The night of the encounter

The night of the encounter

Ummar Jamal

On the afternoon of 11th July, my father asked me to carry my nephew back to his home. He had come to our home a fortnight ago. I agreed to do so promptly, as it had been very tedious to stay inside home all the time. I set out on the journey on my bike. It took me an hour and a half to reach the destination, in Reban village, Baramulla.
In the evening I felt exhausted. I dined early and asked my sister to make my bed. I fell asleep in a flash.
At 3 o’ clock in the night, my sister crawled into my room. I was in slumber. She woke me up. I found her shaking like a leaf. She murmured, “Do you have all identity cards with yourself?” I replied, “Yes, yes.” I could not understand what was wrong. Then she said, “Our mohalla (locality) has been cordoned off.”
The exchange of gunfire began between security forces and militants. Now I realised that an encounter had broken out.
I asked my sister where the encounter was taking place exactly? She replied, “I think in the house next to ours. The gunfire is so loud.”
To enquire about this, Didi (sister) wanted to text her neighbour on WhatsApp, but internet had been snapped already. She picked her phone and called Rani, the neighbor in whose house we surmised the encounter had broken out. Rani picked up the call and said hurryingly, “We ourselves can’t figure out where precisely the encounter is taking place. But it is somewhere very near to our house.” Then she disconnected the call.
We were dumbstruck with terror. Amid the exchange of firing, the time for the dawn prayer approached. The voice of the muezzin calling for prayers could be heard by us. We wanted to go to the mosque for prayers, but we couldn’t. Nobody could. There were neither any prayers held nor any congregation that morning at the local mosque.
I had never experienced an encounter before. It was more terrifying than I thought it would be. We feared that a misfire or a bullet glancing off from somewhere could end our life any moment.
With the arrival of sunrise the situation became relatively calm, except for sporadic gunfire. This calmed our nerves a bit. We did our morning ablutions. Didi went into the kitchen, sleepy-eyed, to prepare tea. I told my nephew: let’s go back to bed.
When I got up at 8 o’clock, heavy firing was going on. I had earlier thought the encounter had ended. I planned to leave for home soon. But going home was now clearly a bad idea.
After washing my face I had tea. While I was holding the cup of tea, the ear-splitting blast of an IED startled me. The hot tea from the cup spilled on my hand and burned a moderately large portion on the back of it. I immediately ran it under cold water, then put an ice pack on it. For some time I felt a throbbing pain. The burn has healed now, thankfully.
The security forces had blasted the house with IED to make sure that the hidden militants were all killed. I thought the encounter had ended. But it lasted for many more hours. The IED blast wasn’t the last one either. It was followed by two more deafening blasts.
The entire day passed in anxiousness. At 8 o’ clock in the evening, an announcement was made by security forces from the mosque that the encounter had ended but all villagers were requested not to go near the encounter site till a thorough search was done for explosives. I wanted to visit the encounter site but I heeded the announcement.
It was too late now to leave for home. I had to spend another night in my sister’s house. I was eagerly waiting for restoration of internet but it wasn’t restored till the morning.
I left for home early morning. On reaching home, I saw the pictures of the encounter site on social media. It could be clearly seen that two houses had been reduced to rubble. I pray that such a night never comes again in my life. I pray that peace and normalcy prevail in Kashmir.

The writer is a student of law at University of Kashmir.

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