Last summer’s mysterious killing of a grandmother in Pulwama—known for her social sway and generosity—is inexorably trailed with the unfathomable bumped off modus operandi that anonymous gunners are known for resorting in Kashmir since long now.
In Pulwama’s Nayan hamlet, the twilight of 28 July, 2016 remains the darkest for the family of Baby Jan.
At 7:05pm that dusk, two gun wielding men knocked at their door and asked Baby to come out. The 45-year-old granny was lapping her 2-year-old grandson when she walked out. Those unidentified persons took her grandson from her lap and asked him to go inside. While the little baby was walking back, those assassins shot multiple rounds of bullets on Baby’s chest. A loud thud was heard when she flattened dead on the ground.
A year later, inside her modest house, Baby’s husband Mohammad Yusuf sits a few meters away from the spot where his better half was shot dead. A bullet mark on the wall remains a blatant void — perhaps, an agonized wound that refuses to heal with time.
Yusuf is a friendly face, a free talker in the town, who takes the most awkward queries on his chin unlike others in his shoes. Since the last summer, he hasn’t let the description of his wife’s killer to fade away from his mind: Teen holding a firearm, having dark complexion, and sporting a light beard.
The portrayal is as sharp in detail as his longing for his slain wife.
“They were two men with ammo-loaded backpack,” says Yusuf, as the bullet hole in his background wall attains some strange prominence.
“They were sent to silence one of the most beautiful souls. God knows why?!”
Baby came from old Srinagar’s Khanqah Mohalla. She was a daughter of a boatman in whose Shikara Dr Farooq Abdullah, according to Yusuf, used to have a joyride when Mujahid Manzil was still NC’s HQ. Her family lived next to the ex-DIG AM Watali’s house. But as a child, she was adopted by her husband’s family.
The moment her ‘death word’ spread, the condemnation poured from all quarters. But inside her home, the death remains shrouded with a sense of sadness and shock.
“Such was my Baby that she would even feed security persons,” says Yusuf, getting restless over the reminiscence. “She even married off two poor girls.” Even some of her neighbours vouch for her humanity, terming her an “angel”.
Her killing in the backdrop of her gentle and humane nature only makes it much more mysterious. As such, Kashmir is no stranger to such sudden death knells to its female folks. Before Baby, 50-year-old Hameeda Bano from Noorpora, Tral was killed by unidentified gunmen in her house. Another woman Suraya from Katrasoo, Kulgam survived an assassination bid.
Some of the locals allege that Baby and others are being killed due to a ‘reason’.
“Most of these women are being bumped off over their informer links,” alleged a few locals.
So, did Baby suffer from the same fate?
Police won’t tell it, in whose secretive lexicon Baby was the Bebo—the pet name for someone whose police contacts supposedly ran deep, and in-depth.
Even townspeople reckon that her death had to do something with her khaki knots. But police only acknowledge that her death only brought “doom and gloom” moment for the department. For her drug peddling history, however, a senior cop says, she was named in multiple FIRs.
But inside her house, her husband vehemently turns down the charge. “All I know is that,” he says, sounding livid, “these are allegations on her, which remain untraced like her killers.”
Her killers could be anybody, Yusuf says, just anybody under the sun. He has no idea who? But, did something ‘extraordinary’ happen in the run-up to her killing? Yusuf says, “Yes, it did!”
As streets became the battlefields last summer, Baby would be often spotted there — distributing money, eatables among the needy and wounded. She even objected to street violence meted out to the freaking civilians, Yusuf says. He calls her a beautiful soul who used to work for public welfare. Before becoming a thorn in the flesh, “she had brought a school, a hospital to the area and helped vacate an army camp from Nayan.”
Yet, some link her killing to her ‘warm repo’ with J&K police’s counter-insurgent force, STF. But the family denies the allegation. “They [STF] would call her Bobai (mother),” Yusuf says. “The Tasky [as they are known locally] used to ask her for money to buy cigarettes, which she used to give happily. That’s it!”
However, on that fateful dusk, it was Baby’s daughter-in-law who responded to those death knocks. “The moment I saw them,” she says, “I invited them to talk. But instead, they forced me to bring out my mother-in-law who treated me like her own daughter.”
They fired so indiscriminately on her, she recalls amid sobs, that it seemed as if someone was unloading stones from a tractor. “My sight blurred,” she says, lamenting. “And then we saw her lying dead next to the water tap just outside the house.”
Since that smoking summer day, she is tirelessly seeking answer to her query: If she was wrong, they could have warned her, before training those guns at her?
While the daughter-in-law’s query remains unanswered, her family’s memories of helplessness at the time of Baby’s death refuse to fade. They have even lost trust in their immediate community “who didn’t come forward when we needed them the most.”
“No one even lent their car to rush Baby to the hospital,” Yusuf says. Both the indifference and the sight of her dead body continues to rob Yusuf’s calm.
He still remembers how her body had no blood stains—until taken for ablution. “Her wounds cried out blood,” he says. “She died a real martyr’s death, indeed a martyr.”
Mir Basit Hussain contributed in this story.