Khudwani (Kulgam): The day after four civilians were killed during a fierce encounter between militants and government forces, Khudwani village in Kulgam district presented a picture of strange contrast: despair, destruction and melancholy on one side, and hope, solidarity and bonhomie on the other.
Apart from the killing of four civilians, three residential houses – one in which the militants were hiding and two other adjoining houses – were completely gutted. People were gathered near these destroyed homes, women wailing and beating their chests at the sight of the devastation, men standing silent with sorrowful faces.
When this reporter reached the site of the encounter, after watching with amazement the sea of people that had been pouring in since early Wednesday morning, the sight of a makeshift table, money littered all over it, greeted the eyes.
Everyone who visited the encounter site, without being asked, dropped some money at this makeshift table. A few elderly men of the village sat or stood around it.
“The money is for the families whose houses have been destroyed by the forces,” the elderly man sitting at the table said. “We will have to take care of our own. If not us, then who will?”
That was not the only spot where money was being collected for the people affected. At least one more makeshift table and a few youngsters holding a bed sheet for people to drop money in it could be seen in the vicinity. The visitors donated generously.
“One of the house owners is dirt poor. He has lost everything. Another is a bit well-off but has more than 12 family members, with no shelter over their head now,” the young boys collecting money said.
They said that the money may not be enough to rebuild the three houses but it will be of some help.
At the encounter site, where some godowns were also gutted, volunteers had reached early morning and were clearing the debris.
“This is the least we can do. What they have endured is irreparable,” a boy, who was not from the village, said. “I came in early morning and I have been helping around in cleaning. What else can I do?”
Locals said that amid the grief and the sorrow, people have been arriving from across the valley to help – “some monetarily, and some to help with chores,” locals said.
People not from the village could be seen helping around at the houses of the civilians killed during the encounter.
Some locals of the village, considerate of the fact that people were travelling great distances amid a shutdown, were serving juice and water to the visitors. Young boys came forward to every visitor to hand him a drink or two in the rather warm afternoon.
“That’s what makes us human and that’s what makes us Kashmiri. We stick together in time of grief,” a boy handing over the juice said.