Kashmir: How two breadwinners became casualties?

Photo: Mohmmad Abu Bakar 

‘It has been four days since I lost my husband. My world has collapsed like my soul has been ripped apart. I can’t even console my son and tell him where his father has gone to, it is becoming more appalling by the day. Now, it’s just the memories of us that I have,” said Aasiya Manzoor.

“I have a son and I am pregnant with another child. What will be the future of my kids in the absence of their father?’ she asks.

Till noon on Saturday, June 12, life was full of joy for 28-year-old Aasiya and her husband, Manzoor Ahmad Shalla, from Shallapora. He was killed in a standoff between militants and Indian forces in Sopore, Kashmir. The volatile conflict destroying their lives, turning Aasiya into a widow and Hamad, their 2-year-old kid into an orphan. Husband’s death has left Aasiya, who is in the first phase of her pregnancy, numb and shattered. She is awfully silent and completely lost inside a dimly lit room full of mourners.

Two policemen and two civilians were killed during the shootout between Indian forces and suspected militants. However, local residents accused the police of targetting the civilians.

Two policemen and two civilians were killed during the shootout between Indian forces and suspected militants. However, local residents accused police of targetting the civilians. Photo: Mohmmad Abu Bakar 

According to an eyewitness, Manzoor Ahmad was working as a salesman in a shop run by his cousin, Riyaz Ahmad. He was whisked away in a police jeep from his kiryan shop for violating Covid-19 lockdown protocol.

‘I don’t know the actual reality. Who killed my brother? The authorities should clarify how and in what circumstance my brother was killed. First they should answer why he was taken away even after conceding to remit fine and beg for the release’, said Firdous Ahmad, younger brother of Manzoor. “We are not blaming anyone but authorities should show us all the CCTV footage so that everything will be transparent and the culprits get punished.”

“Now he is in his grave, this is the worst nightmare.”

Almost 2 km away from Manzoor’s house family of another civilian victim, Bashir Ahmad Pahloo, a cart vendor, is mourning for the sole breadwinner.

Inside the room, mourners were reticent, disturbingly silent. Tent pitched in the lawn on the bank of Jhelum was a packed house of mourners, mostly women; Manzoor is unable to come to the terms with the loss of the friend and companion Pahloo. They had known each other for more than 15 years. Manzoor is so stricken with grief and sense of guilt fills inside him after the incident.

Bashir Ahmad Pahloo, 48, a street vendor was among the four people killed in sopore town along with two police personnel on Saturday, after a police vehicle was fired by militants. Four other people, including three police personal, were wounded.

Manzoor, a friend of Pahloo and co-owner of the handcart, said that on the day, the street was relatively calm and clear when Bashir went out for tea. He had barely walked a few meters when the firing started. ‘I started running with other people, the rest is history’, he said.

“We used to start and end our day in each other’s arms no matter the situation. It is extremely painful on several aspects. Conflict has stolen a companion of mine. Conflict really did steal a piece of everyone who knew Bashir. Three days before, we were making plans. And now he is in his grave, this is the worst nightmare,” said Manzoor Ahmad Laway.

On the opposite side, Junaid, the only son of the slain Bashir is listening to this conversation with a distraught face. The death of his father has shaken Junaid. The emptiness created by father’s death, the sadness mingled with resentments has traumatized Junaid.

“My father was an attentive role model. He was more a mother than a father to me. My mother died a few years back, but my father made sure that her absence did not cross my mind. I am alone. I wake up in the morning with a searing pain,” said Junaid, while attending to the mourners. “It is in me the whole day. I can barely talk to anybody.”

Junaid said the family, including Junaid’s grandmother has been devastated and is still trying to make sense of why his father was taken away. “We are crushed. That day, it was hard. It’s something that a son shouldn’t go through. This home will never be the same without him.”

Photo: Mohmmad Abu Bakar 

However, Sudhanshu Verma, Senior Superintendent of Police, Sopore said, ‘It was never a targeted firing from our side. Retaliation was done in air because there could have possibility of OGW or any anti element standing near the site waiting to through a grenade or anything gets frightened. Whatever footage we collected, we showed all that to both the families. Claiming anything is easy but everything has to be verified.”

“The case is under investigation’” he added.

Sopore incident has wrecked havoc on these families. A woman has been rendered a widow, a child orphaned, a sister has lost her brother and a friend, a friend. Wounds have been inflicted and questions unanswered.

Malik Nisar is an independent journalist based in Kashmir.