Back to the 90s: ‘We didn’t even remember when the last gunfight took place in Dochnipora’

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Dochnipora area, a cluster of almost 40 villages in Anantnag district of Kashmir observed a shutdown on Saturday against the killing of two local militants Adil Mir, Mohammed Ashraf Itoo and a civilian, Mohammed Yusuf Rather. The three were killed along with two others during a gunfight that erupted in the area last week.

The 3 Rashtriya Rifles of Indian Army , 96 Battalion of Central Reserve Police Force and Jammu Kashmir Police laid a siege around the Nowpora area in Sirigufwara of Dochnipora in the wee hours of Friday following specific inputs about militant presence in the area. Upon cordoning the area, the armed forces said that the hiding militants opened fire upon them triggering a gunfight. The locals hit the streets in large numbers which according to a local was an unexpected sight.

“Thousands of women and men stood in defiance of Indian Forces facing their bullets and pellets throwing stones giving a chance to trapped militants to escape,” he said.

Dozens were injured in stone throwing incidents, some hit with bullets. In the initial exchange of fire, as claimed by officials, Mohammed Yusuf Rather, the owner of the house in which militants were trapped was hit with a bullet. His wife Hafeeza, was also injured.

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The locals said that that Yusuf was hit with a bullet and he died as the ambulance he was being ferried in was stopped by forces at a few places. “He died due to the excessive loss of blood,” a neighbor of Yusuf said. His wife Hafeeza was hit with a bullet in her hand and their son was soon taken into detention and the house razed to the ground, he added. “Yesterday sunrise, it was a shelter to a family, now at sunset, it is rubble razed to the ground, the people in the house are dead, in hospitals and in jails,” Manzoor, their neigbour informed. Yusuf’s son was arrested by the armed forces.

After intermittent firing of nearly 5 hours, guns finally fell silent. Four local militants including the top commander of the Islamic State, Jammu Kashmir Dawood Salafi was killed along with three other militants identified as Adil Hussain Bhat, Majid Maznoor Dar and Mohammed Ashraf Itoo. Adil and Ashraf were residents of Shetipora and Hatigam villages in Dochnipora belt of Kashmir’s Anantnag district.

The Dochnipora belt, once a fertile ground for militancy in 90s is now seeing a revival of militancy. Home to the famous second in command of United Jihad Council, Amir Khan witnessed a decline in militancy since the arrival of the PDP Government. People do not recall the last encounter that took place in the entire Dochnipora belt. “Fayaz Ahmed Shah, the popular commander, is the last one I remember, was from here,” Shahid (name changed on request), a local said adding that the belt was one of the most feared zones in early 90s.

In Hatigam, people marched towards the house of slain Mohammed Ashraf Itoo. The Kashmiriyat was informed that Itoo was a B.Tech student at Islamic University of Science and Technology in Awantipora before he left home quietly on a Friday afternoon almost five months ago. The 21 year old was sharp in studies and generous in nature, his friends gathered outside his house believe.

“He often spoke of Kashmir issue and the atrocities happening here. He wanted to do something for the people of Kashmir. Initially he participated in peaceful rallies, but peaceful protesters were killed, maimed and jailed in 2016 after which he turned nearly mute,” Shariq, Itoo’s friend recalled.

Shahid, who is also a teacher by profession, believes that the region saw a massive transition after the local People’s Democratic Party joined hands with Hindu Nationalist, Bhartiya Janta Party in 2014 to form the government in Jammu Kashmir.

“After Burhan Wani’s killing on 8 July, 2016 we witnessed a visible transition, but the undercurrents had started generating in 2014 only. I saw many boys from Dochnipora area going for funerals to the remotest areas of South Kashmir’s Pulwama and Shopian districts,” he said.

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At another nearby locality, Naid Mohallah, the locked house of Nazir Ahmed Hajam is an exceptional sight. The inmates of the house are in a Srinagar hospital after Shahid, son of Nazir Ahmed was reportedly hit with three bullets in his head during the clashes that broke near the encounter site on Friday. Shahid, a 9th class student at a nearby school, has an elder brother and two sisters and hails from an economically weak family. Doctors at the Srinagar hospital said that Shahid was brought to the hospital from Bijbehara with a bullet injury in his head. Hospital officials told The Kashmiriyat that five other people injured near the gunfight site were also admitted in SKIMS, two of whom have been operated upon.

“2000 was the last time when a gunfight too place here. The area has been a hub of pro-establishment polity, but the regressive tactics and the curbing of space for dissent mixed with broken promises has changed the situation now,” Shahid beleives. He feels that Kashmir overall is witnessing a surge in pro resistance emotions because the Indian state has curbed all possible spaces for expression of political dissent. Four youth have joined militant ranks in the last year while many more who are missing are also believed to have joined militant ranks.

Women wailing the death of Aadil Hussain Bhat have gathered in a separate tent outside the house of Adil at Shatipora area. They are making constant failed attempts to console the mother of the slain militant.

“It has been hell here, since we heard the news,” Khalid, a cousin of Adil said. He added that Adil was sober and a good cricket player. In the area he was very popular as a cricketer and was also a good singer blessed with a ‘terrific voice’, he recalls.

Adil was an Electrical Engineer and had his passport and visa done. “We were making final arrangements for his job in Dubai, when he suddenly disappeared from his home almost five months ago,” his cousin said. He pointed out that his decision of joining militants was unexpected and he did not inform his family about it. ‘‘His mother awaited his return so that she could speak to her son and yesterday he did, but his mother could not talk to him,” he lamented.

Shahid feels that the hamlet of more than 40 villages is seeing a revival of Militancy like many other hamlets that had been calm for a long time. “If India continues such regressive and brutal tactics, Kashmir will continue to drift away from India,” he believes.

“If a region like this can again be in the news for pro militant activities, I believe it is a dangerous sign.”

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