When a series of gunshots were heard in YK Pora village of Kulgam district at around 7:30 pm on Thursday, 29 October, Ghulam Ahmad Yatoo, 59, didn’t make much of it.
This year, the restive south Kashmir, where Kulgam is located, has recorded an uptick in counter-insurgency operations and Yatoo, a farmer, assumed the gunshots were a result of it.
They ‘Fired Indiscriminately’
The shooting had taken place barely few hundred metres from Yatoo’s home, at a secluded place near Eidgah, the biggest mosque of YK Pora village.
Inspector-General of Police (Kashmir), Vijay Kumar said three BJP workers were in a Maruti Swift car when militants arrived in another car and fired indiscriminately at them from a close range.
“They (militants) came in a car belonging to a local militant identified as Altaf. The victims received grave injuries and succumbed on the way to the hospital,” Kumar told reporters.
The attack has been claimed by The Resistance Front which security agencies believe is an offshoot of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba outfit.
IG Kumar said two Lashkar militants, Nisar Khanday and Sheikh Abbas, both residents of Kulgam district, were involved in the killing. “There may be a foreign terrorist’s hand also but it will become clear during investigations,” he said.
Three Families Devastated
Among the victims was Yatoo’s son Fida Hussain, the BJP’s youth wing, Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha’s (BJYM) district general secretary, and his two friends and party workers, Umar Ramzan Hajam and Haroon Rashid Beg.
All three slain were the only sons of their parents. Firdous is survived by his parents and five sisters, Umar by his parents and two sister, and Haroon by his parents and only sister.
“We got a phone call some five minutes after the shooting,” Firdous’ father said. “Umar was injured but conscious and he had managed to inform his family that they have been shot. He had begged them to come quickly and save their lives.”
Yatoo said the three friends were scheduled to attend a marriage ceremony in the village. “Today, my son was going to celebrate the first birthday of his daughter but see what fate had in store for us. Instead, we buried him in the graveyard today,” he added, unable to hold back his tears.
Firdous’ family lives in a small, ramshackle building that has been overwhelmed by the rush of mourners, so much so that cotton sheets have been spread out on the bare ground outside the house where female mourners sat to express solidarity with his sisters.
At the small, mud-and-brick house of Umar Hajam, 24, four small rooms including the kitchen were filled by mourners. The cries of his grief-stricken mother rang louder than the commotion of mourners, many of whom were sitting outside on the bare ground.
“He had returned from Tamil Nadu on Wednesday night. It was his second day at home. He left on Thursday evening, saying he was going to meet Firdous. They were good friends. More than friends, they were brothers,” said Mohammad Ramzan Hajam, father of Umar who was also killed in the shooting.
“What was his fault?” said Ramzan, who works in the J&K’s Geology and Mining department as a third-grade employee. “He didn’t kill anyone. We live in penury. At least I had a hope that he will shoulder my coffin when I die. But even that hope has died with his death.”
Abdul Rashid, the father of Haroon who lived in the adjoining Sophat village, said his son left home on Thursday evening after getting a phone call, “He told me that he will be back soon. Instead, we got his dead body,” Rashid said.
‘A Life Without Identity’
According to family, Firdous, alias Tipu, had joined the BJP in 2017. But many of his relatives who had come to mourn the killing had no idea about his political affiliations. His father said he used to visit home sparsely due to the threat of militant attacks.
“I had no idea that he had joined BJP. But I was told that no one could dare to go close to their bodies when the shooting happened. They were lying there for a long time which led to a lot of blood loss,” Dr Rayees Ahmad Sheikh, a dentist and second cousin of Firdous, said.
This has been the recurring theme in the lives of the BJP leaders and workers hailing from Kashmir who have in some cases been banished not just by friends and neighbours, but also by their family members for working with the Hindu nationalist party.
BJP’s J&K president Ravinder Raina, other party leaders and dozens of BJYM workers visited the residences of the aggrieved families on Friday. “They were true nationalists. We will avenge their murders. Their blood will not go to waste,” Raina said.
In this year alone, at least nine BJP leaders or workers have been killed in militant attacks across Kashmir, most of them in South Kashmir. On 6 August, a BJP sarpanch, Sajad Ahmad Khanday, was killed in the same area of Kulgam. A day earlier, militants shot BJP sarpanch Arif Ahmad in the adjoining Akhran village but he survived.
“It is only when they are dead that these highly placed people with bulletproof cars think of visiting them,” said a neighbour outside the home of Haroon, who didn’t want to be identified.
A Distraught Mother
On Friday morning, hundreds of people assembled in YK Pora to attend the funeral prayers of Firdous and Umar which were led by Firdous’ uncle. The funeral of Haroon was held at his native village, Sophat. All the three were laid to rest at their ancestral graveyards.
“He was very sharp and intelligent. He would not fall into any trap so easily. Someone must have betrayed him. Police must find out the killers and punish them,” Yatoo, Firdous’ father, said.
The gate to their house opens directly onto the main road. Due to the rush of mourners on Friday, it has been left permanently open. Firdous’ car, in which he was shot, was white in colour.
Every now and then, whenever a white car passes along the road, Shakeela Bano, Firdous’ mother, breaks into tears.
On one such occasion, she managed to break out of the grasp of women who were trying to calm her down and chased a white car zipping along the road.
“There goes my beloved son. Tell him to stop and talk to his mother,” she cried as the car moved on without noticing her. “How am I going to survive in his absence. What are your sisters going to do without you? Who will get them married? Come back my beloved son,” her voice faded into the distance.
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