The dark assault began in the intervening night of June 13-14. In the twin Shopian’s villages – Vehil and Turkawangam – Indian armed forces showed up to create a signature streak of destruction. Two months later, the ransacking campaign is on, much to the dread of the villagers.
Recently the ‘dark squad’ turned up at restive Kanipora to smash over 23 parked vehicles, destroy over dozens of residential houses and wound over 39 residents.
This nocturnal violence has now become a new-normal in many villages tagged as ‘pro’ by the establishment. Besides the terrorised trinity—Vehil, Turkawangam, Kanipora—there is Kundalan, Jamnagri, Sugan, Darazpora, Pinjoora, Chakoora and Payin Saidpora. All these villages decry how the Indian army beat them, vandalise their property and force them to chant anti-Pakistani, pro-India slogans.
The windows of residential houses in all these villages are now covered with blankets. Mosques use tin sheets and cars use polythene instead of glass.
Most of the raids take place after dusk and during sleeping hours. Not only this fresh military mugging doubles the impact, it stirs up the nightmare of the 90’s deadly violence.
“I was woken up by a loud bang around 1 am,” says Faisal, a student from Chakoora, visibly perturbed. “I saw a few army soldiers breaching the fence and entering our courtyard.”
His parents were sleeping on the ground floor when the pushy ‘guests’ stormed.
“Some six army men pounced on my father and started kicking him out of the house. They beat him up with their gun butts. The others shattered the windowpanes.”
To save his skin, Faisal hid in a cupboard.
“I heard my mom crying, pleading for help,” the boy says, in a quivering voice. “I saw army soldiers with hatchets, cleavers and guns. I heard them abusing my mother. I experienced the early 1990’s which I had read about in books.”
The impact has badly derailed his mental calm. He is struggling to vent his frustration out.
Similar stories of the military nightmare haunt simpletons of Jamnagri village. They fear for the reprisals and therefore don’t want to share even their first name.
In Payin Saidpora, Imran stands near his smashed Maruti 800. He recalls how on the 21st day of the holy Ramazan, soon after offering dusk prayers, army entered his village to wreck the scene.
“They knew that most of the men of the village will be in the mosque,” Imran says, fuming. “So they locked the mosque from the outside and started vandalising our property. We heard our mothers, sisters and daughters crying, but we could not do anything. I kept telling myself, ‘this is not Kunan Poshpora, this is not Kunan Poshpora’…”
The harrowed tales of mass ordeal at the hands of the military exist in plethora in Kundalan, too. Here, a lanky boy with skinny frame, tells the tale of relentless pounding.
“When my parents saw the army soldiers beating every inmate of the neighboring house, irrespective of their age and gender, they asked me to leave the village with my 16-year-old sister and go to my uncle’s place in another village,” says Adil, looking perturbed.
“They told me that if everything would be alright, then they will call me tomorrow. I could easily relate what I was seeing with what I had read in Basharat Peer’s book ‘Curfewed Nights’.”
In Sugan village, a woman in her late twenties voices something very disturbing. “They [army men] knocked at the door and told us to come out or else they would shoot all of us,” says Ruqaya.
“My husband is a heart patient. I opened the door. They dragged my husband and my 19-year-old son out of the house and started beating them. I tried to save them, but I couldn’t.”
Amid the assault, Ruqaya was reminded of her mother who lost her mind years ago because of the military raids.
In these villages, many talk about smashed houses—if not homes. “We were about to shift into our new house,” says Yusuf of Chakoora. “Before that army came and left us half dead. But we thank God that we are still alive.”
After that night, his family has stopped moving out of their houses after Isha prayers. The shop shutters come down even before the prayers. The villagers try to avoid the road passing by a military camp. The local market becomes ghostly after dark. And with that, the villagers turn off the lights and wish against the possible ‘military action’.
“Earlier I would come home twice a month to see my parents,” says Jahangir, a Kashmir University student from Shopian. “But now my parents do not allow me to visit because of the fear of these raids.”
Almost 20 odd villages were locked down on May 5th when a massive search operation was launched. With more than 3500 troops and drones, the whole area was turned into a war-field, which badly affected the children’s mindset.
“My 7-year-old son is so terrified because of that operation that he cries every time when we pass by any military camp,’’ says Mushtaq Ahmad, a Shopian villager. Apparently this fear has doubled after army thrashed the Kashmir police, too.
“Clearly the strong resistance showed by Kashmiris from the past few years, with the global eye on Kashmir issue, the old technique of disappearance used by Indian army cannot be implemented now,” says Abdul Majeed, a retired government employee. “So rather than disappearing Kashmiris, they choose to disable them.”
All photos are taken by Rouf Fida.