By ISHFAQ RESHI
Hazarpora, Budgam: In the heart of central Kashmir’s Budgam district is a desperate family in mourning. On the morning of August 16, their sole bread earner, Mohammad Ashraf Wani, had gone to bring the day’s newspaper from the village market, but he hadn’t gone far when he was shot dead by Indian troopers, on the very next day of India’s Independence Day.
The half-open tin gate of the tragedy-struck house in Hazerpora locality, carries a black banner which reads “Shaheed Mohammad Ashraf Wani” in Urdu. Next to it stands a middle-aged man, Mohammd Yousuf, Ashraf’s brother-in-law, who is feeding grass to cattle in a closed tin shed. It is he who walks towards the gate to see who has arrived. A lady, Ashraf’s sister, sits on the verandah with a sullen face.
Inside the two-storey house are Ashraf’s devastated mother Raja Bano, his silent, grieving widow Farida Akhtar, his 14-year-old son Ehtisham Ashraf, 10-year-old daughter Madihah Ashraf, and a small kid, Hafsa Ashraf.
An old woman in a full green dress with tears rolling down from her eyes sits next to the main door. Nobody in the house is speaking. There is Ashraf’s married sister inside who is doing all the work. There is one woman, smoking hookah, who is talking with the persons who have come visiting.
Ashraf’s unmarried sister breaks her silence and says to this reporter a short sentence: “He would have survived that day.” The tone of her voice catches everyone’s attention. She speaks again: “Had he not been ailing in his leg.”
Ashraf was limping since last year — when a surgery failed to repair his “raw nerve”, rendering his left foot unmovable.
“It was the 16th of August. The sun was shining when he made his way to a newspaper stall run by Gulam Hassan in the village square. It was a tense morning — the villagers hadn’t slept all night because clashes had occurred in the evening, and there was the fear of the troops returning,” Ashraf’s sister said.
The clashes had occurred after villagers stopped the vehicle of Beerwah’s sub-divisional magistrate when she was on her way to unfurl the Indian flag on the morning of August 15. During the night, police and CRPF men had come to arrest people. Villagers came out of their homes and drove away the troops. At about 7:30am the next morning, the troops returned, led by the CRPF and backed by the police, with the intent to kill. Four persons were shot dead at the spot, and 80 others grievously injured.
“Among the injured was my brother, who was taken to hospital as a bullet had pierced his heart. But halfway to the hospital he breathed his last. His body was brought home in a few minutes,” Ashraf’s sister said.
Three other persons were killed that day, namely, Javid Ahmad Najar, Javaid Ahmad Sheikh, and Manzoor Aahmad Wani. About a dozen injured are still admitted in SKIMS hospital and are in critical state.