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Pulwama Terror Attack: Red Is The Color Of My Memory On February 14

February 14 which is commemorated as Valentine’s Day in the world, however in this part of the world—Kashmir, the date has a different memory ebbed in blood after the Pulwama terror attack.

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Pulwama suicide attack spot near Lethpora in south Kashmir | Photo: AP
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Red is the color of my memory. It is all drenched in red. Of course it is not about roses. It is all about blood that has continued to spill in ‘Valley of Roses’— Kashmir. There is nothing romantic on the day of romance from Kashmir. It is all about horror and death that has swept the region for years now. 

Nearly 1500 days ago, an incident is etched in my memory forever. I was on my assigned beat. I was chatting with some officers at erstwhile State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) office along the banks of Jhelum in Srinagar near Budshah bridge. Over the cups of tea, we were having a chat with drizzle outside.

Suddenly, we heard a bang. “It seems a blast has occurred somewhere. I guess it has occurred nearby,” said a SHRC investigating officer, who had worked in various capacities as police officer in Kashmir.

It didn’t surprise many in the room, since encounters had been frequent during that period in Kashmir. Yes, out of reporter’s curiosity, I checked my phone to find any update. I sent a few messages to my sources to check what was this bang all about in the city. However, I couldn’t find more details and resumed my conversation in the room again. As we chatted again, a police officer broke the news: “something kind of a fidayeen attack has happened in Pulwama”. Fidayeen is an Arabic term meaning “sacrifice”. 

There was another call from a friend. He again reiterated the same. We decided to move towards Pulwama from city centre Lal Chowk, unaware of the exact location in the district. 

As we headed towards Pulwama along Srinagar-Jammu National Highway on a motorcycle, the saffron fields of Pampore presented a serene splendour, until huge noise some meters away made us to stop. There were security personnel all around. One of the security personnel carrying a lathi asked us to stop and tried to hit my friend. 

“Press”, word gushed from my mouth. He stopped and furiously asked us to move away from the spot.

“Attack huwa hai, bhaag jao (attack has occurred. Go Away!”), the security man told us. I tried to press for more. He seemed to be in no mood. We smelled flumes of plastic and flesh in the air. The pungent smell emanating far away had diluted the fragrance of saffron fields. Some meters away at Lethpora smoke was blowing. It was a signal that something big has happened.

We saw a police vehicle nearby. We decided to approach it hoping to get some clarity. A young police officer was constantly talking on phone. We decided to wait. After a few minutes, he promptly said: “a fidayeen attack has occurred here. There are causalities. It is big,” a officer who seemed tense pointed towards the spot. He also said a video of a fidayeen is doing rounds on social media. “Check it,” he said.

However, we couldn’t find anything as internet had been shut in entire Kashmir, while we were travelling. We asked officer to show us the video. He was courteous enough to show us the video.

A clean shaven Kashmiri boy with some ammunition placed before him, holding guns and some holy verse placed behind him was talking about: “jihad” (fight against enemies of Islam). I remember his words: “by the time this video reaches you, I will be in paradise”. 

A police officer said CRPF bus had been hit by a fidayeen coming from wrong side on the highway. “There are numerous causalities,” he said.

We were left perplexed. I had covered stories of Kashmiri boys joining militant ranks over the reports. The ordeals of militant families, claims and contestations. A father wanting his engineer son to return, a mother wanting her doctorate son to shun the gun and a sister wailing to see her sole support brother alive. Their wails and shrieks. All of it. They had chosen the path of militancy also, but here was a different case: a Kashmiri boy choosing a “death wish of different kind”. The kind of things which we often hear from war-torn Afghanistan or Syria. Though, there had been instances of Kashmiri boys becoming fidayeens. But they were very few.

Aadil Dar of Gundibugh, a village in Pulwama, was like other Kashmiri militants with a “death wish”. However, he exactly knew the timing of his death. What had pushed this young boy to this extreme that he along with his life ended lives of many others? A question started brewing in my mind.

We walked along the police officer and saw skeletal of steel and plumes of smoke rising from the spot on the highway. A divider and road at the spot was left damaged. More and more security personnel started arriving. I looked around and found a mangled small pieces of human finger. The air smelt of burnt flesh. We started walking back towards out motorcycle. I saw shards of broken glass outside shops selling saffron and dry fruit at Lethpora.

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There was drizzle. Air was moist. It was morose.

We decided to head towards Dar’s village. As we moved back, we saw hordes of people marching through fields. I asked a woman about the route to Kashmiri Fidayeen’s home. She directed us. As we reached Dar’s village, there were people all around. The people were offering prayers for Dar.

At Dar’s home, an old man on his verandah was puffing hookah. His hands smelled of tobacco. Some people were kissing his hands. Ghulam Hassan had suddenly become a revered figure at his village. It was a kind of scene often witnessed at shrines across Kashmir. The only thing different at Dar’s home was Jaish-e-Mohammad’s flag, which was placed in the compound.

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The feeling of losing a son was written on his wrinkled face. With each gush Hassan’s eyes looked intense. “Who is happy of this bloodshed? Both India and Pakistan should realise that Kashmiris are suffering,” said Hassan, when someone interrupted that jinazah (funeral prayer) has been organized for his son.

There was no human body in this case. Dar’s family decided to bury his belongings in the local “martyrs graveyard”. Dar seemed to be a common Kashmiri youngster, who many claimed at his village faced harassment and was forced to take up the violent path. 

It was dusk. We got on the highway again. I looked back towards the spot where many CRPF people were killed in the attack. I tried to visualize the mourning families of the slain CRPF men. Their shrieks and their wails. Someone had lost a son. Someone had lost his love and someone had lost his brother. Infact, everyone in the war loses everything.

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The incident changed Kashmir forever. For next few days, public movement was stopped on the highway whenever there used to be convoy movement of security personnel.

The people living in north and south Kashmir faced the maximum brunt. I remember a journalist colleague’s car was damaged while he was trying to take his mother, a cancer-patient to a Srinagar hospital.

There was also a case when a lawyer accused the Army of beating him up when he had taken the highway route.

The ambulances stopped, students stopped, employees stopped, it was now a every day story in Kashmir.

Pulwama as then US President Donald Trump had said was “very deadly”. The incident had brought India and Pakistan on the brink of a war. Although war never happened but only Kashmiris got trampled and demolished.

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It started with xenophobic attacks in the country on Kashmiri students. The people who had nothing to with this unholy business of unseen hands behind the attack.
 

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