I was born here. I grew up in these apple orchards, dreamed on the banks of
these freshwater streams. I went to school there, sitting on straw mats and
memorising tables by heart. After school my mates and I would rush halfway home,
tearing off our uniforms and diving into the cold water. Then we would quickly
dry our hair, so our parents would not find out what we had done. Sometimes,
when we felt especially daring, we would skip an entire day of school to play
I was here, too, when the first bomb was exploded in 1988. I remember my
father describing the blast as an opposition party plot to dislodge Farooq
Abdullah's government. I was seventeen. Then, that September, the killing in
Srinagar of Ajaz Dar, one of the first Kashmiri youths to become a militant
leader, changed everything. Bomb blasts and shootouts became frequent. As 1989
came, the situation worsened. For days the morning papers splashed photos of
five fugitives -- Ishfaq Majeed, Javeed Mir, Yasin Malik, Hameed Sheikh and
Shabir Shah-who were believed to be behind the rising unrest and violence. The
government offered a huge reward to anybody who gave information about them, but
nobody came forward. This was not a simple political game any more. It was war.
I had just completed Class XII then and was enrolled in college -- a perfect
potential recruit. Many of my close friends and classmates had begun to join the
militant movement. One day, half of our class in a Sopore college was missing.
They never returned to class again, but nobody even looked for them, because it
was understood. I too wanted to join, not knowing why or what it would lead to.
Perhaps the rebel image was subconsciously attracting all of us. I acquired the
standard militant's gear: I bought Duckback rubber shoes, prepared a polythene
jacket and trousers to wear over my warm clothes, and found some woollen cloth
to wrap around my calves as protection from frostbite. I stole five hundred
rupees from my mother's purse to pay the guide.
But I failed. Thrice we returned from the border. Each time something
happened that forced our guide to take us back. The third time, twenty-three of
us had started our journey on foot from Malangam, north of Bandipore, only to be
abandoned inside a dense jungle. It was night and the group scattered after
hearing gunshots nearby, sensing the presence of security forces. In the
morning, when we gathered again, the guide was missing. Most of the others
decided to try their luck and continue on their own, but a few of us turned
back. We had nothing to eat but leaves for three days. We followed the flights
of crows, hoping to reach a human settlement. We were lucky. We reached home and
As the days and months passed, and the routes the militants took to cross the
border became known to security forces, the bodies started arriving. Lines of
young men would disappear on a ridge as they tried to cross over or return home.
The stadiums where we had played cricket and soccer, the beautiful green parks
where we had gone on school excursions as small kids in white and grey uniforms,
were turned into martyrs' graveyards. One after another, those who used to play
there were buried there with huge marble epitaphs detailing their sacrifice.
Many had not even fired a single bullet from their Kalashnikovs.
When I started writing about the war in 1992, I felt I was part of this
tragic story from the beginning. I knew the mujahids, the makhbirs
(informers), those who surrendered and those who did not, those who faced death
because they had a dream and those who were sacrificed by mere chance, neither
knowing nor understanding the issues at stake, those who believed they were
fighting a holy war and those who joined for unholy reasons.
After eight years of reporting death and suffering, I felt I knew every bit
of the trauma of Kashmir. I had seen a thousand widows wailing over their sons'
graves, mothers of militants and mothers of policemen alike. I had seen villages
burnt to the ground by security forces, bodies blown to bloody bits by militant
bombs, bodies blackened by torture in interrogation centres. I had met families
with no children left, no food left, no hope left. I thought I had reported the
whole truth about Kashmir.
Then, one day, I travelled to a remote corner of north Kashmir, along the
Line of Control. I took my time, and wandered into two small villages, speaking
to everyone I met, and asking them to tell me their stories. What I discovered
was a tiny world of silent tragedy and invisible suffering -- suffering that no
headlines had reported, no government officials had compensated, and that
virtually no one knew about beyond the village boundaries.
While many other villages in Kashmir had been struck by violence, few had
experienced such extensive tragedy so early in the uprising, and few had borne
their grief in such isolation. Officials had visited the two villages, and
promises had been made and forgotten. But with time, as the real suffering sank
in and became part of the lore and emotions and fabric of these villages, there
was no one to console them. In both cases, anonymous people had died as cannon
fodder, not as heroes to either side of the cause.
