It happened so fast that people in a Pulwama village couldn’t differentiate between festive firecrackers and a real firearm killing a single mother. The attack by unidentified gunmen also wounded a man who now recreates the loose description of the day.
As the elders of the Sirnoo Narbal village of Pulwama district made their way towards the local mosque to attend Eid prayers on Thursday, the kids outside had made an absolute chaos lighting firecrackers and playing with their oddly-loud toy guns.
For Kashmiris, especially in the restive southern region, the sound of explosives is not unusual, although, every single time it inadvertently skips a heartbeat or two.
But on the morning of Eid-ul-Fitr, the same brought heart-warming smiles to the faces of many as it was nothing but an assured harbinger of festivities.
However, little did they know that amidst the sound of celebrations and bursting toy guns, a real pistol was to sneak in, all to puncture bloody holes in the mirthful atmosphere.
Jalal-ud-din Bafanda, a PG-degree holder in the subject of Rural Development, was having the Eid of his life because of his firm prospects of joining IGNOU for a PhD course.
Already running late to join the 9:00 am jamaat, the ecstatic 30-year-old had to pass by two of his cousins, whom he had promised to visit for noon chai, post namaz.
Just as Jalal was about to enter the mosque, he felt as if a needle had pricked into his waist. Hoping to control the stinging pain, he held himself where it hurt, but then it began to feel like something much bigger.
Stumbling, Jalal thought that he would show himself to a doctor soon after his prayers. But just as he was about to take his next step, he felt the world around him blur, and his knees weakened.
His friends rushed to his aid and caught him just right before he fell to the ground.
Searching for an explanation for their friend’s condition, one of them caught notice of blood gushing from where his hand had been.
Jalal moved his hand and ‘it felt like a swarm of bees had attacked’ him. Soon, he was rushed to the hospital in Kakapora, where he lay counting his breath, fearing the next one would be his last.
Too hurt to move but conscious enough to observe, Jalal’s eye fell on the still body of a woman right next to his stretcher, where many were crying inconsolably surrounding her.
When he gestured to ask his friend what had happened, he was told: “She was shot at by unknown gunmen and was brought in dead. The gunmen meant to shoot her, but you were caught in between the bullets aimed at her.” Jalal had become an unfortunate victim of cross-firing.
The woman next to him was Neelofer Jan.
A single mother, Neelofer Jan was a part of the joyous gathering outside the village’s Jamia Masjid. Engaged in a lively conversation with her friend, she had dropped her 13-year-old son, Tahoor Bashir inside the gates of the mosque, promising to join him soon. In between smiles and chatter, Neelofer Jan was shot in her chest, by unidentified gunmen.
Within a fraction of a second, she dropped flat on the ground, sending her friend into a state of unimaginable panic. Her friend’s frantic cries mobilised the crowd to help take Neelofer to Kakapora Hospital, where she was declared dead minutes after her arrival.
On seeing his mother’s bloodied body, Tahoor ran and clutched himself to it, crying until his eyes were soaked in her blood and his kurta wet with his tears.
When this reporter visited Neelofer’s residence three days after the incident, Tahoor was by his mother’s grave alone, aloof and orphaned. He hadn’t spoken to anyone since, and his uncle didn’t have words to fill the clouds of silence shrouding little Tahoor.
“He hasn’t spoken or asked any of us about his mother, and even if he does, I don’t have any answers to his questions,” Mohammad Amin Khan, Neelofer’s eldest brother said.
This isn’t the first time Amin has had to deal with a tragedy like this. In 1992, his father was killed in a grenade attack.
The latest memory they have of Neelofer is a picture she clicked with her nephew minutes before she was shot.
According to Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, in 2017, as many as 22 civilians were killed by unknown gunmen – a trend that has been in place since the 90s. None of these cases have reached rightful conclusions in legal courts of justice and the recent case of Neelofer Jan is an ominous addition.
Meanwhile, Jalal was discharged from SMHS Hospital, Srinagar, on Saturday, four days after the incident. As Neelofer rests in her grave, Jalal survives to narrate the Eid it really was.
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