Suhail A Shah
Anantnag: Saturday morning started off as a regular day in Havoora village of Kulgam district, apart from the fact that a shutdown was being observed – as in other parts of the valley – and a few army vehicles had passed through the village.
Three civilians – 13-year-old Andleeb Ali, 19-year-old Shakir Khanday, and 22-year-old Irshad Lone – were killed and two others – Irshad’s brother Zahid Lone and another youth, Yasir – grievously injured after army soldiers opened fire on civilians.
The army has maintained that they were attacked by a mob and fired upon by “terrorists” from within the crowd. “Controlled firing was used to disperse the mob, resulting in unfortunate loss of human lives,” the army statement said.
The villagers give a completely different version. They said that army vehicles passed through Havoora at about 9:15 in the morning – “a few vehicles, without police accompanying them. They did not stop in our village but made a halt at nearby Astan Mohalla village,” villagers said.
Astan Mohalla and Havoora are located on the same side of the road. The villages are only 400 meters apart.
Some people suggest there were militants in the area, some say there were none. However, the army not being accompanied by the police points to the fact that it was not a Cordon and Search Operation (CASO) – as reported in certain sections of the media.
“The army thrashed some boys in our village, following which youth assembled and started throwing stones at the army men,” a villager, requesting not to be named, told Kashmir Reader.
As the news of the stone-pelting spread in the area, Andleeb Ali, a Class 7 student at Government Middle School Akbarabad, returned home. Her school had been closed by the authorities given the proximity of the school to the site of clashes.
“She started to help her mother and me in sorting and packing some garlic into gunny bags,” Andleeb’s father, Ali Muhammad Allaie, told Kashmir Reader.
Allaie’s cousin next door, Muhammad Hussain Khanday, said his son Shakir Khanday had gone out to cut grass at their ancestral graveyard.
About a hundred meters from Allaie’s and Khanday’s house, labourer Irshad Ahmad Lone had had tea and left for his daily work.
“He made apple boxes. That day, he visited me at my house before going to work. I gave him a jacket, which he was wearing when he was shot at,” Muhammad Shafi Lone, Irshad’s paternal cousin, said.
Amid stone-pelting in Astan Mohalla, the army left the area and was on the way back to their base in Frisal village, several kilometres from Havoora. It was about 10:40 AM, the villagers say, when the army left Astan Mohalla.
Soon after leaving the village, the army allegedly tried to enter Government High School Havoora, situated on the main road.
The teachers at the school, as some students recount, resisted their entry.
“A teacher who stood at the gate and did not allow the army men to enter was beaten. He had already locked up the senior students in a room to save them from the army,” a student of the school said.
By the time the army men left the school and started moving towards their base again, Andleeb was still home, helping her parents. Shakir had strolled down the road and was midway between Astan Mohalla and Havoora. Irshad had reached the place where he worked.
“As the army was driving through, they spotted Shakir on the road. They took out their guns and shot at him,” one among the few onlookers, who ran for their life as army fired, told Kashmir Reader.
The villagers were too terrified – as the army kept firing – to go and pick up Shakir. But they had made enough hue and cry for the whole village to know that Shakir had been shot at.
“He was shot at and I kept looking from a safe place at a distance. He tried to cover his wound with his right hand as he writhed in pain,” an eyewitness said.
The army soldiers, as their vehicles drove ahead, kept firing.
They fired at a tin shed – wherein a heifer (a female calf) was shot twice – then at an electric transformer. The heifer was brought home on Monday after treatment, the transformer was taken to be mended, but the people who were shot never returned home.
Shakir, the tin shed, and the transformer were all on the left side of the road. On the right, the army men spotted Irshad, just a few meters ahead of the transformer. They then aimed and shot at him.
A bullet mark on a tree, where Irshad was shot, still remains as testimony to what happened. Another testimony comes from Irshad’s brother, Junaid.
“I was there. I wanted to go and pick him up but then I felt a shooting pain in my ankle. I thought I had been shot at, too,” Junaid Lone told Kashmir Reader.
Helpless, Junaid kept running from one alley to another trying to find a way to reach his brother. He was not shot at, though; the pain in the ankle was from something else.
“I ran to Iftikhar, my elder brother, who was working in the fields. I told him that Irshad had been shot at. He called Zahid, our brother. Zahid did not attend the phone, busy perhaps. He was shot at minutes later,” Junaid said.
He said the army moved forward ever so slowly, “not allowing people to go near the injured.”
By the time Irshad was shot at, Andleeb and her sisters had come to know that their cousin, Shakir, had been shot at. They ran out to help him.
“Girls are not shot at, I thought. I let them run outside,” Andleeb’s father said. Minutes later, his assumption turned to lifelong regret.
The girls had barely reached the mouth of the alley that connects their neighbourhood with the main road, when the army vehicles reached there. “They opened indiscriminate fire,” Ali Muhammad said.
“Andleeb was shot in the hip and another girl’s hand was bruised as a bullet brushed past. A boy, who had also run out, missed the bullets by just four inches,” he said.
Several bullet marks on the concrete wall at the location are visible. The wall now has been covered with black-and-white pictures of militants and civilians killed over the years.
The Allaie family somehow managed to pick Andleeb from the spot where she fell and brought her home. They were yet to decide about their next move when army soldiers appeared at the door of their house, and at the house of Shakir next door.
“We picked up Andleeb. Not me but somebody stronger, I don’t know who. We left our homes and ran,” Ali Muhammad said. “The army ransacked our homes minutes after we left.”
The family, taking turns to carry Andleeb, ran through fields for about 400 meters before a motorcyclist, not known to the family, carried Andleeb and one of her sisters to the Frisal Public Health Centre.
A grieving Ali Muhammad was left behind. Several random rides and half an hour later, he did reach the hospital, where Andleeb was being wheeled back out – declared dead on arrival.
Shakir and Irshad were also taken to the same hospital on motorcycles. They, too, were declared brought dead.
The army men were not done yet. In the meantime they spotted a group of boys on the road leading to old Havoora, where Shakir had been working on the graveyard. The army men chased them. “All others ran away but they caught hold of Zahid,” an eyewitness said.
He said that Zahid was shot at five times by the army men. He is now nursing his injuries at Bone and Joints Hospital in Barzulla, Srinagar.
“First, I was hit by a bullet in my left leg. As I was knocked down, the soldiers came near me and fired three more bullets into my right leg,” he told Kashmir Reader.
Zahid said that after firing multiple bullets into his leg, the soldiers hit him with gun butts. Then they dragged him through the village fields.
“One of the army men was about to kill me when a group of youths chased them away,” he said.
Doctors say he has multiple fractures and has suffered serious nerve damage.
No one from the family has visited Zahid yet in the hospital.
“We are mourning Irshad. How are we supposed to go there?” asks the father, Abdul Majeed. “Some kind men from neighbouring villages have been taking care of my son at the hospital. How can I ever thank them.”
On Monday, a stream of mourners kept arriving at the houses of the three families, bringing condolences. The bereaved family members and the terrified people of the village are not feeling much comforted.
“It was a massacre. There is no other name to call it by,” the villagers said. “The army men had come with an intention to kill.”
The pity, the villagers lament, is that none of the slain or the injured were pelting stones.
“We can’t tell our children to not pelt stones now. They are getting shot regardless,” a villager said.