As the incidents receded into the past, the villages, isolated 3 and
invisible, grieved alone. The rest of Kashmir, caught up in a whirlpool of
violence, seemed to have no time or energy to spare for them. To the India
beyond, the villages had never existed even before the massacres. Afterward,
they existed only as abstract symbols to be politically exploited by India-in
one case as evidence of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, and in the other as an
unavoidable consequence of militancy. Pakistan, in turn, kept silent on the
first massacre and capitalised on the second as proof of atrocities by the
Indian security forces.
But for the survivors in these remote villages, who knew little about the
politics being played over their dead, the enormity of what had happened haunted
their lives every day. Even now, virtually every house is a portrait of loss and
gloom; nearly every family hides a tragedy.
There is a girl who wanders the graveyard where her two brothers are buried,
muttering to herself. There is another who was raped by armymen, and the family
and the village kept it a secret. There is a man wracked by guilt because, in
trying to be loyal to India, he condemned his neighbours and relatives to death.
There is a woman who was forced to marry a boy she had once cradled in her arms,
after her own husband was killed. There is a mother who still curses herself for
keeping her son home for an extra day of holiday-it proved to be his last. There
was a boy who was killed by militants just seven days after his wedding, with
henna still on his palms. There is a widow who used to boil water in an empty
pot to give her children false hope of dinner. There is another who has to beg
to feed her children, who has no one to follow her slain husband's case and no
money to bribe the clerks.
The stories of these two forgotten villages, both situated in the frontier
district of Kupwara, are different from each other. In Warsun, the people had
resisted the tide of militancy and were punished by the militants for garlanding
a Union minister. And yet the authorities did not believe that a village so
close to the Line of Control could be entirely innocent, so they too punished
the people for what they assumed was a self-protective lie .
A man who lost twenty-two of his relatives to militant attacks had his own
son killed in the custody of the security forces. Another man who launched the
first ever indigenous counter-insurgent group to help the army, and escaped
death six times, saw his cousin's head chopped off by militants. He still bears
a scar from a militant attack on his shoulder, a badge of his Indianness, and
yet even that was not enough to keep a security force officer from plotting to
take his life. Today, he lives in fear from both sides.
The other hamlet, Pazipora, a dozen miles from Warsun, was the site of one of
the first, and biggest, massacres by the army in August 1990. So bloody and
massive was the attack that the armymen ran out of cartridges. Twenty-four
people died there that day as bullets rained from all sides. In the evening,
there was an announcement on the radio. General Zaki, the then security advisor
to the governor, claimed that the army had killed twelve militants. Later, after
the bodies were identified, the government's story too changed: Now it was
twelve young militants and twelve old villagers dead.
It took this village over three-and-a-half years and thousands of rupees to
prove that their dead were innocent civilians, killed by the army in retaliation
for a militant attack on their convoy on the main road outside the village. All
through that period, their cries of protest were not heard, their demand for
justice ignored. And till today, the most awful truth of the Pazipora massacre
has never been told: the rape of three unmarried girls after the armymen
segregated the men and women of the village. The villagers kept it a secret to
avoid problems in finding matches for these girls. But in silence, the families
still mourn for their lost honour.
One survivor of the Pazipora massacre has never spoken about it at all. Each
day, in the village graveyard, a young woman walks in circles around two of the
graves, murmuring to herself She had never been mentally well as a child, and
the shock of her brothers' violent deaths drove her deeper into madness, locking
away the tragedy inside her. In this invisible corner of India, her pain is the
most invisible of all.
Yes, I remember it,
the day I'll die, I broadcast the crimson,
so long ago of that Sky, its spread air,
its rushing dyes, and a piece of earth
bleeding, apart from the shore, as we went
on the day I'll die, past the guards, and he,
keeper of the world's last saffron, rowed me
on an island the size of a grave. On
two yards he rowed me into the sunset,
past all pain. On everyone's lips was news
of my death but only that beloved couplet,
broken, on his:
"If there is a paradise on earth,
It is this, it is this, it is this."
- From The Country Without a Post Office,
by Agha Shahid All
Warsun lies at the end of a steep, winding road, deep in V V a mountain range
known for its hidden treasure of marble and a variety of medicinal herbs. It is
a Gujjar village of some four hundred inhabitants, who live in small houses of
mud walls and thatched roofs, scattered across small hillocks.
