Aaqib Naik

Tale of those left homeless in the wake of encounters!

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Neither government nor the separatists come to the rescue of these victims

Shopian, June 09: Since the onset of armed conflict here, the recurrent gunfights between the militants and the security forces have left behind a huge trail of death and destruction throughout Kashmir’s hill and dale.

What is peculiar though is that following every gunfight, all that remains is black and white smudge of the house where militants are neutralized.

For the past several years, each gunfight between the militants holed up in civilian areas and the security forces , has left a few or at least one family homeless.

For instance, on April 01, three anti-militant operations took place in Draggad Sugan and Kachdora villages of Shopian and Dialgam in Anantnag which resulted in the killing of 11 militants, besides razing several houses to rubble and forcing the family members to seek refuge with their relatives.

And interestingly no one, neither from the government side and nor from the separatists seem to have any rehabilitation plan for such victims. And in media too, they get just a one liner … “in so and so encounter, one house got destroyed.”

“After the end of encounter everything in my house was blown into dust. I could hardly get my sight over something that was intact and usable,” says Mohammad Afzal Lone, Kachdora householder.

“As soon as we were evacuated from the house at the break of dawn, our three-storey house was razed to ground and it felt like an eruption of volcano as my house got reduced to black and white smudge with the heat of the blast being so intense and unbearable…,” Lone adds.

“Nothing came out from the house in its original shape;  all that we got from the house were clothes that we had on at the time of its destruction,” he laments.

Lone says that despite repeated appeals and requests, no aid came from government.

“We had invested our lifetime’s income in making our house but lost all of it within few minutes,” says he.

“It hardly matters who was victorious — be it militants or the security forces —but at the end of the day it is people like us who have to bear the brunt,” he adds.

“Though the militants were holed up in another house, but the explosives used to kill the militants were so intense that windows of my house located nearby also  broke down and there were even cracks in the wall of my house,” said Mohammad Maqbool Lone, whose house also suffered damages in the Kachdora encounter.

On May 06 this year, another deadly encounter broke out at Badigam Shopain that resulted in killing of five militants. Here again a family was rendered homeless.

“Whenever the gun-wielding militants enter our house, we have no choice but to comply,” says Gul Mohammad Bhat, whose house got destroyed in Badigam encounter.

He also says he had invested all his savings to build the house. “We had even started construction work for its third storey and had applied for a loan,” says Bhat adding he is helpless to compensate the losses he has suffered, both to his house and in terms of the money he had borrowed to build it.

Bhat and his family including his wife, two daughters, and a son have shifted to a temporary shed.

“The powerful IED blast which was detonated by the security forces  ripped through my house, while the window-panes of the surrounding houses also got damaged. And as if it was not enough, the security forces  also set the house on fire, thereby destroying everything inside it,” says Bhat.

“Everything was gone except the clothes that we were wearing — all important documents including the passports got destroyed and everything else was stolen,” he adds.

In this case also, the district administration has not compensated Bhat for rebuilding his house. “Village head was called by administration for verification of my house, but no funds have been released for the reconstruction purpose,” says Bhat.

Another house belonging to Abdul Rashid Lone of Turkewangam Shopian was completely destroyed by security forces  on May 03 during an encounter in which a civilian from Pinjura Shopian was killed, while the militants managed to escape.

Abdul Rashid Lone, a shopkeeper by profession says, “It was like a doomsday for me.”

“All that I had earned during last 50 years was invested in making my house which was razed to ground within few minutes and everything that was inside my house turned into ashes,” says Lone.

“I own a cycle shop and on the fateful day I had stored most of the cycles in another building near my house which was also set ablaze — what remained there was a pile of iron scrap,” he laments.

From that day Lone along with his five family members are taking shelter in his brother’s home.

“Few days after the encounter took place, Naib Tehsildar visited the site and took stock of the damage but I am yet to receive any compensation from the administration,” Lone added.

According to Abdul Rashid, three other houses, adjacent to his house, also got damaged when his house was exploded.

Refuting the charge that security forces  destroy houses during encounters, Shopian’s Superintendent of Police Dr Shailender Mishra says that they try their level best to save the property of people during encounters.

“We have set SOPs which we have to comply during encounters. What happens during the exchange of fire is that inflammable substances present in houses catch fire easily,” says SSP adding “we do not use any IEDs nowadays.

“We always have fire brigades at our disposal during encounters to extinguish the fire that engulfs targeted house but the protesters tend to become a hindrance while fire brigades carry out their job. In the recent gunfight at Badigam Shopian two of our fire services vehicles were set on fire by a mob,” SSP adds.

He says “we also fire smoke shells inside the target houses so that militants will be compelled to come out from the building and can be easily neutralized without causing damage to the property,” he adds.

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