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Photo Essay: Pillage in a pandemic

Jana Begum looking through the window of her house. (FPK Photo/Basit Jamal)

On May 8, Indian Armed Forces raided Central Kashmir’s Nasrullah Pora village after Deputy Superintendent of Police was injured in clashes.

The cop was hit when villagers defied the lockdown to offer Friday congregational prayers in a local mosque and the police tried to stop them.

“Fourteen years ago my husband passed away. I have been through abject poverty and built this house by collecting small amounts of money weaving carpets and spinning yarn. But it took them minutes to break all of that,” says Haseena Begum, a resident of Nasrullah Pora.

Hasina Begum looking outside the window of her room. (FPK Photo/Basit Jamal)

For six years Haseena and her four children had been living in the house without window-panes. A month ago, her brother helped her and bought glasses for the windows. Their relief was short lived.

Haseena also takes care of a social welfare center where food and elementary education is given to children.

But now, nothing remains. The grains are destroyed, things broken, and windows shattered.

Broken glasses and dismantled goods lying on the the floor of Anganwadi Social Welfare center, where Hasina works. (FPK Photo/Basit Jamal)

It has been more than a week since Armed Forces first raided the village, followed by nocturnal raids. The streets wear a deserted look, houses are in ruins, and shops with broken locks can be seen all around.

“I was home when a neighbour came to my house and said ‘your shop has been set on fire’. I felt like a fish out of water; I was helpless. I could do nothing and it was only the next day that I went to have a look at my loss. The locks of shutters were broken, most of the hardware items were taken away. The remaining was burnt down,” says Tahir Mohi-Ud-Din a hardware store owner.

Tahir Mohi-ud-Din Mir, a shopkeeper piling the rubble of glasses and damaged goods in a heap inside his shop. (FPK Photo/Basit Jamal)

As per the locals, forces returned the next day and demanded the villagers handover 200 boys in response to the deputy superintendent’s injury.

In this village with a sizeable population, young boys are hardly seen now. Locals say many have fled to their relatives’, while others are spending their days in hiding.

“We fear to stay home. I am here with my daughter and I have no information about my son and husband. I don’t sleep at night. I feel nauseated due to insomnia, my heart starts beating like a hammer even when the wind blows,” says Shaqeela, whose eyes show visible signs of fatigue. Shaqeela was born in Bihar, and is married to a local of this village.

Like so many other houses, the windows panes of Atika Bano’s house were also broken in the afternoon on Friday. But in the nocturnal raid on the same day the staircase of her house was dismantled, food items soiled, television set broken and a gas cylinder taken away.

Atika’s eighty year old father was taken away and she was told that her father will be released only when her son will be presented at the Budgam Police station.

Photos of Atika’s son lying on the floor of her sabotaged house. (FPK Photo/Basit Jamal)

“I was with my husband and 24 year old daughter when the forces came to our house. From the compound they started shouting abuses and started breaking everything that they could see. We feared for our lives and shouted for help. But no one came,” says Atika.

“They shoved the muzzles of their guns in our mouths and asked us not to shout or they would shoot. They beat us till they got tired, and then went to my father’s house and took him away,” she says.

The entire village has witnessed extreme horror and many are displaced.

Locals here suffer from visible signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as the raids continue.

Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) of Budgam, Amod Nagpore, denies all allegations of police ransacking the village.

“We (JK Police) were patrolling as usual on May 8 to ensure COVID19 precautionary measures announced by Central Government. As our patrolling party reached Nasrullah Pora the vehicles were attacked with stones in which our Deputy superintendent of Police Fayaz Ahmad was severely injured,” the SSP says.

The streets though, are filled with broken glasses, gutted home appliances and scattered household items.

A shopkeeper fixing the broken frame of his shop at Nasrullah Pora Budgam. (FPK Photo/Basit Jamal)

“It is hard to recover from the grief. I was yet to come to terms with the damage done to my shop, but more miseries were added when they came to my house and broke all the windshields of my car with crowbars and hammers,” a local, Din, says with a deep sigh.

Locals claim that on May 8, Deputy SP Fayaz entered the mosque wearing shoes while they were offering Friday congregational prayers. This sacrilege hurt their religious sentiments and they protested.

Hours later a large cantonment of paramilitary forces, Special Operation Group personnel along with J&K Police was deployed in the area.

“My legs still shiver and my heart beats uncontrollably when I recount the memories of those three nights. You could hear the screams from every house. There was no male member to soothe our grief,” 76 year old Jana Begum says.

 

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