Only a few miles north lies the Line of Control. The elders dare not venture
into the jungles because it is too dangerous-either militant territory, or an
area controlled by the army. Beyond the hilltops, the villagers say, nobody can
guarantee your life because bullets fly without warning from any direction. In a
way, death seems to stalk these mountains.
The village has a school, but the majority of children cannot afford to
study. Their job is to graze small herds of cows and goats. Forty-nine of them
were orphaned in these ten years of mayhem. Smeared with dirt, they walk through
corn fields on narrow footpaths, but there is no sound of their laughter or
games. In fact, there is almost no sound at all. The village seems completely
Before the emergence of militancy, people remember, the hills used to echo
with the sound of flutes played by the young shepherds. Now there are hardly any
young men left. The few who remain wield guns and belong to a small
counterinsurgency group, the Muslim Liberation Army of Choudhary Jalaluddin.
They are the only wealthy people in the village, and their houses are more
solidly built than the rest.
Many of the villagers died simply because they were related to the Choudharys
and stood by them, even though they had no politics of their own. In some cases
their widows were forced to marry their brothers, even those who already had
wives, so that the family fortunes would not be divided. Widows were even forced
to beg in the surrounding villages to feed their children. Today, the village is
still fighting to survive, and its people have little time to think about the
past. But every household in Warsun has a story to offer -- a sordid saga of
pain and loss.
Choudhary Jalaluddin is a tall, bearded man in his early forties-he is also
the villager with the heaviest cross to bear. For most of his life, he was a
shepherd and had nothing to do with politics. But after the emergence of
militancy in 1990, his life became a tortuous roller coaster of shifting
political demands and loyalties, physical hardships and betrayals, and survival
amid death-all leading him to the bitter conclusion that no cause was sacred and
no friend was permanent.
The first stage in his tumultuous path began when he crossed over to become a
militant. "I never wanted to cross over to Pakistan. I never wanted to
become a militant," he recalls. "There was a man, Farooq Molvi, who
was very powerful for he was close to both (Indian and Pakistani) intelligence
agencies. As a double agent, he was sending young men across for training. He
had political scores to settle with my elder brother Choudhary Salamuddin and my
cousin Alif Din, and I became his easy prey." Molvi had influence among
militant ranks, and had a hit-order issued in his name. "I got to know and
literally went underground to avoid certain death," he recalls. "This
is when the police also started looking for me, suspecting me to be an activist
of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF)."
On the run, Jalaluddin was caught between the devil and the deep sea. His
cattle and sheep got scattered because there was nobody to take care of them.
The police raided his house and even took away the fodder he had stored for the
winter months. "I had no money to buy food or clothes for my family,"
he remembers. "I started selling off the cattle, partly for survival and
partly because I could not afford their fodder." Then Master Afzal, a
member of the JKLF from the neighbouring Trehgam village, was released from
jail. Afzal promised to take Jalaluddin across the border and guaranteed his
safety there. "I talked to my elder brother about it, but he was dead
against my joining militancy. He was a Congressy (activist of the Congress
party) and an Indian to the core of his heart."
Jalaluddin decided to go anyway. He had formed a group of two hundred and
fifty men and twelve guides, and they were planning to cross via Aawra village.
"All the guides were from Aawra and knew the entire border like the lines
on their hands," he said. "Even my nephew All Mohammad, who ran a
hotel in Kupwara, was there. Those days hundreds of young men would cross from
almost everywhere in this belt. It was safe and easy. After we crossed over, I
saw Farooq Molvi at Athmuqam. He had been waiting for me and tried to get me off
the bus and kidnap me, but my companions resisted."
The group remained in Muzzafarabad for seven months. At first, no one in the
training camp trusted them, thinking them to be Indian agents. "Nobody
believed us. Nobody helped us," he said. "My nephew and I had to eat
raw rice with water and molasses. We saw so much suffering that even today we
cry when we remember those days. Finally, when the people running the camps
decided we were not Indian agents, they gave us shelter." To earn some
money, Jalaluddin and his friends guided groups of newly trained militants to
the border posts, to infiltrate into the valley. "We used the money to buy
oil and salt and keep ourselves going. As time passed, trust started developing
and the next few months went well."
