Death of a Woman

  • Adil Bhat
  • Publish Date: Jul 18 2017 9:51PM
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  • Updated Date: Jul 18 2017 9:51PM
Death of a Woman

Tahira fell during the encounter in Daligam, Anantnag, on July 1. How did she die, and what for? 

It was a gloomy day. The sun hid behind the clouds and I woke up to the sound of raindrops rippling down my slanted glass window. The bed felt too cosy, though, and I slipped back in. But it wasn’t long before loud cries coming from the second floor of my house jolted me awake. They were the sort of mournful cries that, in the valley, indicate a death.

I got up and rushed into the common room, only to find it empty. I ran up to the second floor. My aunt was wailing and beating her chest. Her lamentations confirmed by gnawing fear: “Tahira, mein beneh, che mer miz (Tahira, my sister, is dead).” I stopped cold.

It is weeks since Tahira was killed during a gunfight between militants and Indian forces in Dailgam, Anantnag, on July 1, but her death, and of another civilian who was killed that day, remains shrouded in mystery. There are three conflicting versions of what happened.

After the encounter ended, I went to where the militants were killed. Bashir Ahmad Ganai’s home was a ruin. People from the village and outside had gathered there. A young villager named Mohammad Akram was squatting on the ground, a sheet spread in front of him. He was collecting money for the Ganai family. “Bashir is a poor man and today he lost everything he had earned,” Akram said. “He had built this house five years ago. He has five daughters and two sons and in his extended family of 18.  We are trying to raise some money to help him survive.”

As I was speaking with Akram, Ganai’s daughter Bismah, her eyes swollen and voice heavy, interrupted the conversation. “The army and the police abused us and tried to kill us. We were shouting from our windows, pleading them to let us out, but they continued to fire bullets and tear gas,” she said, tears flowing down her cheeks, and went back inside the shell of a house.

Bashir and his family are staying with his brother in another mohalla of the village. “That day when I rose for the morning prayers, I saw my eldest daughter standing behind me. She came closer and told me our house had been cordoned off by the army. For a moment I was baffled, but then she told her not to worry as it had nothing to do with us.”

“But what my daughter said next, I was clueless about,” he continued. “She said two militants were sitting in the other room. I was shocked. I had no idea about their presence in my house. My daughter is a tailor and she works late in the night. I asked her when did they come. She said she was working at night and heard a knock on the door. There were two unknown men at the door asking for shelter for the night. She refused saying that if the army came to know about their presence, they would kill us all. The militants said they wanted to stay only for a few hours and they would leave at dawn.”

Before they could leave, however, the army had surrounded the house. “At 6, the army started firing at our house,” Bashir said. “To tell you the truth, the militants did not retaliate. My entire family, which includes children and a 7-month-old baby gathered in one room. No sooner had we huddled together that the army started targeting it. We moved to another other room, but they could see us through the windows and shot at us there as well. They blasted the window panes and kept firing.”

“Feeling helpless, I called my relatives who stay nearby, asking for help. Through them, we got a call from a DSP who asked us to come out of the house. I asked the DSP to send the sarpanch and elders of the village to get us out. He didn’t and the army kept firing. Then the army made an announcement on loudspeakers, warning that if we did not move out, we’ll all be killed. My daughter went out first, pleading ‘don’t fire, we will move out’. Around 12:30 in the afternoon, the firing stopped and my family moved out, leaving the militants behind.”

Was his family held hostage by the militants as the army and the police have claimed? No, Bashir said, the militants let them out without resistance.

About the killing of Tahira, he said, “When we called our relatives in the morning to help us, they made an announcement from the mosque. This led to some 500 villagers to come out to save us. The group was led by Tahira, who was shot dead by the army when she attempted to enter our house to rescue us. The life of an innocent young woman was put out by the army.”

Although his relatives and neighbours are trying to comfort him, Bashir is despondent, “I am helpless, I sold off two kanals of land to build this house. I am a daily labourer, I earn 200 rupees a day. Where will my 18-member family live now?”

After leaving Bashir, I went to Tahira’s house. My aunt Kausar, the younger sister of Tahira, had already reached there, sitting in the corner of the room packed with women, mourning. I sat beside her and she narrated what Tahira’s family told her had happened. “She had gone to see her 16-year-old son Zahid who was in the crowd moving towards Bashir’s house to help the trapped family. As she got close to the house, an army man hit her. She hit him back with a stick she was carrying. Soon after, another armyman started firing at the civilians. One bullet struck Tahira and she fell.”

At this, Kausar broke down. But her brother Sartaj Ahmad Chopan continued from where she had left off. “Zahid thought his mother was just unconscious. He carried her on his back and got her home. There, seeing the blood oozing out of her abdomen, Zahid realised his mother was dead.”

As I was leaving, Kausar got up and said, “When you go to Delhi, tell Indians there that my innocent sister’s blood will haunt them forever.”

Some other villages, though, offered a slightly different version of how Tahira, whom one resident described as “a brave woman who will be remembered in the valley as a martyr”, died. Her neighbour Abdul Rehman, 50, said Tahira had accompanied her son Zahid to try and save the militants. “She defied the army, leading the villagers to the house where the militants were trapped,” he said. “She has become a symbol of bravery and resistance.”

Mohammad Shafi, 23, a resident who is studying at Kashmir University, said, “Tahira laid down her life for our freedom. She had gone to save the militants who fight for our freedom from Indian occupation. Her martyrdom should be celebrated and not lamented.