Last year, on this day, in Palhalan, a village 30 km north of Srinagar in Baramulla district, four people lost their lives and one among the wounded passed away a week later. A year later, tracing their stories in the labyrinths of a village, which came to be know as 'The Gaza of Kashmir’, due to 41-days of unrelenting curfew that was imposed during civil unrest, brings to fore the irony of fate, how destinies crossed path and their kin, who harbour the loss mostly in silence.
WAIT AT THE WINDOW
The window, where Sarva Begum, covered in a mauve headgear, is standing in the picture, means closure to her. With a forlorn gaze, she remembers and longs. It was at this window she had last glimpse of her son, Feroz Malik, alive a year ago.
He had come home after a half day’s work and was looking forward to the nightlong prayers of Qadr during the month of Ramadan. “He came and asked me if arrangements for Shab-e-Qadr were made,” says Sarva. His father, whom he fondly called Thotha, was not home and the supplies for dinner had not be brought. “So he went to the market. Came back and handed over a chicken to me through this window,” she remembers.
At about same time, when Feroz had returned from the market, gunshots echoed across the village. He according to Sarva grew worried about his father and went out to search him. She stood at the window and watched him leave never to return again alive.
Haunting memories of the day scurry across her mind, “It was like Karbala that day. Innocents were slaughtered,” she says as furrows in her face deepen.
Feroz met his Totha- Abdul Aziz Malik, amidst a crowd rushing for safety. Wrapping his arms around his father’s shoulders, Feroz pushed him through towards home. “As we were trying to make our way, a man Ashraf Mir was shot at," says Aziz. Feroz withdrew his arm from his Thotha's shoulders.
He went to rescue the wounded man. Aziz alleges the government forces pointed the barrel towards his son and shot at him. “I saw him collapse,” he says.
An injured Feroz wrapped his arms around his Thotha for the last time as he had rushed to help his son. “In his last moments, he was trying to say something, but shut his eyes before he could utter a word,” an inconsolable Aziz says.
The bullets had ruptured his heart. The doctors at nearby Pattan hospital declared him brought dead. “We are powerless, helpless. How can a gun equal a hand?” Sarva says as she looks out through the window longing and remembering her son.
DRESSING UP FOR DEATH
While locals were preparing for Feroz’s funeral, Mudasir Ahmed Mir, 20, was getting ready too. Poised, he had a 'relaxed air' about him. “He dressed himself like a groom and wore new clothes. He combed his hair and asked me: ‘So how do I look?” recalls Shaista, his sister. The casual question was followed by a ‘strange’ one. “After a pause he asked me how he would look if he was martyred,” that left her perturbed.
In moments, he left the house and came across his mother, Fatima, who stood at a lane, outside, waiting to see her nephews back. She remembers her son asking her to go inside, saying, “The young boy who was killed today also left behind a mother, a family. Stop worrying about your nephews. Go home.”
Her nephews returned, but her son did not.
A relative called on her nephew’s cellular phone informing that Mudasir was wounded as forces had allegedly opened fire on Feroz’s funeral. She along with her nephew rushed to the hospital, but as the duo was on way the phone rang again.
“I was told that my son was hit by a bullet in ankle. I was sure that he will be alright. I prayed all the way but he couldn’t make it,” she says and breaks down.
Among many memories of her son that she treasures, some leave her wondering. “That day while eating his meals, he left some morsels in the plate insisting me to eat from the same plate. It was strange but I did it,” she reminisces.
RESCUING THE DEAD
Amid the melee and mayhem, when forces fired at Feroz’s mourners, Noor-ud-din Tantray, 23, spotted an injured Mudasir. The young man rushed to help.
A few miles away from the spot, Noor’s mother Haja was trying to come terms with the tragedy of her other son Abdul Rashid, who was wounded due to pellets, fired by the troopers, during a protest earlier in the day. “I was shattered with the news of Rashid’s injury. I was trying to console and convince myself that everything would be fine,” she says.
Little did she know what was to befall?
As Noor tried to rescue Mudasir, he was shot. Locals took him to Sumbal hospital, where his brother was already admitted. The doctors, however, shifted him to SK Institute of Medical Sciences, Srinagar, where he breathed his last ‘due to blood loss’. “Before I could deal with Rashid’s injury, I was told that Noor has been martyred. I couldn’t believe he was dead. I thought he was working at the mill,” sighs Haja.
THE DISTANCE THAT COST DEATH
Amid the news of deaths and the subsequent fear that gripped the villages, in his late forties, Mohammad Ramzan left his house to attend the funeral prayers and join the procession. Before leaving, he directed his son Tariq to stay put at home.
Syeda Begum, Ramzan’s wife, objected to him attending ‘Azaadi’ procession, but as always he did not listen, saying 'Old men like him were also needed in freedom struggle’.
Tariq too didn’t listen to his father and joined the funeral prayers along with his uncle, brother and cousin.
As he had not followed the directive, Tariq kept a distance from his father. The duo did not exchange glances. As the procession marched onto the Baramulla Highway, forces allegedly fired and people took to safer alleys. However, some people were injured in the incident. “Some youth were talking about the injured persons. My cousin, who was also among them, told me that my father was hit,” recalls Tariq.
He rushed to the spot and found his father lying on ground.
“He was hit in the chest. We lifted him in a car and tried to take him to the Sumbal hospital, 15 km away, as the way to Pattan hospital which is just a few kilometers away was blocked by the troopers,” he says.
The blockade perhaps became the reason for Ramzan’s death. “He couldn’t make it and died on way,” says Tariq with a deep sigh.
The father-son duo, just an hour ago, had decided to spend their time in orchards that afternoon. Maintaining distance proved fatal that day.
WITNESS TO FATHER’S DEATH
The children look old. Huddled around their mother, Fatima, their innocent faces have shock writ large. Their eyes seem to stare at emptiness.
Elder son Bilal, about 12-years-old, is crouched, his head rests on his knees. Youngest Adil, his eyes downcast has a finger in his mouth. Sitting with her shoulders drooped, daughter Nadima, rests her hands on her lap. Mehbooba, their other sister, just stares with stunned eyes.
Along with Fatima, they have been witness to their father’s death. Last year, on this day, silence dawned on the children.
Mohamamd Ashraf Mir, a skilled carpet weaver, was busy with house chores when forces allegedly stormed the village. He grew worried and family decided to flee to a neighboring hamlet. They split in two groups- Nadima, Mehbooba and Bilal were with mother. Ashraf held to Adil and took the road.
Fatima was a little ahead. They had covered only a few meters when an armored vehicle showed up from a lane. “I saw the vehicle and I shouted to my husband and son to run fast,” she says with visible restlessness.
The troopers allegedly shot at Ashraf and a youth who tried to save him. Hysteria grips Fatima as she narrates her grievous tale.
As troopers ‘didn’t allow anyone to lift him’, Fatima says, he was lying on the ground for about half an hour. After much delay, some young boys lifted him on their shoulders, taking a way through fields to Sumbal hospital, where-from he was referred to SKIMS.
“I lost all hope when he was operated. Three days later, he started showing signs of recovery. He would move his lips, hands, eyes,” she says while unable to control the restlessness.
“I was happy thinking that he is recovering. Two days later he closed his eyes, forever,” Fatima, now wailing, says.
Amid the dirge, she says, “I wish I had known his fate. I would have taken him far away. I would have hidden him somewhere. He left me. Who will take care of my orphans?” Perhaps, children in conflict have to deal with the loss they hardly know of.
(Pictures: Faisal Magray)