Then Jalaluddin heard that his cousin, Alif Din, had been killed by
unidentified gunmen back home. He was a sarpanch and had been killed by
militants, who were avenging some old slight. Jalaluddin was allowed to return
for a week.
I reached the village and saw my brother, Choudhary Salamuddin, half
dead from torture-this time by the security forces," he recalled. "His
son, Abdullah, had also been tortured to death by the Central Reserve Police
Force. The situation was confusing, and I felt everyone was against me and my
family. I heard that a group of fifty militants led by Farooq Molvi's brother
had raided my house. I tried to convince them to stop, arguing that this group
clash would take us nowhere. But they would not listen. I felt bitter. I had my
own militant group, the Muslim Liberation Army, and I decided to take them on.
It was 1991. The war between the two groups went on for six months.
Jalaluddin had only thirteen gunmen, but they managed to keep a group of three
hundred and fifty militants at bay. "At times I was frightened, but I never
allowed it to show," he says. "This was my village, my area, how could
I allow anybody to win here? It was a battlefield of my choice." But then
his enemies played a trick, and one of his men, Fareed Shah, turned out to be a
mole. "One day he guided the troops of 7 Assam Rifles to my hideout. The
only escape was to go up to the jungle, but there were seventy militants of that
rival group up on every ridge, waiting to shoot me," Jalaluddin recounts.
"Down below was the army. What could I do? I decided my only choice was to
It was a big catch. The first time that a commander-in chief of a militant
group had been nabbed. "They took me to the GOC. I had already decided to
go against the militants," he says. "I wanted to teach them a lesson.
I gave a plan to the army as to how to deal with the militants. They trusted me
and I helped them. I opened the way for others to surrender, and created an
opening for politics.I created the road, which nobody knew then, and now even
much bigger convoys than mine are travelling on it."
Jalaluddin claims to have been instrumental in creating a counter-militancy
movement, the first insider to challenge the might of the pro-Pakistan
militants. "My fight started bearing fruit when militants like Kuka Parrey,
Rasheed Khan and Azad Nabi followed suit to help the authorities control the
militancy," he says. In 1992, he boasts, he and his associates were the
first to hold a pro-India political rally in the area. 'We garlanded the then
Union internal security minister Rajesh Pilot in Warsunand organised a huge
gathering to listen to his speech right here. Then we conducted several such
rallies in other villages in Kupwara. It was an unbelievable thing. We did it,
but we paid a price. Those of our cousins who garlanded Pilot sahib were
kidnapped and killed within a few days."
But it was not only militants who were after his blood. "In 1996, an
officer of the (army) Liaison Unit conspired to kill me. I later got to know
that he was given a car as a gift by my old enemies to eliminate me, but God
saved me and I am alive. Even a senior police officer of the district was after
my life for reasons not known to me till today. My covering candidate in the
elections was killed by a surrendered militant. He was given a booty of three
lakh rupees to eliminate the man. Now I have joined the ruling National
Conference- but only to keep myself alive. At least now I am close to the
corridors of power, and I feel a bit secure, though the fear still hangs over my
head like a sword."
Through the years of war, Jalaluddin lost twenty-three of his cousins,
relatives and friends. "At the end of the day, I am a depressed man,"
he says. "I feel responsible for the bloodshed and tragedy of my entire
village. I am not able to face the widows of my brothers, who were killed for
being with me." As long as the army was in the village, they would send
foodgrains for these families. But as the militants mounted pressure in other
areas, the army camp here was moved. "Now there are days when there is
nothing to cook and eat," Jalaluddin says. "What can I do? I still
have nothing to offer them except pain and suffering. I can't afford the cost of
their two meals a day. I wish the militants or the police had managed to kill me
in the beginning. Then, children of only one household would have been orphaned,
not those of the entire village."
Depressed by his solitary burden, Jalaluddin says he at times envies those
who died for Pakistan. "At least they have somebody to shed tears for them.
There are people who visit their families and enquire about their wellbeing. But
we have neither this world nor the world hereafter," he complains.
"Everyone feels the blood that was shed here for India has gone to waste.
