Today: Jun 19, 2024

J-K: Grieving for loved ones, survivors of terror attacks come out to vote

2 mins read

Dhangri (Rajouri, J-K):  “My sons accompanied me last time (2019) to vote. Today they are not with me,” says 51-year-old Bala, the pain of losing her two children in a terrorist attack last year writ large on her face.

Bala’s sons – Deepak Sharma (24) and Prince Sharma (21) – were among seven civilians killed when terrorists struck their village on January 1, 2023, opening indiscriminate fire on the members of the minority community before fleeing the scene. They also left behind an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) which went off the next morning.

Like Bala, many survivors of the terrorist attack queued up on Saturday in this remote Dhangri village to vote in the election to the Anantnag-Rajouri Lok Sabha seat which saw a record 53 per cent turnout, the highest in 40 years.

“I am deeply pained as my sons are not with me,” Bala, a widow, told PTI after casting her vote at the polling station set up at the local government higher secondary school.

She said she left behind her pain to exercise the fundamental right as a tribute to the victims of the terror attack.

Besides the two brothers, Pritam Lal (57) and his son Shishu Pal Sharma (32) and army ex-serviceman Satish Kumar (45) lost their lives in the firing, while two children Samiksha Sharma (13) and her cousin Vihaan Sharma (4) died in the IED explosion.

A couple of Pakistani terrorists including the mastermind of the attack were killed in two separate encounters with security forces in May and November, last year in Rajouri hills. Two terror associates were also arrested by National Investigation Agency (NIA) in connection with the attack.

“Voting is everyone’s fundamental duty and every citizen of the country should fulfil it,” Bala said.

The grieving mother, however, said she was unhappy with the investigation and wanted all the culprits behind the conspiracy to be brought to book.

Viewed as the deadliest attack on civilians in more than a decade, the incident still haunts the locals, especially the families who lost their kin.

Bal Krishan Sharma, a village defence guard member whose alertness and retaliation forced the terrorists to flee, preventing more casualties, said the village is still mourning the death of seven innocent persons.

“Our vote is for strengthening democracy,” he said.

Dheeraj Sharma, former village Sarpanch, said the villagers by turning out in large numbers to cast their vote have conveyed a message that they will not be defeated by such cowardly attacks.

Other survivors of the terror attack also came to the polling station immediately after the voting commenced this morning to exercise their franchise. But many were reluctant to talk.

“Dhangri is now synonymous with a tragedy that can never be wiped from the minds of the residents. Still, the people from all households of the village voted…,” Sharma said.

In the Kandi belt of Rajouri’s Kotranka subdivision where five army commandos lost their lives in an encounter with terrorists on May 5, long queues were seen outside polling stations in the area declared as hypersensitive.

A specially trained Quick Reaction Team (QRT) of police assisted by CRPF remained stationed at Kandi Khadyoon to boost the confidence of the people.

“People in large numbers exercised their franchise without any fear,” Kala Khan, a resident said, thanking authorities for making elaborate arrangements for peaceful voting.

Mohammad Azam and his wife Gulzar Begum were found brutally murdered in their house at Kesari Hill on October 17, last year, but the mystery behind their killing remained unresolved with many people suspecting the incident as a “terror act”.

“The two incidents (last year) spread panic among residents but today all fear was left behind and we voted in large numbers to strengthen democracy,” Naaz Ahmad, a resident, said.