Hermain (Shopian, J&K): Just before the clock struck midnight, Waheeda Jan, 38, was awakened by a loud explosion. She feared a cooking gas cylinder had gone off in the neighbourhood. Then she heard the cries yelling desperately for help.
The men and women of the family turned on the lights and gathered in the compound. “Then my eldest brother-in-law went up and he came down slapping his face. He said the two men had been killed,” Waheeda, a housewife, said.
According to J&K police, suspected terrorists lobbed a grenade inside a makeshift tin shed in Hermain village of south Kashmir’s Shopian district in the dead of night on Monday, October 17, injuring two men. They later succumbed to the injuries at a local hospital. Police have identified the deceased as Monish Kumar and Ram Sagar, both residents of Kanooj in Uttar Pradesh.
The targeted killing took place three days after a Kashmiri Pandit, Puran Krishen Bhat, a farmer and father of two minor children, was killed in a similar attack in the adjoining Choudhary Gund village on October 15. The latest attack raises troubling questions about the security situation in Kashmir, where militants again seem to be targeting minority community members and migrant workers at will.
Additional director general of police Vijay Kumar told reporters in Shopian that two persons were arrested within hours of the incident, including the main attacker. One of the suspects has been identified as Imran Bashir Ganie, a resident of Harmain, Shopian. “We are probing the case. The main attacker was working for Lashkar commanders Danish and Abid,” he said, adding that non-locals are a soft target for militants as they don’t have security.
‘Poor labourers who had come to earn a living’
The tin shed where the grenade explosion took place is built on top of a single-storied building, on the concrete slab of a small row of shops flanking the main road in Hermain village – which is situated some 75 km south of the capital Srinagar. On the slab’s frontal portion, half-dried apple slices left to dry under the autumn sun are arranged in neat rows on rectangular tin sheets. Some are covered with a thin layer of dust.
Waheeda, whose husband’s family owns the building, said that the two slain men had been living in the shed for about two months. She said that the men were poor labourers who had come to Kashmir to earn a living.
“They were brought by two fruit traders from Mathura who have been doing business with us for more than four years. They loaded apple boxes into trucks in return for daily wages,” she said.
The tin shed, where the two men put up, mirrors the poverty which probably compelled them to come to Kashmir. The shed lacks basic matting and there are more than a dozen apple boxes lying haphazardly behind the door.
In one corner, an uneaten chapati lays on a cooking gas stove, which has an unwashed pot by its side. The naked concrete floor – with unplaned wooden planks that hold the tin sheets together from the inside – lends an air of claustrophobia to what was the living quarter of the two men for two months.
Inside the shed, a shirt and a stole belonging to the two men lie on a thin, nylon-and-jute sheet, which they used as a mattress for sleeping. The grenade appears to have exploded between the two men, tearing apart the sheet which is also smeared with blood. The impact of the explosion, which shook the neighbourhood, is also visible on the concrete slab.
Waheeda, whose husband and three brothers-in-law, have been taken for questioning by police, said that both the men were kind to her children, “One of them was old. We called him chachu. He used to bring sweets for my children and also played with them. I can’t understand why they were attacked,” she said, breaking down into tears.
As she spoke in a muffled voice, a team of police and army personnel walked into the compound of the house, which shares the entrance with the building next door where the two labourers were killed. She asked one of the police officials whether her husband and other family members were going to be released. “We are probing the incident. If they have not done anything wrong, they will be set free,” the police officer assured her.
Following the attack, massive searches were launched by J&K Police, Army and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in the dense apple orchards of Hermain, where an eerie calm prevailed with all the shops shut amid the thick presence of security officers. Searches were also underway in other adjoining villages.
Waheeda said that the two slain men were going to return home on Tuesday. “Yesterday, the traders cleared their dues. The two men had loaded the final truck of apples last evening but it got a little late and they decided to leave for home today morning. They were very happy. We packed apples and pears for their families, not knowing that they will never reach home,” she said.
Waheeda regrets that the two men, who had come to Kashmir for earning a livelihood, would now be handed over to their families in coffins. “The traders were staying with us ever since they came here. They brought these two men and we treated them like our own. We never made them feel like strangers. If they needed anything, we gladly gave it to them. Whoever killed them should be punished. This bloodshed needs to stop,” she said.