After eight years of experience with the government, I have come to the
conclusion that beneath every chair lies a chor. I now strongly feel the best
way to live is in the jungles. You fire a few bullets and kill a few enemies, or
get a few bullets and die. The story ends there and then. In political life,
nothing is clean. No one here is Indian at heart, nor will anybody save you for
being Indian. It is altogether a different game, with no permanent rules, no
permanent enemies, no permanent friends."
Weeping, wailings lamentation,
Piercing through the silent night,
Cries of children and their mothers,
The moon and stars sorrow-soaked,
The night crowned with weeping stars...
The night has nothing to show but dark.
For the women of Warsun, the war was not a confusing cauldron of rapidly
shifting political events, but the legacy of a single, violent incident that
forever shattered their lives. There are more than a dozen widows in this
village whose husbands died in the violence. They were the hardest hit of all
victims, yet they never knew why such tragedies struck them. They were all
illiterate. They never understood the nuances of Indo-Pak hostility, the
politics of militancy anti counter-insurgency. They had no say in the lives of
their husbands and little control over their own lives after being widowed. Even
when asked to recount their personal tragedies, they defer to male relatives to
speak for them. They are the most invisible victims of all.
Arsha does not remember her age. She looks frail and careworn. An elderly
neighbour believes she is about forty. She lost her husband, Mohammad Din, in
1992 in a militant attack. He was neither a militant nor a counter-insurgent. He
was a simple farmer who had gone to fetch a missing calf from the meadow, never
to return alive. He was hit by bullets and was carried home but died on the way.
Mohammad Din, in fact, was killed merely for being the first cousin of Choudhary
Jalaluddin, and more precisely for accompanying Jalaluddin on that fatal day.
"He was outside his house, preparing to start for the meadow to look for
his calf, when I saw him," recalls Jalaluddin, speaking on Arsha's behalf
as she sits silently across the room, weeping. "I had to visit the nearby
army brigade headquarters and asked Mohammad Din to come along." They both
left for the jungles where, on the way, they were attacked by the militants.
"I received a bullet in my shoulder but ducked down on the ground. He too
was lying flat but he thought I had been killed and shouted for me. This is when
the militants shot at him," he says.
Arsha lives in a small two-room house which she shares with her three
children, her cow and a few sheep. There are a few aluminium utensils, two
mattresses and some old blankets for bedding. For the first four years after her
husband's death, she fought the hardships of life single-handedly, feeding her
children by begging and working as a daily wage labourer in neighbouring
villages. Finally the village elders met and decided she needed to remarry.
Choudhary Jalaluddin admits he forced her to marry her late husband's nephew,
even though he was half her age and had even been cradled by her in her arms.
Arsha had no option. She either had to leave her children | behind with no
one to take care of them and go back to her parents' home, or accept the trauma
of marrying a boy she had raised like her son. Even her parents were not ready
to take her in, so she had to accept the harsh verdict of the elders. Arsha does
not speak easily about her trauma, but after repeated queries she bursts into a
litany of grief and sorrow.
I don't know what is the reason for this bloodshed. I remember my husband's
last few moments. It seemed as if the entire world was crying. He was trying to
tell me something, but I couldn't hear. He asked for water, and he asked for his
son Fareed. Then his eyes closed. Later, they forced me to marry my poot, a boy
I had raised like my own.But still nothing has changed."
I have three children-two daughters, Shakeela and Zaitoon, and a son, Fareed.
They have nothing to eat or wear. Many a time I boiled water on the mud oven to
keep the hope for food alive when they were starving. They waited and waited for
dinner as I kept telling them to wait just a few more minutes, until they fell
asleep on empty stomachs. I have begged for months to get food to keep them
alive. Nobody ever came to ask me whether I needed anything. The army camp
nearby sent rations for a few months after my husband's killing, but later
nobody cared. When the wound is fresh everybody comes to console you, but as
time passes it becomes an old story."
There is another widow in the village named Arsha. The death of her husband,
Taj Din, in 1993 was even more tragic, but she too does not speak of it
publicly. She has been silenced by remarriage to her late husband's brother, who
already had a wife and children. Though marrying a brother-in-law after a
husband's death is an old custom in Kashmiri villages, it has been used more
frequently during militancy to avoid any split in family fortunes, especially
when there is hope for ex gratia relief of one lakh rupees or a government job
for close relatives of the person killed in violence. Arsha's new husband, Alif
Din, talks on her behalf
"Taj Din had garlanded Pilot sahib at the rally. After a few days his
six-year-old daughter, Jameela, fell ill. She had pneumonia and needed immediate
medical care. Taj Din rushed her to a doctor in Trehgam. He got a prescription
and was about to enter a medical store when a young man called him. He paid no
heed, but then a few more men gathered and took him away forcibly. He had to
abandon his ailing daughter.
