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After the dark night

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For the family, the night was the darkest. It left some in despair and the rest dead. On August 6, 1990 when the dusk fell, Mehbooba was a proud wife and a mother of four children – three boys and a girl. At dawn, three of them had fallen to the bullets of Border Security Force men. In her neighbourhood – Mashali Mohalla in Hawal area of downtown Srinagar – six more had been killed by armed forces after barging into homes to avenge an attack carried out by suspected militants that afternoon.

Mehbooba says it was between 8:45 pm and 9:00 pm that she was dishing up food in kitchen for her family. Aijaz, 6, her youngest son, recuperating from fewer, had to have his dinner after three days of fast.

“I had prepared a mild cooked chicken for him and was feeding him while he sat on my knee,” Mehbooba recalls. In the other room of their two-room home, her husband Bashir Ahmad Beigh was preparing bed for the family. “He took our eldest son Muzaffar (17) with him and asked me to feed Aijaz till they prepare bed,” Mehbooba says.

Aijaz had taken few morsels in when his mother’s knee shook on a thud she heard from outside. Leaving him half fed, Mehbooba took Aijaz in her lap and rushed to adjacent room to inform her husband. “We heard shattering of window panes outside and compressed ourselves in a corner. I thought to put the light off but couldn’t stand up for that. Vehicles were screeching at our door and those men were shouting,” Mehbooba says.

The other two children – Muneer (8) and Nazima (2) – had gone with their maternal uncle who lived in an adjacent house. The four were quiet, trembling with fear and seeing each other tremble.

Mehbooba says her heartbeat rose with every blow she heard on the door. But when the blows stopped and bullets took over, her heart sank, and sank further when screams of death followed the deadly bullets. “I put quilt over my sons, they were trembling,” Mehbooba recalls. Neither the quilt nor the children survived for long.

The main wooden door of their house was broke open and slammed against the wall to make way for almost a dozen BSF personnel to paint the night in red. Mehbooba on seeing them approaching to the room, ran towards the door and blocked their way. “I thought I am a women they will have mercy on us if I plead. I begged them, pointed at my sons, told them that younger one is burning with fever, but they didn’t look at them, they were looking at me,” says Mehbooba.

A BSF man took Mehbooba behind the door of the room, and others joined in when he started stripping off her clothes. Her shrieks were asking her husband’s help. But neither the husband not her sons were in sight. “I was calling his (husband’s) name. But I couldn’t see him; those drunken men had blocked my view. I heard some gun shots but I didn’t know who they were firing at. After those gun shots they suddenly left me. I was thinking of thanking Allah for saving my honour but when I opened eyes I saw my family drowned in blood,” Mehbooba recollects.

Mehbooba first went to her husband who was lying on the bedding he had prepared for the family. “There were more than a dozen bullets and empties sticking to his clothes. I called his name and he groaned. I told him my honour was saved. But he was silent. I don’t know whether he heard it or not, I don’t know. I think he was dead soon,” she says.

Mehbooba left him on the bedding in the hope of seeing her sons alive. She went to Muzaffar. He had received bullets on his private parts and had been hit by a rifle butt on his head. “Pale fluid and foam was coming out of his mouth. I rushed to Aijaz. He had received bullets in his chest. His shirt was torn and glued to his chest. His mouth was wide open, full of partly chewed food. I took it out with my fingers to hear him breathing. And he was alive too,” she recalls

Hopeful about the survival of her children, Mehbooba screamed through the window. “I was asking my brothers to come to my help. Come they killed your sister’s family,” she recalls screaming as she breaks into cries.

Mehbooba’s shrieks though didn’t bring her brothers; they agitated a turbaned BSF man who was still in courtyard. He again barged into the room. Mehbooba fell in his feet only to receive a bullet in her right shoulder.

Bullet paralysed her arm, weakened her spirit and she surrendered. Mehbooba plugged the gushing blood with the quilt, closed the door, put the lights off and waited till dawn. Her family had died in the dark - one by one.

On that day, around 4 pm, the armed forces at Mashali Mohalla were attacked by some suspected militants who escaped the sight of the forces. After a gap of about four hours that evening, armed forces cordoned off the area and entered into the house of the local inhabitants. Under the garb of search operations, they killed unarmed civilians in their homes. That night, more than two dozen civilians became targets of bullets from the barrels of security men. Nine of them died on the spot. Some, like Mehbooba, survived to tell the gory tales.

After the incident the troops sprinkled gun powder on two houses and set them on fire. Most of the victims could have been saved but the troops did not allow shifting them to the hospital. They also did not allow fire brigade to douse the fire.

