ARIZAL, BUDGAM: Huddled in a small, decrepit house, the family of Maqsood Ahmad Khan, awaits his return to Arizal village of Beerwah in Budgam. Among them is his 17-year-old sister, Humaira, who sustained a bullet in her left hip the night of her brother’s arrest and who wishes now only to see him come home.
Khan, a 28-year-old cab driver, was arrested by government forces on March 24 when, according to a police statement, a militant who had taken shelter at his home was killed in a brief encounter.
Khan has allegedly been arrested by the government forces for sheltering (harbouring) the militant and has been taken into custody for what the forces say is a “grave offence”.
The family contested the police version and said that they (the forces) have concocted the story to entrap Khan.
“Had we been sheltering the militant, the government forces would have destroyed our home using explosives, as they normally do while killing besieged militants,” said Mahboob Ahmad Khan, Maqsood Khan’s brother.
The family further says the militant was killed in their compound, a small one around a green, single-storied house with a corroded tin roof. A temporary stone wall surrounds the premises.
“We are living a life of extreme penury. How could we shelter militants when we have no space to accommodate our own family?” Mahboob questioned.
“On that fateful day, on the 24th, at around 12:30 am, our sister was not feeling well, so my brother and sister-in-law took her to the nearby Harde-panzoo Primary Health Centre. On the way, the army caught hold of them and took them to the hospital and took Maqsood along with them,” Mahboob said, quoting his sister.
“After they reached near our house,” Mahboob continued, “the government forces jumped over the temporary stone boundary wall and began violently banging at the entrance door to our house.”
The Khan family, which was already waiting for the younger members’ return, was frightened when the loud banging suddenly awakened them and left them with no option other than to open the door.
The family said that as they opened the door, “what we saw was angry army men everywhere. We were told to move out. The family, with three small kids behind them, staggered out into the compound,” Mahboob said.
The soldiers began questioning where they had hidden the militant who, as per army information, had taken shelter there. “Before we could say something, the soldiers barged in and searched from room to room, looking for the militant. But they found nothing inside,” a lady said.
“Before letting us move inside the house, the army lit up the compound and the neighbouring area with emergency lights.
“An army man shouted ‘Here is a militant’ after he threw light on one of the open parts of the compound wall,” Mahboob quoted his sister. What happened after that, the family can’t clearly sketch out.
Within seconds, bullets were whizzing in the air. “We were crammed at one place with fear. Suddenly a bullet hit the left leg of 17-year-old Humaira,” the family said.
“With commotion all around, we begged the army men and somehow managed to take her to hospital from where she was referred to Srinagar for special treatment,” they added.
“At one of the corners, we saw a body lying in a pool of blood. The government forces said the body was that of a Lashkar militant, Shafat Hussain Wani, who had been shot.”
Lying on a bed in one of the house’s back rooms, Humaira is crying with pain. The bullet is still in her left hip. “I could have healed from my pain if my brother, who has been taken away by the forces for no fault of his, would be released soon,” said Humaira from the bed on which she is lying.
Maqsood’s cab driving feeds his family and his three siblings. They lost their father many years ago and are now staring at an uncertain future.
“But he hardly knows that he has been labelled as OGW [over-ground worker],” Mahboob says.
The family also alleges that the government forces went into their home and stole three mobile phones, gold bangles, earrings and Rs 14,000 in cash.
They contested the police claims that the militant was hiding inside their home. “Our courtyard is open, and anyone can enter our home. Had the militant been inside our home, it would have been destroyed by the forces. They searched our home and found nothing,” added Mahboob.
Senior Superintendent of Police, Budgam, Tejinder Singh said: “We have already lodged FIR against him as he is involved in harbouring militants, we will prove it,” he said. “How is it possible that a militant will come from outside to hide inside the cordon. He was hiding inside and came out in the courtyard where he was killed.”
If the family has a problem, “let them come with representation and prove their allegation”, he said.
He added that “we have only recovered Rs 571 from the possession of the militant and nothing else”.