Shopian: Arif Imran was caught with his family including children inside his home amidst a raging gunfight between militants and armed forces in Rawalpora village of South Kashmir’s Shopian.
The two rebels, who were killed three days after the encounter began on Saturday, were not inside his home but as the gunfight ended what remained of his home was rubble, broken glass and deeply charred walls. The 33-year-old was asked to sprinkle petrol and kerosene on these walls before it was set on fire. “I did it with my own hands,” Arif told NewsClick.
Arif was not alone to commit the heart-wrenching act, he was accompanied by his 20-year-old nephew, Zia, who lives right next to his uncle’s home with his mother and three sisters.
Zia’s father had died two years ago after his health deteriorated. Since then, Zia has been studying and also taking care of his family by doing menial work. Zia’s house has also been destroyed. The family could not salvage anything from the house still emanating smoke – not even clothes that he could wear. But, Zia is more concerned about the documents. “All my educational certificates and that of my sisters have burned. We did not get time to save them,” he says.
As many as five houses have been completely destroyed during the three-day encounter in the South Kashmir village. Ten families have suffered loses worth crores of rupees, according to local estimate. “I lost retail stock worth over Rs 5 lakh that I had received recently and a cash amount over Rs 2 lakh,” Arif, who runs a local retail shop, told NewsClick.
As smoke billowed from the debris, hundreds, including women and children from nearby villages, arrived at the gunfight site to express their solidarity with the families since Tuesday morning. The women wept and many others, especially youth began to collect the wreckage as they doused the remaining flames.
“This has become a graveyard,” a local who wished anonymity said. The locals say many chickens and cows died and were buried inside the debris as they could not be saved due to gunfire.
The encounter led by Jammu and Kashmir police, 34RR of the Indian Army and 14 BN of the CRPF began at about 8 p.m on Saturday after a day-long cordon and search operation by forces. The police later claimed to have killed a militant, they identified as Jahangir Ahmad Wani of Narapora village of Shopian, affiliated with the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) outfit.
Jahangir had joined militancy, according to police records, on September 1, last year. The police also claimed to have recovered arms and ammunition, including a US made M4 carbine rifle, during the encounter.
The encounter concluded with the killing of top commander of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) outfit, the police identified as Sajad Afghani, whose actual name is Vilayat Hussain. The armed forces termed Hussain’s killing as a “major success” against militants in the region. Vilayat was killed in his neighbourhood while he was apparently visiting his family.
“IGP Kashmir #congratulates Shopian police & SFs for #eliminating JeM commander #terrorist Sajjad Afghani in Shopian #encounter (sic),” the Kashmir Zone Police tweeted.
As the encounter ensued, hundreds of youth assembled outside the perimeter of the encounter site and started pelting stones at the forces. A clash broke out between the agitating youth and forces resulting in the injury of at least five civilians, eye-witnesses told NewsClick.
The clashes continued on the third day of the gunfight as more youth assembled near the encounter site. The security forces resorted to heavy tear-gas shelling and fired pellet shots at the protesters. At least one civilian was reported to have been grievously injured in his eyes.
Shopian is one of the most volatile districts of the Valley where over a dozen militants are currently active. Clashes in the area are first such major incidents of protest during a gunfight in the region this year. So far at least a dozen militants have been killed across the Valley.
Last year, as many as 225 militants were killed in over 100 operations with over 50 of them killed in militancy bastion Shopian alone. The militant ranks, especially Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), suffered massive losses in June last year in back to back encounters at Shopian. (News Click)