"They took him (Taj Din) to the government school building in Heeri
village and interrogated him. Then they took him to Doripora and tortured him.
They took out the thin iron rod from a Kalashnikov (a ramrod, used to clean the
barrel). They put this rod in the fire and waited till it was red hot. They then
pierced it through his chest. He asked for water but they put a lump of earth in
his mouth instead. At Avera culvert, they pumped four bullets into his chest. He
died on the spot.
"When Taj Din was kidnapped, another of our brothers, who also happened
to be in the market, saw Jameela crying near the chemist's shop and carried her
back home but without any medicine. The entire family was so traumatized that
they literally forgot about the girl and her illness. She died the ne'3 day
because she had received no medical care. And just as wow were about to take her
coffin to the graveyard, her father' body arrived. They were buried side by
"Don't tell my father I have died," he says,
and I follow him through blood on the road
and hundreds of pairs of shoes the mourners
left behind, as they ran from the funeral,
victims of the f ring. From windows we hear
grieving mothers, and snow begins to fall
on us, like ash. Black on edges of flames,
it cannot extinguish the neighbourhoods,
the homes set ablaze by midnight soldiers.
Kashmir is burning.
-From The Country Without a Post Office,
by Agha Shahid Ali
Barely a dozen miles from Warsun, on the other side of Kupwara, lies Pazipora
village. Deep in the apple orchards and paddy fields of this frontier district,
it looks like any other Kashmiri village. Unlike Warsun, though, it is situated
down a slope. In fact, the lane leading to it from the main road dips sharply
until it reaches a secluded hollow. This accident of geography has had much to
do with Pazipora's misfortune. On one fateful day in 1990, soldiers firing
downward caught its people with no place to hide from the raining bullets.
Pazipora is the site of one of Kashmir's many forgotten massacres, the scars
of which are still to heal. Even after a gap of ten years, the villagers
remember it as if it had happened yesterday. The events of 10 August 1990 have
become part of village folklore. It is a history lesson that every mother gives
her child as compulsory information.
The village lost twenty-four of its sons that day. Not a single one was a
militant. Their misfortune was that militants had ambushed an army convoy
returning from a crackdown operation in a nearby village, perhaps killing a few
soldiers in the process. In response, the panic-stricken army Swans let loose a
reign of terror.
Today, Pazipora is an open wound. Geographically, it is still a part of
India, but emotionally it is poles apart. What festers is not only the memory of
the massacre itself, but of the official apathy to the suffering it caused. In
many other villages of Kashmir, force was used to combat militancy. But here,
soldiers went berserk and punished civilians for a crime they never committed.
The government eventually acknowledged the atrocity, and each victim's family
received a routine one lakh rupees ex gratia relief But they never got back
their sense of belonging or faith. They had believed the perpetrators would be
punished, but they never were. Thus the wounds could never be fully healed, the
gulf never bridged. After this, Pazipora would never really belong to India.
"No one among those killed that day had guns in their hands, no relative
of the dead became a militant even after that tragedy. Why did the government
not take any action against the culprits?" an old man asks. "If we are
part of India, why are our lives so cheap? Where is the justice? Even if they
have taken action against their of ricers, it means nothing to us until we see
it with our own eyes. Why can't we demand gallows for them, they who spilled the
blood of two dozen men in a single day?"
In all of Pazipora, Bhat mohalla was the worst hit. Every household lost two
members. One family lost ten. This was the family of Ghulam Ahmad Bhat, an
employee in the veterinary department and a village elder, who later took up the
village's case and fought till the government accepted that all those killed
were innocent civilians. Bhat lost his own son, three nephews and six other
relatives-and yet it took him three-and-a-half years of dogged efforts to prove
their innocence. Literally, he turned into an ambassador for the massacred
village, carrying its grief to the corridors of power in Srinagar and searching
for an echo of compassion.
