They caught us napping

One evening it dawned on me that we had limited options. If militants flee the area at sunset, what can unarmed civilians do to the fourth largest army of the world?

Notwithstanding the sub-zero temperatures of January 1990, the people were on the streets round the clock. People mostly youth from all parts of the city would come to Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) commander, Sheikh Hamid’s house. His father popularly known as Chacha was very generous in offering them cigarettes and tea.

Late in the evening, he would discuss things with me. One evening someone came with the news that the army was planning a massive crackdown (search operation) in the area. The news had an impact. The militants in the area would flee from the area before dusk leaving lesser mortals like me to `guard’ the area. Chacha was worried. January came to an end but the army did not come.  February also passed without any significant development. Chacha’s woes, however, did not end. Many suggestions were put forward and we discussed keenly. One evening it dawned on me that we had limited options. If militants flee the area at sunset, what can unarmed civilians do to the fourth largest army of the world? For the first time in two months Chacha shared a hearty laugh with me.

The holy month of Ramadhan commenced in the last week of March.  On 3rd Ramadhan (March 30), JKLF Area Commander, Ishfaq Majid Wani got killed in an encounter in the old city. A few days later the army cordoned the area. People usually sleep after dawn prayers in Ramadhan. We had stayed awake for two months to `foil’ a search operation but when they actually came all of us were in slumber.

The army had come with mortar guns. The soldiers expected a fight. Little did they knew that the gunmen were not besieged like ordinary civilians. House to house searches begun. People were herded out. By noon, Chacha, Ghulam Muhammad Bakshi (father of JKLF district commander, Showkat Ahmad Bakshi) and many others were taken into custody.

It was a time when people had hoisted Pakistani and Azad Kashmir flags atop electric poles, buildings. All the flags were removed and torched. A graffiti on a mosque wall attracted attention of a soldier. Somebody had written JKHM in bold letters. What does this mean? A soldier asked a youth. His sharpness saved his skin. “It means Jammu Kashmir Hindu Muslim Sir.”   The soldier was impressed.

We had four huge poplars in our lawn. Somebody had hoisted a Pakistani flag atop the tallest one. It was visible from a kilometer.  The flag greeted the soldiers when they entered our house. They were furious. We were ordered out. In a jiffy they had a veterinary doctor, two mechanical engineers and a lawyer at their mercy. The veterinarian who is the elder of us all was severely questioned. Who hoisted the flag? Why did not you inform the army? Why did not you remove it? Are you an Indian? The questions did not end. Finally a soldier came forward and slapped him. `Sala Desh kay saath gadari karta hai’ (You are a traitor).  When translated into English, Sala loses its `sweetness’.

He was left alone. Now the elder of the two engineers was directed to remove the flag. When he started to climb the huge tree, a soldier asked him to stop. He got a long iron rod, wrapped some worn out clothes at its top and set them ablaze. “Now take this and torch the flag there. Do not remove it.” He had no option. In two minutes the flag was reduced to ashes. We were set free. Our house was not searched.

My friend was at a place where a soldier was using his cane freely. Kis kis ko Azadi chahiyay (who needs Azadi). No hands were raised. Who would demand Azadi that time? One of the boys there had Pakistani coin in his pocket. He threw it away but the soldier guarding the `herd’ saw him. He picked up the coin. The 25 paisa coin won all of them a sound thrashing. The boy was taken along. He could not explain why he was in possession of a Pakistani coin.

The people were held till Iftaar (when it is time to break the fast). Meanwhile, I went to other side of my locality (which was not under siege). We prepared sharbat (a soft drink) and took it to the mosque. When people came out after evening prayers, we offered them the drink.

Soon we came to know that twenty boys besides Chacha had been arrested in Sidiqabad alone. They were severely tortured in a local camp. However, all of them except Chacha were released after a couple of days.

Next day, some of the militants visited the area. Most of them expressed sympathy with the people. But a few laughed at the plight of the sufferers. They derived vicarious pleasure from the sufferings of the people.

Strangely enough, people stopped going to Chacha’s house from that day. I visited the place for some days and then I too preferred to leave the aggrieved family alone. When the poor family needed our help and support, we all deserted them. This is life.