When the sound of a few gunshots came out of the noise of rains beating tin roofs of the Khudwani houses late on Tuesday evening, it residents, about to go to sleep, stood still as the shooting grew more steady and intense.
Three Lashkar militants had found themselves under siege by the government forces with a top commander of the guerrilla outfit also trapped in a house in the Wani Mohalla locality, in Kulgam. The shooting ebbed a little as the night rolled on, and the forces closed off all exit points that the besieged guerrillas might use to escape. While the heavy rains were lashing the village and the rest of Kashmir, people came out of their homes, heeding impassioned pleas made on the mosque loudspeakers to save the guerrillas. The forces fired tear gas shells and pellets on the protestors to beat them away but they kept coming back at them. Perhaps the heavy urge to sleep led to a peace of sorts for the rest of the night.
As the sun shone on Khudwani the renewed gunfight pierced its silence, leaving three army troopers wounded, one of whom died in the army’s hospital in Srinagar. Sensing guerrillas were putting up a strong fight, the government forces used explosives to destroy one house and set fire to the three nearby houses and a shop also into which they suspected the guerrillas might have moved. Behind them hundreds of pro-freedom and pro-guerrilla young men threw stones at the government forces to distract them from the operation to kill the besieged militants.
To push back the protestors the government forces fired their guns and shot guns letting loose bullets and pellets, wounding many of the protestors. While this was on, women unfazed by the violence and injuries kept giving out water and eatables to the protestors. Many young men carried the injured on motorbikes to the nearby hospital.
As the guns fell silent and the army moved in to retrieve what they thought would be the bodies of the three guerrillas they had been fighting for fifteen hours now, the women cried: “May God protect the rebels.”
After three hours of meticulous search by the government forces there were no bodies to be found. Soon the word spread around that the guerrillas have escaped, leading to scenes of celebration among the pro-freedom protestors.
A police official confirmed that all the three militants had managed to escape from the siege. He identified them as Azad Malik aka Dada alias Zaid of Arwani-Bijbehara, Let district commander for Anantnag; Bilal Ahmad of Khudwani and Muzamil Ahmad of Hawoora- Mishpora who had joined Lashkar only a day back. One of them, Azad Malik had sustained a bullet injury in a leg.
According to hospital officials in Kulgam four pro-freedom protestors were killed by the government forces and some sixty sustained gunshot and pellet wounds,
“We received 35 injured during the day at SDH Qaimoh. Three of the civilains were bought dead,” BMO Qaimoh Dr Shafat told the Kashmir Post.
Police say 21 injured
A statement issued by the police said: “It is to mention that the hiding militants taking advantage of the crowd assembled across the river Jelhum which was very close to the target house made indiscriminate firing. Though SFs tried to contain it, keeping the security of the general environment in mind the SFs acted with responsibilities (sic).”
“In the incident 21 persons were injured out of which three have been discharged. Separately SFs injured are getting treated in hospital,” the statement reads.
The statement said that two militants escaped from the encounter site.
“One of whom is said to be injured. This injured militant is identified as Azad Dada of Arwani who is wanted in a number of serious cases involving killing of civilians,” the statement reads.
The statement asked people not to come close to the encounter site “as it is a considerable threat”.
SHO injured in Baramulla clashes, shifted to SKIMS
The station house officer of Baramulla police station, Khalid Ahmad, who suffered head injury during a clash between government forces and students of Boys Degree College, was shifted to SKIMS, Soura for treatment.
Bullet and pellet-hit 14 youth also receiving treatment
Two civilians, one hit by a bullet and another by a teargas shell in clashes during a gunfight at Khudwani in south Kashmir, are battling for life at SMHS and SKIMS hospitals.
The condition of both is stated to be critical after they received severe injuries.
Abdul Salaam Bhat, an embroidery artist, received a bullet in the neck that pierced through his right shoulder when Army fired at civilians near the gunfight site.
A resident of Hawoora village of Kulgam, 50-year-old Bhat was treated at emergency trauma theater at SMHS hospital and taken to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) where his condition is stated to be critical.
As Bhat was being treated, his wife Muneera Bano screamed outside the trauma theater of the hospital where women of her neighbourhood tried to console her amid sobs.
“Who fired at you, O my dear, you are my only hope,” an inconsolable Bano said. “He told me that he will go out to see what was happening.”
Muneera’s neighbour, Shaheena said, “Army fired at him when people were on way to see the injured in the locality, around 2 kilometres from Khudwani.”
A doctor at the trauma theater said Bhat had suffered excessive blood loss.
“He is critical, his heart vein seems damaged, the blood has gone inside his chest and we used the chest tube to take it out,” he said.
Recounting the ordeal, Bhat’s nephew, Zahoor Ahmad told Kashmir Post that he was at home when he heard bullet shots.
“I rushed to the spot and saw his clothes soaked in blood,” Zahoor said. “I asked another local for help and we took him on a motorcycle for half a kilometre during which he suffered blood loss.”
Bhat has no child of his own and the couple has adopted an eight-year-old girl.
Zahoor said Bhat’s wife would prepare the embroidery yarn for the husband and the couple worked shoulder-to-shoulder to earn livelihood.
Another youth, Adil Ahmad of Anantnag, who was hit by a teargas shell during clashes is critical at SKIMS, Soura.
“Hit by the tear smoke canister, he received head injury and is critical,” a doctor at SKIMS said. “He is being operated.”
At least five other youth hit by bullets have been admitted at SMHS hospital.
Yasir Abdullah of Frisal, a 9th standard student was hit by a bullet in his stomach.
He is stated to be out of danger.
“Yesterday, he went to his cousin’s home at Khudwani village but was hit by a bullet when government forces targeted civilians during the gunfight,” Yasir’s uncle, Muhammad Ishaq said.
Yasir’s relatives said doctors at the Government Hospital Bijbehara failed to stop the flow of blood of Yasir.
According to doctors, at least nine youth hit by pellets and bullets were admitted at SMHS hospital and are undergoing treatment.
“Of the nine, four have bullet injury and five have been hit by pellets,” a doctor said.
An ophthalmologist at SMHS said they had operated two patients who had been hit by pellets.
Medical Superintendent SKIMS, Dr. Farooq Ahmad Jan told Kashmir Post that till Wednesday evening, the hospital received five patients including one in a critical condition.
“Adil of Anantnag is critical, two youth have been hit by stones while another by a tear smoke shell,” he said.
Station House Officer (SHO) Baramulla, Khalid Ahmad, who suffered head injury after he was hit by a stone in Baramulla during clashes, is also being treated at SKIMS.