BUDGAM: Overnight a mansion turned into a macabre ruin. Livestock burnt alive, not a speck of flesh left on their bones, lie under a wretched shroud of blackened tin sheets and wooden logs. Cars and SUVs parked in the lawn are all charred and mangled. The large house of the Bhat family in Futlipora village now appears as a skeleton standing on a mound of ashes.
Tin sheets are littered in the big lawn of the big house. Small pieces of glass and bricks are scattered all around. What were piles of wood are now black ashes, and nothing remains of what must have been useful, and expensive, household things.
The palatial house was turned into rubble in an encounter between government forces and militants on Thursday. The house had 28 well-furnished rooms. A cemented brick wall portioned it into two parts, inhabited by two families, that of Mohammad Assadullah Bhat and of his brother Mohammad Ashen Bhat. They lived here together among a total of 11 family members. Besides the 28 rooms, the house had two separate kitchen sets and as many as ten washrooms.
“The house was constructed in the late 90s and cost almost two-crore rupees,” Mohammad Assadullah Bhat told Kashmir Reader. “Besides the house, there was a separate set of bathrooms, a newly constructed two-storey cowshed, a godown where at least 200 apple crates were kept, and two separate shops. All of it is now one heap of rubble.”
“We retrieved nothing except ashes from the debris. We even lost educational certificates and other valuable items in the fire. I am totally ruined now,” Bhat said.
“Barrage of bullets, mortars and heavy explosives dismantled our house. We have been left completely homeless in these chilling winter days,” Bhat said.
Since Thursday, hundreds of people from the entire area surrounding Futlipora have been coming to see the ruined house. A local boy told Kashmir Reader, “The people of the village and adjoining areas have tried to help the family retrieve their belongings. Some men searched through the debris but could not find anything. Venturing inside the debris can prove fatal, because there could be explosives that could go off at any time.”
Bhat said that militants had come to the house and asked for shelter on the very night that the gunfight took place. “On the fateful day of November 30, the militants came into our lawn and asked for shelter. It was almost 10:30pm. We refused but they did not listen to us and came inside,” Bhat said.
Bhat said that within minutes, the army cordoned off the area. “A huge contingent of army and SOG personnel came and laid a siege around our house. Terrified, we just stayed within our house. At around 2am, we were asked to vacate the house and assemble outside at one place. As this was the first encounter taking place in our area, we were much frightened and assembled in the lawn of a neighbour,” Bhat said.
“While coming out, we made an atempt to take out the Scorpio car parked in the lawn, but due to hostile situation we could not,” Bhat said.
Bhat’s brother, Mohammad Ashen, said that at about 6 in the morning, the first exchange of fire took place. “The militants opened fire and the government forces did the same. It was complete mayhem; everything was on fire” Ashen said.
Ghulam Ahmad, a local resident, expressed sadness at the Bhat family’s fate. “Though the family is financially well-off, this loss is very huge. It has broken their backbone. It will take decades to overcome the loss,” he said.
On Sunday, three days after the encounter, the dozen or so shops in this nondescript village of nearly 300 households were all shut. Locals said that the shops have been shut since the encounter started. “It was the first such encounter in this village,” a group of villagers said. “Everyone is still talking about the encounter that left four militants dead.”
Ghulam Ahmed said that the Bhat families are staying at their relative’s house. “It is terrible to lose a house during these times,” Ahmad said, referring to the winter.