The following day, Mehmooba was hospitalized and nine coffins were taken out from the Mashali Mohalla. Other two families had lost their two and four family members respectively. “When I got back my senses at hospital, they had been buried. My brothers had even buried the blood soaked bedding and clothes,” Mehbooba says.

When Mehbooba was being taken out of the room, she told them to stop near her kitchen. The food which she had dished up for the family was untouched. Aijaz’s plate was unfinished. “I felt they will just come to have their dinner.” But nobody came. Her husband had left, hurt and humiliated and her son with partially filled stomach and an ailing body.

Many people, both from government as well as non-governmental organizations had visited Mehbooba at the hospital. One among them was the then Divisional Commissioner of Kashmir, Wajahat Habibullah. When he enquired about her health, Mehbooba says she poured out all her anger on him. “I told him if you really want to help, inject poison in my veins because this pain is unbearable,” she says. “Other people present there tried to calm me down but he insisted them to let me speak and told me to approach him when I need any help,” adds she.

That day, Mehbooba lost her two sons, her husband and her right over husband’s property. Roofless, hopeless and penniless, Mehbooba had the biggest challenge ahead. She had to feed her two children who had miraculously escaped the bloodbath. And she succeeded. Mehbooba not only became the first kin who received an ex-gratia relief from the government but her case compelled the then divisional commissioner, Wajahat Habibullah, to devise a formal procedure of providing jobs and ex-gratia relief to the families of victims.

Mehbooba says she wasn’t ready to accept any money the government would offer to her. But just a week after the incident, her in-laws had insisted her to withdraw all her claims over her husband’s property as she was no longer entitled to any rights over it. Her father, like other families of the locality, had vacated his house and shifted to Auqaf building Hazratbal. Mehbooba was left roofless with her two year old daughter. Her only surviving son, Muneer, had left her the same day and went to his maternal uncles’ place.

“He was my only hope, but he didn’t come close to me after the incident. It took him two years to recognize me as his mother. That was another calamity for me,” Mehbooba says.

Muneer is now 28 but the horror of the fateful night hasn’t diminished. “When I saw her after the incident, she was being taken out from the room where my father and brothers were lying dead. She had pulled out her hair. It was open. Her hands and clothes were red. And she was dumb. I was a child and thought it was she who has killed my family,” says Muneer. “I made my mother to go through hell when she needed me most.” Finally Mehbooba joined her father’s place with her daughter and hesitant son. “We hadn’t much space there. I along with my brother would take our nephew to sleep at Makhdoom sahib shrine,” recalls Mohammad Saleem, Mehbooba’s brother.

Now the biggest challenge on Mehbooba was feeding her two children. Her husband, Bashir Ahmad Beigh, was a craftsman who would do Tilla work on Kashmiri pherans and shawls in his shop at Naidkadal in Srinagar. The other craftsman Bashir had hired took their share and left the shop. The shop became non-functional. Mehbooba stitched clothes to feed her children.

Mehbooba who first was reluctant to accept the ex-gratia relief gave it a second thought. “I didn’t want to rebuild my life with the money of a country whose people killed my family. But then everyone told me it is the money of our state and not theirs,” Mehbooba says. “I had buried half of my soul in soil. The remaining half was craving for the well being of my children now,” she adds.

Mehbooba visited Divisional commissioner’s office and changed not only her life but the life of thousands of other victim families. Wajahat Habibullah in his Book, “My Kashmir” writes:

“The prospect of restitution opened the door for people to approach the commissioner’s office for relief; the relief process became a tenuous thread that linked the government and the general public. Does Mehbooba know that she initiated the first hesitant step toward the restoration of peace in Kashmir? I never met her again, but I can only hope that this woman of courage and determination has been able to find fulfilment as well as the self-respect that she so craved. ”

Mehbooba first got the ex-gratia relief of 3 lac rupees. She bought a house at her previous residence - Mashali Mohalla out of the money. But the family could not live there for long. “That (house) was in the same locality. It would haunt me with the memories. From the second floor of the house, I could see the room in which I spent that night of Karbala,” confides she, referring to the event of martyrdom of Prophet Muhamad’s (SAW) grandson Imam Hussain (AS) along his family.

Mehbooba sold the house after some time and now lives in her newly constructed house at Pandach in Srinagar outskirts. Her son, Muneer, has got job in horticulture department under SRO 43. Nazima, is 21 and is doing her under-graduate course. “She is likely to get a job but I want her to complete studies first. Muneer couldn’t continue beyond 8th class,” she says.

this news feature appeared in weekly news magazine-kashmir life

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