In a dark carpeted room of Bhat's house, the old men of Pazipora gather one
by one. They have come to recollect the massacre, and once more to mourn for
their dead. The women sit on the other side of the room, listening to their men
in silence. A boy passes a samovar and pours out cups of steaming salt tea.
Several of the men puff on a hookah, passing it on. Bhat, sitting in a corner,
begins to retell the familiar story. It is a tale he has recounted a hundred
"On that morning, we were having tea. The children were getting ready
for school. But then we heard there had been an army crackdown in a neighbouring
village, Dedikote. We asked our children not to leave for school. The army had
arrested a militant, who was guiding them to hideouts in the area. We had no
inkling that anything was going to happen. We later got to know that the
militant had led the army into a trap. As the troops returned from the
crackdown, a group of militants had laid an ambush near Dingri, only one
kilometre from our village."
It was Friday and there was a namaz congregation. As the army convoy passed,
the militants opened fire. It continued for a few minutes, then there was
complete silence. But this was only the lull before the storm. "As people
started fleeing towards the paddy fields, the army jawans fired wildly from the
road above," Bhat recounts. "Soon they got reinforcements from Trehgam.
Now the villagers were caught in between. The Swans fired on every object, even
the slightest movement in the fields."
"It was al nafsi, al nafsi (every man for himself). I too fled.
Nobody gave a thought to where they were going. It was like a flood, and
everybody floated with the stream. I reached Balipora, a neighbouring hamlet,
and entered the house of the numberdar, Ghulam Rasool. I got into the
first room. I still vividly remember there was a fan whirring on the ceiling. I
threw myself flat on the floor. Then they started firing. The glass windows
shattered, and a barrage of bullets came into the room. Then they started
pounding on the door and trying to break it down. I finally found the courage to
stand and open the door. An armyman hit me with a rifle butt on my head, even
before asking who I was. I was left alive, but one of my nephews was lying dead
in a pool of blood."
As the troops entered the village, they segregated the m' from the women. The
women were taken to the house of Ahad and Gani Khoja. "We heard wails and
cries coming front inside. The jawans took us to the mosque compound and bent
us, one by one. They had no bullets left, or they would have kept on
firing," Bhat said. "Later we heard what had happened to our women.
Three unmarried girls had been raped. This is a sworn secret in the village. We
all agreed never to tell anyone, because it would ruin the girls' lives."
"An army officer, a captain who had been to our village before, came and
told me they had punished us and even set our village (Pazipora) on fire. 'There
is nothing left there, just ashes,' he told me. Then they ordered us to pick up
the bodies scattered around, but only those of young men. Of the twelve bodies
we could identify, three were children from my family, and one was my own son.
One boy, Bashir Ahmad, had sixteen bullets in his right arm. His father had to
leave another son's body behind to rush Bashir to the hospital in Srinagar."
Bhat says he had turned into a robot. There were too many deaths to mourn. As
if so many killings were not enough, they arrested his other son, Abdul Gaffar,
along with two villagers. "One was a radio mechanic, known to almost every
armyman in Kupwara. The other was a farmer, not even remotely involved in any
militant activity, " he says. But the army, he says, needed scapegoats to
hide their crime.
"In the evening, we carried the bodies to nearby Poshpora village where
we met an army officer. He asked us to go home, but we were drained. I felt as
if there were no life left in my legs. I requested him to free my son, and he
promised to let him go the next morning. But it was another three and-a-half
months before we saw our boys again. The army had claimed that all three were
militants, and had shown arms supposedly recovered from them in the FIR lodged
with the police."
For the next forty-five days, every government agency came to the village,
and Bhat had to repeat his story to many officials and journalists. But as time
passed and the incident started to fade from memory, fewer and fewer people
asked. General Zaki hadclaimed the first day that the twelve men killed were
militants. By now it was widely believed that all the dead were innocent
civilians, but the official position was still that only half of the twenty-four
killed were civilians. Bhat decided he had to make sure the truth came out.
"We were the victims of crime upon crime-an army attack, rape, the arrest
of our boys in a cover-up," he says. "But we were the ones who had to
prove our innocence, and it took me three-and-a-half years of relentless
struggle to accomplish it."
