How Bashir Lashkari’s harbourers walked the razor’s edge
Dialgam (Anantnag): On 30 June at around 9 pm, Bashir Ahmad Ganai, aged 55, reached his home in Breethi, Dialgam in south Kashmir. He works as a labourer. He took a hasty dinner and slept in the kitchen. There were 18 people in his home that day, including 10 children and a few guests. The children were playing merrily inside the rooms while the women were busy in conversation. At 11 pm, all turned in for sleep.
The four-room house is quite small and is isolated from the village. A small stream runs alongside, and thick tree cover makes the house a perfect hiding place. There is also a cowshed next to it, which renders it invisible.
Bashir Ahmad Ganai said he was tired and slept early. “I came late. My legs were aching. I slept in the kitchen after prayers. My daughter told me there were guests in the house. I didn’t ask how many. I just thought relatives and I went to sleep.”
At around three in the morning, Shahida, his daughter, woke for morning prayers. Passing a window, she was terrified to see a huge army contingent outside, swarming around the house. “My breath stopped,” she said. “I knew why they were there.”
She ran into the kitchen and woke her father up. In the next moment, Bashir was on his knees, beseeching God to protect his family. “She told me there were two militants in the house,” he recalled. “I was speechless. I didn’t know how to react. I looked out and saw lights. The army had cordoned off our house. I did not know what to do. I told my daughter to wake everyone.”
Bashir Lashkari and his aide had come at 11 pm after Bashir Ahmad had gone off to sleep. Shahida had accommodated them in a little-used room. They too were on their feet when the army threw lights on the dwelling. Furiously planning their escape, they “did not fire a single shot as they were more worried about our lives,” said Shahida. “Instead, they told us to leave the house.”
Khurshid Ahmad, Bashir Ahmad’s son, was pleading with everyone to maintain calm. He too was thinking all the while about how they would leave without getting shot. “Children started to cry,” he said. “Women were out of breath; some had begun to wail and sob. A nine-month-old baby was still sleeping. The other nine children were on their feet whimpering and asking everyone if the army would kill them and was this where they were to die.”
Recalling the numbing scene, Bashir says he clutched his head and remained thoughtful. “I told them to pray. But in my heart I was sure we would all die in cross firing.”
Meanwhile, word had spread through the village, and by sun up, all the villagers had gathered around the encounter site and were raising slogans. In return, the army started to fire randomly, killing two protestors, one a woman, the other Bashir’s brother’s son Jasir, age 18, who had returned to the house to rescue his uncle. He was shot twice in the leg. He is currently being treated at SKIMS Soura and is in a serious condition. More than 10 people were injured in the army’s indiscriminate fire.
Then the army started to fire at the house. A helicopter was brought in to rain gunfire from above. “Everything was in chaos. I joined my hands and prayed to God. My family was in danger. It was a nightmare,” said Bashir.
“The army warned the militants to surrender, threatening repercussions if they continued to resist,” said Bashir. “Bashir Laskari and his aide did not want to surrender. But there were least chances they could slip the huge armed forces presence.”
Bashir told the women and children to lie down on the floor. “Everyone was screaming and crying. Bullets were piercing the walls. It was horrific. Bullets pierced into my house. Dishes started shattering on our heads. We were not given one chance to come out. They just fired at us without provocation. The militants too were lying on the floor. They did not fire a single shot. They did not want to put us in danger.”
All the windows were shattered to give the armed forces a clear view of the inside.
Then at 10 am, a call came through to Bashir from one of the villagers, who said the police wanted the family to come out. “I told him to tell the police to send someone and stop shooting at us. But they did not.” The family received another call, this time from the police, asking them to come out on their own responsibility. “But how could we come out with bullets flying around our heads?’” asked Bashir.
The police, however, say it was a hostage crisis, and the militants had held the civilians at gunpoint. “We had to ensure that the hostages were released first. It took a lot of effort,” Director General of Police SP Vaid told Kashmir Reader.
When the kitchen was completely destroyed, Bashir took the children to another room. Before they could enter, it was heavily bombarded, and the roof collapsed. Bashir took the children into another room. “I told everyone to lie down. They did not stop firing. They could hear the cries of the children and women.”
By 10: 30 am, the west side of the house was blown up. Only a single room was left standing. The roof had collapsed but was still the last place to take shelter under. “I shouted and pleaded with the protestors to save us. The advanced towards us but were dealt with pellets and firing,” said Bashir.
In the next moment, the army fired a tear gas shell into the house. “It was dark,” Bashir recounted. “We could not breathe. The children were the most affected. I could only pity them. All they could do was to know if they were going to die.”
Bashir became impatient and he told everyone that they should all now leave. “I told them I would lead the way. If they fired, I would die first. Perhaps my death would save them.”
Bashir’s daughter Shahida, seeing her father in tears, took two toddlers in her arms and went to a window. She screamed at the forces, “Do you want to kill these children?” One policeman at last waved at them and pointed to the way for them to leave.
“I stood up on my feet and asked that policeman as to how we could leave when they were shooting at us,” said Bashir.
Then the firing was halted for two minutes, and they all left the ruined house except for the two militants, who were later killed.
Bashir and his family are now living in scattered houses in the village and depend upon the generosity of their former neighbours. Bashir said he had sold his land four years ago to build that house. “Today, it is destroyed. We are left to fend for ourselves. We live in different places. We have to seek shelter. We are a big family. I don’t have a penny to make another house. It is all turned to ashes.”
Police said one of the civilians rexcued from the house was Sandeep Kumar Sharma, a resident of UP’s Muzaffarnagar area, who was working with Bashir Lashkari. Lashkari was responsible, police claimed, for the killing of six policemen including SHO Feroz Dar.