Kruhama, Ganderbal: Fear of the army denied a dying man the presence of his sons by his side. When Altaf was breathing his last in the middle of the night, his two sons were not there to place on him a comforting h
and and utter a prayer for his peace. His handicapped wife and teenage daughter did whatever little they could to save him, but he didn’t survive to see the morning. Kruhama, a village in central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district, is blessed with an abundance of Chinar and walnut trees. A fresh stream flows through the middle of the village. The air is so calm that a woodpecker can be heard tapping in the distance. And yet an uneasy calm prevails here. The façades of residential houses present an ugly look, every windowpane broken and the windows covered with polythene and trampoline sheets. People stare at strangers who enter the village. It seems that the beautiful village has been molested and left in humiliation. At one corner, fresh graffiti is painted in white: “Burhan is our Martyr”. On another wall is painted in black: “Burhan is still in our hearts”. When the locals are asked what the situation in the village is, they pour out their anger. “At least thirty men and women of our village are in hospitals,” one of the neighbours of Altaf said at a gathering of people in a lawn under a tent. Pouring nun-chai in a cup from a samovar, he recounted the events of August 16.
“The army convoy came to a halt at the nearby highway. The soldiers came to the village and barged into our houses. They smashed the household goods, furniture, windows and doors. Not only that, the army beat with iron bars and gun butts whoever came in their way. They also took away money and gold from homes. There were no protests going on in the area,” he said.
The assault by the army still gives shivers to the villagers. After the incident, villagers sent their sons to houses of relatives. Altaf Ahmad Naqshbandi, 44, did the same. Altaf earned his bread and butter through needle work (til) but some months ago had switched to the job of a mason. He was the only working hand in the family. He had put his blood and sweat into educating his two sons, Zahid, 17, and Nasir, 21. For their safety, he sent them both to their maternal grandfather’s house a few kilometers away.
“He sent them here the same day when army assaulted the villagers. Every day he came on his bicycle to see them,” said Mansoor, the sons’ maternal uncle.
Altaf was short and sleek, and in good health. His house he had built himself. It must have hurt immensely when the army barged in and ransacked everything. “Though he looked well, the prevailing situation had taken a toll on his health,” his relatives said unanimously, and the neighbours agreed. For most of them, it is still difficult to believe that Altaf is no more.
On the sixth day after the army attack, Altaf spent some time with his sons at their maternal grandfather’s house. He came back as usual paddling his bicycle. “He bought corn from the kitchen garden and fed us all here,” Mansoor said.
That night at about 1am, Altaf began squealing with pain. His wife gave him a pain killer, which he had himself asked for. When his condition showed no improvement, villagers were called to help.
“Altaf had a heart attack and he is already dead.” At 3am, the neighbours who brought Altaf to the district hospital were informed.
What remains is the great regret of his two sons who cannot stop crying and lamenting, “Why were we not there when our father was asking for help in his last hour”.