The government had ordered an inquiry. The deputy commissioner was to conduct
the probe, but Bhat says he was scared to visit the village. "I went to his
office twenty days in a row, but he never agreed to come. Finally, I met the
then divisional commissioner C. Phonsong, and requested him to help. He
literally forced the DC to visit our village and complete the inquiry."
When his report was finally done, it exonerated every one of the dead.
Bhat followed the report from one office to another, and finally approached
General Zaki. "It was difficult to reach him, especially if you had a
complaint against a security force unit in your hand. The officials screening
visitors would not allow you past the first checkpoint. But I played a
trick," he recalls. "I put a J&K government cover on the file and
pretended it was official. Finally the report received General Zaki's stamp of
approval. After more than three years, we had won the battle. But the real
war-to see the culprits punished for their crime and justice done to our
dead-has never been fought. It is still a distant dream."
As Ghulam Ahmad Bhat recites the tale of the massacre, an old woman hides
her face in her lap. Occasionally she wipes away her tears, but she does not
break her silence till Bhat has finished. His story concludes and now everybody
in the room can hear her sobs. She is Shah Ded, Bhat's sister in-law. She is
illiterate, but she put all her efforts into getting her son, Bashir Ahmad, a
good education. He completed school and joined a professional college but was
killed in the massacre even before he could bring his first salary home. Amid
sobs, she talks about her son.
"He was the apple of our eye. All of us looked up to him. We saved on
our expenses to make him happy and comfortable. But Bashir Ahmad was not a child
anymore. He had realised his responsibility by then. That morning he called me
and said, 'Aapa aupa pareshan mai gus (Mother, stop being anxious it
about me now). This year, I will complete my training and return home once and
for all. I hope to get a job immediately. Then I will be coming home every
Usually, she said, she did not allow her son to come to the village because
the situation had worsened. But that day, she stopped him from going back to
Srinagar. "I asked him to stay back for a few more days, and I will always
blame myself for that," Shah Ded says."It is like a scar on my heart
that will go away only with my death."
When the military came that day, she asked her son and his cousins to leave
immediately for a safer place. He did not agree. He said they would simply lie
down on the floor. But when the firing started, he ran in panic. "He
rushed towards his uncle Ghulam Ahmad Dar in the paddy fields, but he was killed
before reaching there. I cannot forget his face," the woman says sadly.
"His hands were ready for the henna and I was dreaming of getting him
married. My eyes have lost sight, shedding tears in his memory. It was my
misfortune that God took him back in the prime of his youth."
Even years later, the death of her son still weighs so heavy on her mind that
it is hard for her to see schoolchildren wearing the same colourful uniforms he
once wore. "I go back to the days when he would come home from school with
mud or ink spilled all over his uniform. Every corner of this village reminds me
of him. At times, I feel I should run away from here because his shadows are
everywhere. I long to hear him calling me aupi."
And even now, she still dreams that one day, her son's death will be avenged.
"I wanted to know why he was killed. I tried to ask the big of firers who
visited here after the massacre, but the men of the village did not let me talk
to them?" she says. "I am a mother. Everybody, no matter how big an
officer, has a mother. I know they will listen to me. One day justice will be
done. My son was innocent. His blood will not go to waste.
About The Book
As we move into the twenty-first century, a look at the India we have no time
for -- the people we choose not to see, the places that are falling off the map,
and the attitudes and mind-sets that remain unchanged. Told with a rare
sensitivity, these stories bring out the alienation and the silent rage of
people on the margins. From the isolation of people in Kashmir (Muzamil Jaleel, Invisible
Grief) and the North-east (Siddhartha Deb, Fragments From a Folder)
to the mind-set of a village that wants to convert an incident of sati into
material gain (Sagarika Ghosh, The Economics of Sati); from the
decimation of tribals (Randhir Khare, 'Do Rats Have Rights') to the
continuance of upper class domination (Ajit Kumar Jha, War in a Time Warp);
from the invisible Indian inside our homes -- the servants who slog relentlessly
for a pittance (Vijay Jang Thapa, Maid in India to the unchanging system
of caste (Sankarshan Thakur, Still There), to a state struck by calamity
but unaided by the state (Meenal Baghel, Lull After the Storm), these are
stories about an India where little has changed, and where the playing fields
are not, and can never be, level.
The essay from this book has been reproduced with permission from
HarperCollins Publishers, India.
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