Srinagar, June 6 (PTI) Five-year-old Mir Adda chose a 'Barbie dress', wore a crown and was excitedly calling for family to cut her brother's birthday cake, minutes before a leopard took her away from the lawn of her house in the city's outskirts, in a tragic case underlining human-animal conflict because of rapid forest destruction.
The Mir house at Om Pura, a locality just outside the city limits in the central district of Budgam, became the centre of attention as mourners' swarmed the residence to express their condolences to the family of Adda, who loved to call herself 'Adda Rani'.
'Adda had returned from her maternal family home as it was her brother Ali's seventh birthday. She went upstairs and took out her favourite 'Barbie dress' for the occasion and wore a princess crown before stepping into the garden to ask her grandfather to finish his tea as they had to cut the cake,' said her maternal uncle, Aijaj Ahmed.
A few minutes later, Adda's heart-wrenching shrieks pierced the silent evening of June 3. What followed was an exercise in futility as her family members, joined by neighbours and forest officials, could only find some blood stains and a doll that she was carrying with her.
The next day Adda's body parts were recovered from an adjacent nursery-turned-forest, leaving a grieving family behind.
They bid a tearful adieu to her as she was laid to rest on Saturday and people reminisced about her smile and banter. Her relatives, who could not visit due to COVID-19 restrictions, took to Twitter to mourn her death.
'Adda rani, she would call herself. Can't forget the sound of her laughter and her running around. What a tragedy!' tweeted Sana Fazili, who stayed in the same locality.
She also posted a video, where Adda was copying a viral trend of social media. 'Yeh mein hoon....yeh meri party ho rahi hai (This is me...and I am having a party).
Twitter and other social media platforms were full of users sympathizing with Adda and someone posted, 'Heaven must be a beautiful place now as it has you Adda...' Parents of the little girl are still in shock. This is the second tragedy in their family as Adda's grandmother had passed away earlier this year.
The death of Adda, who was a student of DPS School, Srinagar, led to some suspensions in the Forest Department and pushed the Jammu and Kashmir administration to address the concerns of Ompura locality about wild animals.
'She was an extraordinary girl, always bubbly and with a smile. But what happened to her should not happen to anyone,' an inconsolable Ahmed said.
Her father, Muddasir had returned from Thailand last year following the outbreak of Covid.
Her school also expressed condolences and circulated a message saying, 'We are heartbroken by the suffering and loss of the little one and we stand with the family in grief and solidarity. We pray for the eternal peace of the departed soul and healing for those who she left behind shattered and inconsolable.' The sighting of wild animals was caught on camera but nobody had done anything, said Ahmed and other neighbours held the Forest Department responsible for the tragedy.
The Ompura area has a 20 acre nursery adjacent to it which is maintained by the Social Forestry Department.
'The purpose of the nursery was to grow saplings which could be later planted in the forest area. But they have not maintained the nursery and it has virtually turned into a forest.
'After her death, they started pruning trees and clearing the bushes which they should have done over the years. We feel the death of the child is the outcome of the Forest Department's actions. This nursery is surrounded by human habitation and there are wild animals roaming freely in the nursery,' Ahmed said.
Regional Wildlife Warden, Kashmir, Rashid Naqash, expressed shock over the tragedy but said his department could not be blamed for it.
'We have repeatedly raised the issue of the nursery and the presence of wild animals with the Forest Department over the last four years after the first sighting of a leopard there,' Naqash told PTI.
He said the department did its duty with professionalism after it came to know about the leopard sighting.
'We launched a vigorous house-to-house campaign to educate people about the threat and preventive measures needed to be taken for their safety. We asked them not to allow children outside their homes, especially at dawn and after dusk,' the official said.
He said they also pasted do's and don'ts at vantage points and used mosques to reach out the residents, besides making efforts to catch leopards. 'We succeeded in capturing a leopard in the vicinity over two weeks ago.' Asserting that the department has been making all out efforts to ensure that there is no man-animal conflict, he said, 'Our efforts can be gauged by the fact that the trend (man-animal conflict) is on steady decline over the past several years despite facing shortage of manpower.' Urging the people to follow the guidelines religiously, he said the victim's house is located near the nursery and there is no proper fencing separating the two.
'The household has rabbits and poultry, and the girl was attacked when she was moving alone at dusk,' he said.
'I cannot bear the burden of being dubbed the girl's murderer...', an emotional Naqash said. PTI SKL AAR