Kulgam: On the wall of his room, 16-year-old Mohammad Muqeem had written, in bold red, “We want freedom”, and beneath it, “Education is the most powerful weapon.”
A day before his first paper of the Class 12 Board examination, Muqeem was killed, along with 3 other students, in his native village of Laroo in Kulgam on Sunday. They were killed after an explosive went off at the site of an encounter, where 3 local Jaish-e-Muhammad militants had been killed early in the morning.
Muqeem was wide awake when he heard gunshots at about 3:25 AM on Sunday. He was studying for his examination.
“He came running to our room and woke us up, informing us about the gunfire,” Muqeem’s father, Hafeezullah Bhat, a farmer, said. “He loved studying and was good at it. He had a distinction in 10th class.”
Muqeem was a student at the government higher secondary school Bugam. He wanted to study sociology at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU).
His father was supportive of the decision, knowing little that his and his son’s dreams were never to be fulfilled.
At about 9am on Sunday, Muqeem and his 14-year-old brother, Adnan, ventured out like many other boys of the village, intending to visit the site of the encounter.
“We met some friends and all of us walked to the site,” Adnan said.
Fate had it that while Adnan, along with some friends, used the rear entrance to enter the house where the encounter had taken place, Muqeem used the front entrance.
“I don’t remember why we used the separate entrances, but we did, unfortunately,” Adnan said.
Muqeem and several other people, after they reached the lawns of the house, stood over the tin which, hours ago, was the roof of the house.
“The explosive was probably under the tin roof. I was inside the house when I heard the deafening sound of the blast,” Adnan said.
Adnan, his friends, the people who had employed a motor to pump water into the house to douse the fire, which had broken out after the encounter, all ran out.
Once outside, Adnan came to know that some injured persons were being rushed to hospital. He too, like many others, ran to the main road. What awaited him there, he says, “will remain with me for the rest of my life.”
“Muqeem’s arm was mutilated. His abdomen was torn apart. I could see his guts,” Adnan said, with no trace of tears – only gloom writ large over his face.
Muqeem was the first to be declared brought dead at the Kulgam district hospital.
Following the killings, the English paper that Muqeem was preparing for was postponed by the Board authorities.
Muqeem was not the only one who was preparing for an exam. 19-year-old Talib Maqbool Laway, or Ubaid, was a BA first-year student at Government Degree College Kulgam who was scheduled to appear in his last paper, Urdu, on Monday.
Talib has left behind a devastated, widowed mother and an elder sister, who have been battling poverty ever since the head of their family, Muhammad Maqbool, committed suicide.
“Ubaid was only two years old when his father killed himself. His mother is an anganwadi worker and that is their only source of income,” a neighbour told Kashmir Reader.
Ubaid’s mother, Naseema, and his elder sister were too numb to talk.
The neighbour said that the mother and the sister had all hopes pinned on Ubaid. “He was a good student and was supposed to take his family out of their misery and poverty. But it was not to be,” he said.
Two other students, one of them a 12-year-old, were also killed in the blast.
Uzair Ahmad of Reshipora area of Kulgam main town was a Class 6 student at Simnania High School. His family could not be reached due to restrictions imposed by government forces in the town on Monday.
The other student to have lost his life was 21-year-old Irshad Ahmad Padder, a graduation final-year student at Government Degree College Kulgam.
Padder’s two brothers are both in police, one a Sub-Inspector and the other a Special Police Officer (SPO).
The other three civilians killed in the blast were also students until recently. They had to give up their studies to support their families.
One of them was 21-year-old Mansoor Ahmad Dar of Bogund village, in Kulgam district. He had recently given up on his graduation and started working as a cable operator. He has left behind a son one-and-a-half year old, his ailing parents, and widowed wife.
Aqib Ahmad Sheikh, a 20-year-old labourer from Makenpora village of Kulgam district, had also left studies to support his family.
The eldest among the seven civilians killed, and the last one to be declared dead, was 23-year-old Javed Ahmad Lone of Havoora village in Kulgam district. Javed earned a living and supported his family by driving a mini-bus.
His funeral was held this morning in his native village, following which intense clashes erupted in the area and in adjoining Khodweni. The clashes continued throughout the day.
Militants offered a gun salute to Javed at his grave later in the evening.
The graveyard where Javed was buried is right next to a government forces’ camp.