Miles From Peace Mission, Village Gets Cruel Reminder
22 April 2003
The Indian Express
Khulbagh: Even as a piecemeal effort for peace got under way in Srinagar today, another village was scarred by violence visited on innocent people. It took just one blast to change the lives of about a thousand villagers, 17 among them injured. The six dead, at least, won't worry anymore. The blast has hurled this hamlet, about 40 km from the capital, into silent mourning. There were no VIPs or government officials around. Just people wounded and aggrieved. A woman, who was lucky to escape the blast with just a few splinter cuts on her thigh and shoulder winced in pain as she tried to walk to the local dispensary. An old man leaned against a walnut tree as he watched the village boys wash the blood stains on the road. The end may always be the same but the story needs to be fleshed out and told. Not that it would make any difference here. The villagers who had assembled this morning, around 8 a.m, near a narrow culvert a few metres away from their cattle, waiting for the shepherd, didn't know that their pastoral setting would soon be dabbed with red. 'Suddenly, there was a deafening blast. The stone wall on the road was blown into pieces. I could see only dust and smoke,' said Mushtaq Ahmad Sofi, who watched it all unfold from the balcony of his house nearby. 'It seemed as if there was a rain of shrapnels and pieces of stone on the tin roof of our house. I rushed downstairs and ran towards the culvert. It was like a flood of blood. There were bodies scattered all around.' Sofi said for almost an hour they were just evacuating the injured. 'There were around 15 men, women and children hit by the shrapnels,' he said. Five had died on the spot while the sixth victim had been rushed to the hospital where he died. The villagers say an improvised explosive device had been hidden in the stone wall. People talk in whispers about militants who had been trying to target the patrol parties from the local security force camp crossing the culvert every morning. But no on is looking for answers here. The sound of women wailing drifts into the air from a small shack. It is here that 35-year-old Aftab Ahmad Mir lived till this morning. A labourer, Mir had stepped out, only to be blown to bits. A white shroud which would have otherwise covered his body became a receptacle of the parts. At home he had his wife, Raja, waiting for him - she is expecting his second child; the elder son, Tauseef, is just four. 'There is nothing left. We were preparing for the arrival of a baby and he had to take me to the hospital at 10 am. Now death has taken everything away,' she wailed as the village women tried to console her. Mir had a brother as well, Nazir Ahmad Mir, who went missing five years ago. Now there are two widows - Mir's wife and aged mother besides his son and the one yet unborn. On the other end of the village lives Bashir Ahmad Mir. A 28-year-old graduate, he was unemployed and had to work as a labourer to feed his two younger sisters and mother. And when the villagers were laying him down in his grave today, his mother was lying unconscious in the verandah of their mud-and-brick house. And there was this horse too who bled to death over an hour as his 50-year-old owner, Ghulam Mohammad Khan, who was on his way to the village for work, lay motionless in a pool of blood. The local police station is just a drive of 10 minutes but they took more than an hour to come. 'The BSF officer of the local camp came to our rescue. He sent his vehicles and men to help pick up the dead and injured,' said Mohammad Abdullah, a village elder. 'There was no doctor or paramedic at the Tral hospital. So we had to arrange two vehicles to take them to Srinagar.'