Swarmed by grief-stricken women, the lifeless body of Abid Hussain (25) lies on a bedstead at his home in Kareemabad, a hamlet in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district.
A group of young men push their way to take the body for funeral prayers. Tears trickle down the face of Abid’s sister as her hand touches her brother’s pale forehead for the last time. Their mother, sitting beside Abid, rises up in occasional fits of grief.
Abid is one of the 7 civilians who were allegedly killed in clashes with security forces after an encounter at the Sirnoo village in Pulwama on Saturday, 15 December.
“You were my recluse son. In all these years I beseeched you to go see your relatives. But you won’t (didn’t) come out of home. What was the urgency now, my dear son, that fed you to the monster of death,” she said.
Abid had quit his job in Hyderabad last year and returned to his home in Kashmir. After getting his MBA degree from a university in Bengaluru, he met an Indonesian woman named Saima. The two got married and four months back, she gave birth to a baby girl.
“He had quit the job in Hyderabad and returned to Kashmir only to be by the side of his ageing mother,” a neighbour told The Quint. “His brother is studying engineering in Bengaluru and their sister is married. Who would have imagined that he (Abid) will meet such a tragic end.”
Abid Falls to Bullets, Tensions Escalate
On the night of Friday, 14 December, forces had cordoned off an apple orchard in Sirnoo village. As dawn broke, the word spread on Saturday that a group of militants, including Adnan Ahmed alias Tahir Bhai, a resident of Kareemabad, were cornered in their hideout at the orchard.
The closest residential area near the encounter site is half-a-kilometre away.
“It was a clean operation. Although an Army soldier was killed and another was wounded in the initial exchange of fire, all the three militants were gunned down within minutes after contact was established.”Senior police officer
Although guns fell silent after the encounter, tensions swelled in the village as hundreds of protesters, some of whom had walked barefoot from adjoining villages, pelted stones at forces. Emotions ran high as villagers, as old as 70-year-old Saja Begum, came out of their houses to watch.
Curiosity got the better of Abid. Accompanied by his friend who didn’t wish to be named, the two walked from Kareemabad, which is less than two kilometres from the encounter site in Sirnoo.
“A vehicle coming from the opposite direction got stuck in a sewer; stone pelting was going on. Army soldiers came out of the vehicle and trained their guns. They fired all around. Abid collapsed on the road after he was hit by a bullet in the neck.”Abid’s friend
As his friend cried for help, Abid was immediately rushed to a hospital in Pulwama where the doctors declared him dead. “He was brought to the hospital but he had already died,” Dr Abdul Rashid Parra, Medical Superintendent of Pulwama district hospital, said.
Counting The Dead
Apart from Abid, six other civilians were allegedly shot dead by security forces in a cluster of small villages on the outskirts of Pulwama on Saturday.
Two teenagers of Class 7 and Class 10, another Class 12 student, a motor mechanic and a government employee were among those who died in one of the deadliest days in the Valley this year.
Within minutes of Abid’s death, more than two dozen protesters who were injured in clashes around the encounter site, were also brought to the hospital.
“Seven youths were declared dead within an hour, and seven more youngsters with bullet and pellet injuries were referred to Srinagar for specialised treatment. There was total mayhem and SOS calls were made, saying the hospital’s blood bank was fast running out of supply.”A Doctor at Pulwama district hospital
The deaths have escalated tensions in the Valley, with separatists calling for a public march on Monday, 17 December, till Badami Bagh – an Army cantonment and the headquarters of 14 Corps in Srinagar district.
What The Police Say
In an official statement, the Jammu and Kashmir Police had said that protesters “came dangerously close” to the encounter site, a deep pit dug on the slope of the orchard in Sirnoo.
“While the operation was going on, a crowd which came dangerously close to the encounter site, got injured. The injured were evacuated to hospital, where unfortunately seven persons succumbed to their injuries. Others who were admitted in the hospital, are stated to be stable.”J&K Police
‘How Will Govt Justify This Murder’
However, people in the nearby villages of Monghama and Kareemabad don’t believe the police. According to locals, the civilian killings took place after the militants were gunned down.
“The forces were leaving the area when a mob of protesters surrounded them and started pelting stones. Instead of firing warning shots, they fired directly at the protesters,” Abdul Rashid, a resident of Sirnoo, told The Quint.
While some reports said the protesters had targeted a retreating column of security forces, the Class 12 student Shahnawaz Hussain was shot dead as he stepped out of his home in Monghama village, a kilometre from the encounter site, his father alleged.
“My son was killed in front of my eyes outside our house. He wasn’t even part of any protest. Will a father who has lost his son lie? How will the government justify this murder,” said Muhammad Yusuf Ahangar, Shahnawaz’s father.