My ‘Encounter’ with an ‘Encounter’
About a thousand yards away from the encounter site, in my home, with one of my cousins beside me and family present, sitting in the corridor making each other feel secure, I trembled in fear, thinking that some stray bullet could come from anywhere and hit me. The mere thought of getting killed sent shivers down my spine. I could hear the sound of bullets coming out in hundreds from a couple of, or more, LMGs, in tandem. It horrified me and sweat started dripping down my face, as if i had just finished sprinting 1000 meters’ prayed for the safety of the Mujahid, who was being targeted. It was around 7 in the evening, that the encounter had ensued. That moment, the boys of our village were busy playing volleyball in a Crop-land-turned-playing field. Some of us heard the initial gun shots and some were too much involved in the game to be perturbed easily. The loud cries of the players backing their teammates and sledging opponents also made it difficult to hear things from some distance. Within minutes, what engulfed all of was total chaos. Phone calls from home to each and every one of us started pouring in. Some said that rebels had laid an ambush on a patrolling party and fled after firing some rounds. Others said that the army has cordoned off upper part of the village and a rebel had already been martyred. Most of us wished for the former input to be true, even if that invited torture to the local inhabitants. Both the teams agreed to stop the game and put down the net. We headed home and on our way back, we heard some more gun shots. “It could be mere provocation. Army usually does it, to make sure if the rebels have really fled or taken refuge in any of the village houses. Retaliation from other side would kick-start an “encounter”, said one of the boys. Perhaps, he was right. The next half an hour was marked by complete silence. Facebook updates from some of the friends from the locality suggested that cordon had ended and that rebels had given slip to the army.
By the time we reached home, some of the boys who had gone near the encounter site were returning back. They believed and said that rebels escaped and army was retreating and a casual search operation is being taken into consideration. The news of CASO had spread to other parts of the Valley, particularly in the Southern Kashmir, which has been the bedrock of the Armed rebellion in recent years and of which this encounter site is a part of. Friends started texting, calling and mentioning my name on the news updates about the encounter to confirm if the bad news was true. By 10 in the evening, internet was snapped from the district and we could only connect to each other via phone calls. Some of the friends i called had already left for safer places. We hoped and prayed for the best. After a while my cousin was surprised and happy at the same time, to know that his internet was working. I connected with him via wifi. I tried texting my friends but to no avail. I found none of them online, except one who had texted me to confirm the news. I happily told him that firing had stopped more than an hour ago, to which he expressed his happiness.
It was at about 45 past 10 in night, I was in my bed, that the machine guns were let loose. The bullets came out like torrential rains. I crouched in the corner of the room. I realized instantly that it was not a mere provocation. The firing continued for few minutes. Then there was a glum silence and then firing continued again. I heard the sound of a blast as well, but not that of a mine blast. That was a grenade or a shell perhaps. Then there was nothing. For the next half an hour, nothing seemed to move. Uneasy calm took over everything, dogs no longer barked and our sighs hung in anticipation. I texted the only friend online. He said that he could hear the LMGs fire. He even asked if the blast was that of an IED. I was not sure myself. After a while, he sent me link that carried the news of the killing of a 10 day old rebel. Some other newspaper had shared a news link about the killing of two militants. Only in the morning did it become clear that army had killed one rebel. The other one happened to be a civilian. However this is not the first time that a civilian was killed near the encounter site. How and when they killed the civilian is a question, unanswered. The night was a nightmare that came true at the same time. I couldn’t sleep, for the fear of getting killed of a stray bullet or perhaps, wishing with fingers crossed that the holed up rebels somehow manage to escape. However, that wasn’t the case. Yawar was the biggest causality of the night. I didn’t know much about him. Only after looking at his photographs that are being circulated on the social media – shared by his friends and fans, and after a friend reminded me of a cricket match when we had played them at Eidgah, Islamabad, I could say that I know this boy perhaps, but still I was not sure. My memory didn’t serve me well. But that’s not the only thing that makes me to think about him frequently since the night of his martyrdom. What is astonishing is the fact that even when he was a mere target of bullets, not in a condition to retaliate (a bullet had ripped through his shoulder, perhaps), knowing fully well he would meet his death in a while if he didn’t surrender before army, he chose to fight, to die as a martyr. Surrender surely wasn’t his thing. In those last moments of life, he gave us a lot more to ponder upon. He didn’t chose to take refuge in a big house or a smaller one for that matter. He had chosen a washroom, some yards away from the houses on each side. In that little compact room, he must’ve thought of his dream, the dream of a Free Islamic Kashmir. He did what he could, to make this dream come true. He gave his blood for it, before taking the heavenly abode.
Now I wonder if it’s another blank step in the ladder towards accomplishing what we crave for, or is it another icon, another hero to imitate while following the long awaited dream of free and blessed Kashmir. You will be remembered, dear brother, for such selflessness, such faithfulness and such sacrifices. In the heart of Green birds, Insha’Allah.
Author is pursuing post graduation in Political Science from Aligarh Muslim University, India.