Pulwama: Muhammad Sultan had made most preparations for his daughter’s marriage and had even stocked goods at his home for the walima ceremony. But, all those items including wedding clothes and gold jewelry of his to-be bride daughter were destroyed as bullets and explosives pulled his house apart leaving behind a wreckage.
Sultan's home in Beighpora village of Pulwama district was among the four houses that were razed to the ground by security forces during a gunfight last week on Wednesday, May 6. In the encounter, a top militant commander of Hizbul Mujahideen Riyaz Naikoo was killed here along with his associate Adil.
The ruin at Beighpora, a nondescript village in the interiors of Pulwama close to the local railway line, unravels the aftermath of an encounter. Days have passed since the encounter ended, but Mohammad Sultan and his family are still rummaging through the debris of earth, tin, half-burnt window panes and blasted concrete to salvage what is left. Other families were affected, too, and there is hardly anything left undamaged. Other houses in the vicinity are just skeletons.
The villagers have gathered around this ravaged courtyard to collect money for these families for their immediate relief.
"Nearly 20 families have been affected and four among them have lost everything. For others, too, the losses are humongous," the head of the local resident's welfare association Mohammad Rafiq Naikoo told NewsClick.
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As many as seven cows belonging to four different families have been grievously wounded due to bullet injuries during the gunbattle. "My cow was hit in the udder and she has been crippled...she used to provide 15 litres of milk but, now the vets told me that they cant revive her," a resident said.
Beighpora, a village of over 370 households, continues to be under heavy security cover, especially after clashes broke out in the wake of the killing of Naikoo, a native of the village. The Jammu and Kashmir Police man all the entry and exit pointS to the village and do not allow vehicles to enter the village, according to residents. "We are caught in the middle of a long crackdown that doesn't seem to end," another villager, Mohammad Aslam, said.
The past week has been very difficult for the villagers, they say, and the aftermath has left many families in the lurch. Thirty-two years old Jahangir Yusuf, a resident of Pulwama's Uthmula village, was killed in the gun battle between the security forces and militants.
Many residents were detained by the police ahead of the encounter and while most of them have been released, at least three continue to be in police custody. The Beighpora village, according to residents, has been under the scrutiny of security agencies for years since Naikoo became a category A++ militant. This meant meant that he was a most wanted militant with a Rs 12 lakh bounty on his head.
Since the past six months, the security agencies have been carrying out at least two cordon and search operations in his native village, according to residents. "The search was intensified since last month when earth excavators were brought into the village to dig land," Rafiq said.
The forces dug out vegetable gardens destroying crops worth lakhs of rupees along the railway line to look for Naikoo's hideouts but, there was no sign until he was trapped in one of the houses in the neighborhood.
Naikoo was chief of operations for the militant outfit Hizbul Mujahideen and his killing is being considered to be one of the achievements against insurgency in the region. He remained an active militant for nearly eight years and was one of the key recruiter of locals in the Hizb ranks. The police held him responsible for "reviving" the militant outfit in Jammu and Kashmir.
Also read: Kashmir: Hizbul Mujahideen Top Commander Riyaz Naikoo Killed
After he was killed, his body was taken by the police to North Kashmir's Sonmarg area, a mountainous region over 100 km from Beighpora, and secretly buried alongwith three other militants who were killed on the same day.
The authorities in the region snapped all mobile calling services and mobile internet to thwart any mobilisation of protesters against the killing. Even as calling services were resumed after three days, the mobile internet services continue to remain off bounds across the Valley even now.
Since August last year, as government abrogated Article 370 in J&K, communication blackout has been the first response from the authorities in case they see any possibility of people protesting.
But, the worst is being witnessed by the villagers in South Kashmir who see the use of explosives to level their homes during the encounters.
The IGP Police Kashmir range Vijay Kumar said that the security forces have killed as many as 64 militants since January this year with over 20 militants being killed during the COVID-19 lockdown since March 24.
"Everytime there is an encounter in any South Kashmir village, at least the homes are not spared... this time it happened in our village," Aslam said.