Bijbehara: At the time when mainstream media was in full swing portraying the army as only saviors of Kashmiri population trapped in floods, a group of youth in this southern town risked themselves to rescue army and paramilitary troopers of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) from a deluged camp.
Not only were the men rescued from the camps, they were also provided food and shelter for a week.
“People allowed us live in their own houses and provided food, which was an act of magnanimity,” Dharmendra Kumar, Assistant Commander of the CRPF unit told Rising Kashmir. “The local men were very helpful to the army as well.”
The 90 Battalion of CRPF and 1 Rashtriya Rifles (RR) of the army occupy parts of the industrial area (SICOP) at the town.
The industrial complex, including the two camps, was inundated in the wee hours of Friday the September 5.
Locals said they heard the hue and cry from the camps early Friday morning.
“About a dozen local boys assembled within minutes and we decided to rescue the trapped troopers.” recalls Danish Gulzar, a shopkeeper.
The group descended the Karewas into the industrial complex carrying ropes that were tied to the trees and extended to the CRPF men, said Danish.
“We helped them evacuate their service rifles and brought them to safety,” added another rescuer, Mukhtar Wani.
Divulging the details of rescue operation Mukhtar said a CRPF man guarding the ammunition room seemed to be very skeptical before extending his hand.
“I am not a Pakistani, I told the trooper. If you want to live hold my hand and I’ll pull you out.” Mukhtar recalled. “It took him a while to hold my hand and come out.”
The ropes however were not enough to rescue the army men said 26-year-old Waseem Wagay, who was also a part of the rescue team.
“We soon cut down some trees in minutes, which otherwise would have took us a day, and made a couple of makeshift boats,” said Wagay.
The rescuers then took turns between the local population and the army camp bringing people to safety, helping them to save whatever of their belongings they could.
Once the troops were brought to safety, at the top of the Karewas, some people left their homes to them, moving their families to other nearby houses.
The locals recall it to be a rare sight; ‘Army men wearing Pherans (traditional Kashmiri gown), provided by the locals.’
For seven consecutive days after the being rescued many troopers ate at a community kitchen run by a local NGO.
“Our camp is located very near to the hillock and we could easily ascend our men to safety; however army did need help in the evacuation process and that was duly provided by the locals,” Kumar said.
The SICOP camp has been known locally for its notoriety during the nineties, while armed struggle against the India in Kashmir had been at its peak.
The Border Security Forces (BSF) men posted at the camp then are accused of carrying out the Bijbehara massacre in 1993, wherein 35 unarmed civilians were killed and more than 200 were injured.
The rescuers however maintain that the massacre did not cross their mind even once while saving the troops.
“We and the troops can never be friends, neither can we forget the blood of our martyrs but then they were humans to be saved and we did what every human should do.” said the group of the rescuers.