Monday, December 1, 2008

From martyrs graveyards to polling booths

Contradictions in Kashmir

Naseer A Ganai

Handwara, Nov 30: Doodhipora has seen death closely. Everyone knows who has been killed here, by whom and when. Even a school boy who sought a lift in our vehicle told us about four cricket playing boys killed by Army in 2006.

The boy continued his talk. His name was Bilal and he was from neighboring village. He had cast his vote though under age. But he was unconcerned about it. In Handwara district Doodhipora has worst roads, he said. It seems Bilal had contempt for the village, some 80 kms from winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir, Srinagar. Handwara was once hotbed of anti-India insurgency which erupted in 1987 in Kashmir. 

Near a closed village shop was sitting an aged man. Bilal pointed towards him and said, “His son was brave young man. He tried to save two boys when he was fired at by troops but got killed along with the two boys,” Bilal said. So we decided to board down and talk to the aged person. 

Ghulam Rasool Wani, he identified himself after responding to our greetings. He said he has decided to cast his vote this time. “I am just looking for another person who would accompany me to the polling booth,” Rasool said.

In 2002 Wani stayed away from the voting. He was not alone. Whole village had decided not to vote. “We were angry. The memories of our children were afresh in our minds and there was no let up in atrocities,” Rasool said.

Rasool said he has lost his two sons, elder one in 2002 and younger in 2006.  Meanwhile, villagers including women gathered around us and joined the talk. On seeing Rasool talking about his two sons they too started talking about killings in the village. They said nearly 28 persons were killed in the village.

“Our Ghulam Hassan had just passed the TDC in 2006. He was playing cricket when troops fired at them. He had two boys in his lap whom he was trying to save from the firing of soldiers. They killed them all,” said Farida, daughter in law of Rasool.

Farida said Amir, 9 and Shakir, 5 and Abdul Samad, and “our Ghulam Hassan” were killed in the firing.

Farida said Hassan’s brother Manzoor Ahmad Bhat too had passed the TDC examination when he was killed. “He was militant and he died in encounter in 2002,” said Jana, an aged woman.

Jana had cast her vote. “I too have lost my son Shafia,” she said. Others corrected her and said Shafia was Muhammad Shafi Malik who died in an encounter with troops in Kralpora. “It was in 1997,” the mother says. She was particular about the date.

Mala, 70 year old joined the conversation. “My son Muhammad Maqbool was killed by militants,” she said.

“Her husband was killed by army,” a village boy added. An aged person who was walking on road joined us. Farida introduced her to us as father of Shakir who died in Army firing on children.

Ghulam Rasool Wani said he cast his vote. Looking at the grim audience, he felt apologetic and explained. “Everyone from the village went to cast the vote so did I,” he said, and others laughed. “They are writing about people who were killed in the village,” Farida told Rasool innocently. And in seconds the villagers started naming the parents of the children killed. Nazir Ahmad Mir son of Qadir, Rehman Kaka of Gulun, Ghulam Hassan Mir, Abdul Rashid, Zareefa’s son Rehman Bhat and it went on.

The death-talk was too overburdening.

Perhaps Ghulam Rasool Wani realized it. “Come to our village some day we will talk in detail. You city people will not realize our agony. Who listens to us when tragedies befall on us,” he said, adding, he would vote. For what, we asked. “For this road, see its condition,” he said.

Rasool moved towards the polling booth and we towards another village Chottipora. 

Chottipora is two kms from Handwara town.

On August 25 this year, a young woman of this village was brutally killed by troopers here. The villagers chose this day to pay tributes to their daughter, by staying away from voting. Instead of the polling booth, locals streamed to Fahmida’s house. Her house was no less than a shrine. Her nine months-old kid nothing short of a relic.

 The villagers had assembled in the house of the village headman, Abdul Rehman Sheikh, Fahmida’s father. The memories of the gory incident are still fresh in their minds and they remember how the brave daughter of the village had rushed to save a youth from the troopers. And they remember troops firing bullets on Fahmida, killing her on the spot.

 The polling booth, 20 to 25 meters away from Fahmida’s house, was surrounded by a group of paramilitary troops of CRPF and policemen who had laid concertina wires around the booth.

“She was a brave daughter of the village. After hearing that army is beating a village boy outside her house, she rushed out to save him and a trooper shot her in the head. She died on the spot,” said a villager. The incident happened when the army had cordoned off the village to prevent Lal Chowk march called by the pro-freedom Coordination Committee. Fahmida had heard the cries of Firdous Ahmad Sheikh who was beaten by troops near the village mosque where he had gone to offer Azan.

 “She couldn’t bear Firdous’s cries and rushed towards the spot. But the trooper shot her in the head,” aged Abdul Rehman Sheikh told reporters.

 Sheikh, who along with his wife Taja Begum was sitting on a ragged mat in the corridor of his house, said he had married off Fahmida in 2006. “I never knew this colossal tragedy would befall me,” he said.

 Pointing towards Musa Sheikh, nine-month old son of Fahmida, Sheikh said his cries in the evening torture them. “Since her death mourning has never stopped in our house,” Sheikh said and with it Taja Begum started weeping. Musa was in her lap.

 Since Sunday morning the villagers had started assembling in the house to express solidarity with the family. In the polling booth, at 12:30 p.m only 6 votes had been cast out of 577. The polling agents said even their family members wouldn’t turn up to vote. “Her killing has changed everything in the village. I think the villagers wouldn’t turn up,” said Mushtaq Ahmad, the polling agent of Congress. 

Near the village tube-well, women said that they have not cast the vote and they will not. “There have been so many killings in this village. But her death was most terrible and it has shocked us,” women said.

 The village graveyard is testimony of what the women said. There are five graves. Two of militants, two of children who died in Wullar tragedy, and Fahmida’s grave. In the Wullar boat tragedy. 24 kids of a Handwara school who were on picnic in Bandipora died when their boat capsized in the lake in the summer of 2006. The inquiry officer Tariq Ahmad Naqashbandi had indicted Navy in the tragedy and the Government had accepted the inquiry report.

 The youth here said they have rejected the pro-India politicians and would continue to reject them. An aged woman, who was on her way to Sheikh’s house, said, “My grandson Hilal Ahmad Wani died in Wullar. Another died in Tangdhar. And you are asking me why I am not casting the vote?”

On Monday, a journalist friend informed me that at 4 p.m in Chottipora village there was long queue outside the booth and 

at 3 p.m 60 people had cast their votes. 

Post a Comment