was. He later said that it was easy for him to recognize me as there was an uncanny similarity between my brother and I. I was contented that my face still carries the traces of my lost brother.”

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Auqib Gulzar, 17, of Makanpora, Kulgam ran a small business of apparels in Anantnag. He traveled to places and put his shop at every nook and corner of the Valley to support his broken family of three brothers and a sister.

“Auqib was not only my best friend but as my own brother. Makanpora is a small village where 30 families reside in peace together. We helped Auqib in his initial days of sufferings when his mother died and his father got remarried and deserted his small kids. However, Auqib left his studies and ventured into the clothing business. He started selling clothes alongside the railway track and footpaths. He eventually opened a small shop in Anantnag. His unrelenting efforts to provide his sister the kind of love he himself was lacking was commendable. We saw the coming of age of Auqib, from a malnourished boy to the nurturer of his family, Auqib set the example of a responsible brother and a caring friend,” his friend Junaid said. “Auqib didn’t even go to witness the gunfight. He headed for his work to Anantnag and had to take the route of Kulgam. There he saw people jostling each other and out of sheer curiosity ended up at the gunfight site.”

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Uzair Mushtaq, 13, of Kulgam was an eighth-grader. Uzair was the youngest victim of the tragedy that unfolded on October 22.

“Uzair and I were working in the field. As soon as he got the news of the gunfight, he ran toward the site to witness it. He knew that I would not let him go there and so he sneaked out the field and pleaded his sister to give him his Aadhaar card,” Auqib’s father Mushtaq Ahmad said. “A boy with his insatiable curiosity and cheeky behavior served him with the fate that no 13-year-old should be served with. May the force of the Almighty be with him! He didn’t like to go out and play. He sat inside the room and watched TV all day long. My kids feared me. He always followed me to the shop and the field just to make sure we grew a stronger and more comfortable bond. He was the one closest to my heart. So he made me to agree on all his terms and conditions. This time the terms and conditions were too hard to take and get settled with. My beloved son has gone forever. His image in my mind still haunts me.”

As Mushtaq talks of his tragedy, his voice shivers in dejection and the blue-laced school-card of Mukeem continues to dangle on the nail engraved on the wall behind his father.

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IRSHAD AHMED PADDER, 22, of Shurat, Kulgam was a B.Sc. pass out. To continue his studies and to sustain his family, he worked as a part-time labourer in orchards. Parray’s brother is a policeman posted in Srinagar who wished to remain silent on this case.

“My son was docile and artless. I had four sons. One died before Irshad. His deceased brother left a profound scar on Irshad’s mind. He always tried to keep himself away from the vicious cycle of the conflict. He was more into his studies. Irshad outshone all his siblings and cousins in academics. He dreamt of securing admission in the University of Kashmir. However, his eyes, upon which his hopes and aspirations once gleamed, are now closed forever,” said his mother Gulshan, who burst into tears after recounting the memory of her lost son.

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