Kulgam: For almost two weeks now, 37-year-old Nusrat and her three kids have been living in a neighbour’s house, as their own was blasted to rubble by government forces during a gunfight in Laroo village of Kulgam. Three Jaish-e-Muhammad militants were killed in the gunfight, and then a huge blast from explosives lying in the rubble of the house claimed the lives of 7 civilians, including a 12-year-old boy.
A week after the devastation of their home, Nusrat’s husband, Sheeraz Ahmad Bhat, was kidnapped by masked gunmen.
On the evening of October 27, Sheeraz had arranged the vehicle of a cousin to drop Nusrat’s mother and sister to their home. Sheeraz’s cousin was in the driving seat and the others were getting into the car when a Santro car came and stopped right beside them, Nusrat’s sister said.
“Some masked gunmen disembarked from the Santro car and forced Sheeraz into it. Then they drove away,” Nusrat’s sister told Kashmir Reader.
She said that Sheeraz’s cousin immediately chased the Santro in his car for a few kilometres, managed to overtake the car, and then blocked its way ahead.
“The gunmen in the car, however, fired shots in the air and asked us to clear the way. Petrified, Sheeraz’s cousin gave them passage to move ahead and we returned here,” Nusrat’s sister said.
The family, ever since, has been living in fear and uncertainty. Nusrat, after every five minutes, breaks into wails and pleads with folded hands before visiting journalists to help get her husband back.
“We have done nothing wrong. I don’t know why he has been abducted like this. I have two daughters and a toddler son. What will I do, where will I go?” Nusrat asks amid her wails, while her toddler looks at her with concern, unable to fathom what has befallen his mother and the family.
Nusrat said that on the night the gunfight took place in Laroo, she and Sheeraz were about to sleep when militants knocked on their door.
“The militants first asked for water and then insisted that they will spend the night in our house,” Nusrat said.
She said her husband was petrified and reluctant to let the militants stay, but he had no choice in the matter. He showed the militants into a room where they could stay the night.
“We don’t know how the forces arrived in the dead of the night. The militants asked us if there was a safe exit. We showed them one. As soon as they jumped out of the window, the firing started. It was all hell after that,” Nusrat recalled.
She says that her entire family, including her toddler son and two daughters, remained trapped in the house for more than three hours while the forces kept bombarding the house.
“Our neighbours pleaded with the forces to let us out of the house,” she said. The family did manage to leave the house but they could not go back in: the government forces had used explosives to blast it to the ground.
The now homeless Bhat family moved into a portion of their neighbour’s house. Many relatives dropped by to express sympathies, including Nusrat’s mother and sister.
Sheeraz’s father, Ghulam Muhammad Bhat, says his son never wronged anyone.
“He was a simple man who worked hard to provide for his family. He has been working as a driver at a local gas agency for 13 years now. He has nothing to do with any of this. Why would someone want to harm such a person?” Bhat asked.
Bhat said that the family has no clue about Sheeraz’s kidnappers. “We would have gone begging for his life had we known who abducted him,” Bhat said.
As the family lives in uncertainty, the police also are yet to get any leads on Sheeraz’s whereabouts. “He was abducted by militants. We have registered an FIR but we have got nothing so far,” SSP Kulgam Harmeet Singh told Kashmir Reader.
Nusrat, meanwhile, continues to run to the door at every knock, thinking it must be her husband.