Collateral Damage: South Kashmir residents fear building two-story houses

Abdul Wahab of Daramdor hamlet of south Kashmir’s Pulwama district has given up the idea of constructing the second floor to his single-storied house due to the fear of frequent gunfights in the district which often leave the houses razed.
He says his elder son is married and the younger one is expected to get married next summer before which he had plans to add another floor to his house.
“There are so many gunfights in south Kashmir districts day in and day out. I told my wife to let us not build another floor. God knows when our house would be razed,” Wahab says.
He says the frequent gunfights have not only imperiled his desire of having a bigger house but has also led him to not buy new household appliances.
“Usually in Kashmir, we buy new appliances, drapes, carpets and other things before marriage functions but we are skeptical about investing money in such items,” he says.
From Wahab’s village to Muran area of Pulwama, this sordid saga has spread like wildfire.
Jan Ahmad of Muran says that on Eid-ul-Adha he did not purchase new clothes for his two sons in bulk as he used to do earlier.
“The environment in our district is uncanny. We have become suspicious and skeptic owing to the frequent crackdowns, the news of which is heard day in and day out,” Ahmad says.
He says his brother-in-law living in Shirmal village of Pulwama has decided to have a small celebratory function on her sister’s marriage this year.
“We advised his family that the function should be shortened as shutdowns are announced for days after every incident here,” Ahmad says.
He says he believes that the psyche of the people at least in Pulwama had been affected by the frequent gunfights and the aftermath.
“We have become more conservative in terms of spending. Although it isn’t a general thing, it is something that is gripping our mindset,” he says.
Around 50 km from Pulwama in south Kashmir’s Kulgam district, Muhammad Amin Dar (name changed) narrates the tale of his precious belongings being stolen away allegedly by the government forces during a night raid in his village.
“They took away Rs 7000 in cash which I had kept for procuring pesticides for my orchard along with taking away my television and other daily use items,” Dar alleged.
He says he also had planned to repair his toilet outside but the government forces took away the sanitary items bought for it.
“It’s better not to buy valuable items for our homes or to construct big houses,” he says. “There is a constant threat to all the tangible property they possess.”
Another dreadful aspect of the constant gunfights has been the damage to the farm and orchard produce.
A group of people in main town Pulwama reveal that they have been spending less on growing vegetables and other stuff due the fear that their produce may become face the wrath during a gunfight.
“Kerosene has been sprayed on paddy and vegetable farms to set them afire in various areas of Pulwama,” the group says.
In July this year, Press Trust of India reported about the Army re-introducing the Cordon and Search Operations (CASO) as a “permanent feature” of its campaign against militants, nearly 15 years after the practice was abandoned.
As per PTI report, the CASO was planned to be primarily carried out in Kulgam, Pulwama, Tral and Shopian, all areas of south Kashmir.
The CASO had been discontinued following stiff opposition from the local population and after 2001, CASOs were launched only after specific intelligence-based inputs.
India Spend, an online data journalism website estimates that as many as 105 houses have been destroyed between 2015 and June 2018 in gunfights in Pulwama district alone.
In May this year, Director General of Police, Sheesh Paul Vaid said commandos of the National Security Guard (NSG) could be deployed for room-to-room intervention during gunfights to help prevent the destruction of the houses.
Stuff Happens, a play by David Hare, written in response to the Iraq War, was inspired by former US Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld’s response to widespread looting in Baghdad.
Rumsfeld had on April 11, 2003 said, “Stuff happens and it’s untidy, and freedom’s untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things.”
This stuff happening in every part of Kashmir is now keeping people from building the second-stories of their houses and the government calls it collateral damage.