Srinagar gun battle leads to 19 poor families losing the roof over their head
Their residential houses went up in smoke during battle between security forces and militants on Tuesday, during which 2 militants including separatist leader Muhammad Ashraf Sehrai’s son were killed
Holding a microphone in his hands, Mushtaq Ahmad appeals for donations outside a mosque in Kanimazar Nawakadal, in Srinagar's thickly populated downtown area, in a deep and raspy voice. Ahmad, the chairman of a local masjid committee, is not seeking donations for people affected due to the economical crisis precipitated by the unprecedented COVID-19 lockdown, but for those who lost their property in a gun battle between militants and security forces on Tuesday which saw the latter use explosives.
The management of the masjid committee started collecting donations from early Wednesday morning, making passionate appeals to people across the Valley to help the victims.
On Tuesday at around half past one a.m, armed forces came for militants and ring fenced the entire locality. As they began searching the residential houses, they came under a gun fire from the hiding militants, triggering a gun fight.
The battle ended with the killing of two militants including the son of top separatist leader Mohamad Ashraf Sehrai. The fire fight, however, obliterated nearly a part of the locality with around 19 residential houses going up in smoke.
Since Wednesday morning, Mushtaq Ahmad Gilkar, a mason by profession, has been busy in clearing the debris of his house. With a pensive expression on his face, Gilkar recounts how he recently had renovated the house and everything vanished in a few seconds.
The battle ended with the killing of two militants including the son of top separatist leader Muhammad Ashraf Sehrai. The fire fight, however, obliterated a part of the locality, with around 19 residential houses going up in smoke.
Since morning, Mushtaq Ahmad Gilkar, a mason by profession, has been busy in clearing the detritus of his damaged house. With a pensive expression on his face, Gilkar recounts how he had recently renovated the house and everything vanished in the blink of an eye.
"As government announced the lockdown in view of COVID-19, I myself started renovating the house, but I lost everything in a jiffy," says Gilkar.
Gilkar has two daughters and a son. The engagement of his elder daughter had taken place merely a few weeks ago and all the jewellery and other ornaments he had bought for her wedding were devoured by the fire. Burnt-out household goods are strewn across the damaged rooms of his house.
The tale of other residents who lost their properties in the gun battle is well-nigh same. However, amidst the boom of blasts and gun-fire, their only thought was to save their lives.
"I could not salvage anything. The backside of my house caught fire and the explosives used by the forces destroyed all the belongings," said Nazir Ahmad, another resident, adding that his only concern was to somehow save his life.
Most of the residents were evacuated from the area in the dead of night when the search operation was in progress. A few gun shots rang out at around 2.30 a.m., and then there was a complete hush for several hours. The bullets pierced the air again at around 7 a.m.and soon the forces used explosives to destroy the houses to kill the hiding militants.
"We felt the earth shake and saw clouds of smoke bellowing out of the area," said Nazir Ahmad.
Locality hit by 2014 floods too
Most of the people living in the area live in penury. Of the 19 house owners, sixteen are daily income earners who work overtime to make their ends meet. They include labourers, masons and street sellers. Due to the ongoing lockdown, some of these families were already grappling with financial troubles and the masjid committee was helping them out of the donations they collect locally during these difficult times.
"Three of these families are government employees. The rest of them have no permanent source of income", said Ahmad.
The area was badly hit during the 2014 floods. The roof-high water had damaged most of the houses in the area and the paltry compensation from the government to rebuild their dwellings was of little help.
"Most of the houses which were destroyed in this gun battle were newly built. After the 2014 deluge, they had put all their savings in rebuilding their houses," said Ahmad.