“ There is nothing new in world except the history you do not know.” – Harry Truman

Pervez investigates a terrorist act in Kashmir, and finds that victims are ordinary citizens of various faiths and shades

(Mr. Pervez Majeed Lone, 34, was born in Ashpora, a hamlet located in Handwara Tehsil in the Kupwara District. His primary schooling took place in government schools in his hometown, and he finished his higher secondary education from the Government Higher Secondary School, Kupwara. He graduated from the University of Kashmir as a Continuing Education student with Sociology, Philosophy and English Literature as major subjects. In 2004, he completed his Master’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Kashmir. He has worked in various local Urdu journals (Chattan, Pukar) and the Radio Kashmir (Sheharbeen) before joining the Sahara Time, a weekly national news magazine from the Sahara Group. He is passionate about the Urdu language and poetry, and loves to listen to music, read English literature and traveling. The following article has appeared previously in the Sahara Time, New Delhi.)

When a Chinar Burnt!

For the 45-year-old Khadija, treading on foot the one kilometer distance from her home in Khuja Yarbal mohalla of Saida Kadal in downtown Srinagar to the shrine of 15th century sufi saint Sultan-ul Arifeen Shaikh Hamza Makhdoomi, Kashmir’s one of the most revered saint, located on the Koh-e-Maraan hill, was like a worship. Like most of other Kashmiris, she was a devout believer of Makhdoom sahab and used to visit the shrine at least twice a week. On September 12, it was a routine spiritual journey for Khadija to the shrine. Despite the hunger and thirst because of fasting, the faithful lady walked to the shrine on that hot sunny day. She was returning her home with shrine’s Tabaruk (blessed eatables, like sweets etc brought from a holy place) for her family, which never reached them. Half a kilometer from her home, an IED blast tattered her body, as well as the dreams of her ‘fatherless’ children! After many efforts, Khadija’s mashed body was retrieved from the crumbled police bus after three hours.

From the busy Lal Chowk-Dargah Hazratbal road, at Saidakadal locality, a road on the left leads to Makhdoom sahab shrine, Govt Psychiatric Hospital and Srinagar Central Jail. On this road triangle is gurdwara Chattipadshahi, the biggest gurdwara of Kashmir valley. One of the branches of this road passes through a residential colony and takes one to Kashmir’s main jail, Srinagar Central Jail. On the fateful day, a police bus of south Kashmir’s Pulwama district was returning after dropping the prisoners at the jail, who had been taken to Pulwama for routine court hearing. At 5:52 pm, the bus, carrying 13 policemen including the driver, had just covered some 400 meters of its 40 km journey, was hit by a powerful IED explosion, which police says was kept in a Maruti-800 car parked on the road. The bus was torn into shreds. All those on board got injured. Two of them died. The lone passerby at that ominous time, Khadija died on spot. One of the seriously inured policemen Ali Muhammad, is battling for his life in a Srinagar hospital.

A day after the blast, as I walked in this area, I felt as if the deafening sound of the blast is still being heard in the area. Shopkeepers and people walking on the roads of this locality which is known as Kathidarwaza, are frightened. I saw anxious CRPF soldirers on this deserted road looking on every passer by with suspicion. The scene at the blast site was still gory. Bus shreds, ashes, burnt tree branches, clots of human blood, foul smell. Windowpanes of a nearby house were broken. Inmates were still traumatized. Some school children were fearfully looking at the scene. Their innocent, terrified faces seemed to be asking some questions.

There couldn’t have been more cruelty by perpetrators in choosing a place for the explosion! A Masjid is some yards away. The sounds of the shattering blast were heard by the devotees at Makhdoom sahab shrine, gurdwara Chattipadshahi and patients in the Psychiatric hospital. It disturbed the meditating devotees and distressed the already uneasy patients. The patch of road here has graveyard on both sides. Human blood spilled around the silent graves. The blast took place under a majestic Chinar tree. Half of the trunk of the 150-year-old Chinar and its branches were half-burnt. A nest of some bird was still tucked on a branch of Chinar. There was no moment seen there. The birds have either died or fled their abode. Chinar, the pride and identity of Kashmir is known for its grandeur and generous cool shade. Like the people of Kashmir, the tree was wailing on its ill-fate!

So did a 70-year-old old woman, who was passing there. “They be damned… they be cursed,” the woman with bent-back mumbled. “How many died,” she asked me. “Three,” I replied. “Ya Allah, they had no mercy in this holy month!” She told me. “People call me Sar Booba, I live in a nearby locality. Why they ravaged three families in this holy month?”

On the right of blast site, a narrow pathway leads to Khadija’s home. She was just to take the right turn from the road when the explosion killed her. I took this way to reach her home. After passing through narrow alleyways, dotted by clusters of houses, I reached her home. Wails of women and children greeted me. Khadija has lived an agonizing life, I was told by her family.

She was married in her locality. Her husband divorced her in 1993. She was provided shelter by her brother Abdul Rahman Bulla were she had been living separately with her children. “She was not a burden on us, she reared her children by making Vagav (mat made from a particular grass) and working on Charkha (spinning wheel),” said Bulla, 50, an auto driver. Khadija has four children, two sons and two daughters. Only one daughter Hanifa is married. “Our mother has lived a traumatic life. Now we were trying to earn and see her happy, but…,” wailed Yasin, 28,Khadija’s elder son, who is a labourer. Because of poverty and a disturbed life,Khadija couldn’t educate her children. Yasin studied up to 9th standard, others are illiterate. Younger daughter Rehana, 18, does needlework on shawls to help the wretched family. Another son Aafaq was working at an auto workshop. “He underwent spinal cord surgery so is unable to work now,” says a dejected Yasin. “Around 4 pm she left for the Makhdoom sahab shrine. As we were about to break fast, somebody told us a woman has also died in the blast, so we went out to search her” said Bulla. “In the hospital a police officer showed us a picture of a woman on his mobile phone. She was Khadija.”

As Bulla and Khadija’s grief-stricken children were talking to me, a young girl came in the room. She peeled off two bananas and affectionately gave them to Yasin and Aafaq. They were reluctant to take, but the girl forced them to eat them.

“What do you say about the explosion,” I asked to Bulla. Before he could reply, the young girl intervened. “We want an inquiry…government should ensure that no family is ravaged as we are…no one should suffer what we have to endure,” the emotional girl said with moist eyes. “Who will inquire, who cares,” Bulla rebuked the girl. “You know what phuphi (aunty) meant to me,” she said and broke down. So did Yasin, Aafaaq, and two kids whom I had not noticed there yet. The hardness of a reporter in me was caving in. I struggled to hold back my tears.

The young girl is Mahira, Bulla’s daughter, a 12th standard student. “Why shouldn’t anybody stop killing of innocents?” a sobbing Rehana asked. Little did the chap know that this is the biggest question of contemporary Kashmir.

As reached back at the Lal Chowk-Dargah Hazratbal road, I saw buses and flashy cars running as usual on the busy road. People are oblivious of what has befallen on a family just yards away from the road. For them, it was just another blast, another killing. For police it is another occurrence. And for the doctors it is yet another trauma patient. This is the tragic paradox of Kashmir.

Same is the story about south Kashmir villages of Pulwama and Kulgam districts were two killed policemen belonged. Sagar Singh was about to retire. He left behind his wife and five children. Three are unmarried. For another deceased cop Rakesh Kumar, 25, a Kashmiri pandit, his parents were searching a bride for him.

Bombs and bullets don’t differentiate religion, class or caste. The latest act of violence killed three people of three religions. But all the three hapless families share one thing in common. Pain and tragedy!