Kareemabad (Pulwama): Sitting beside the lifeless body of her husband, Saima kept murmuring the same words: “What will I do? Life is a punishment now.”
A group of women from the neighbourhood tried consoling her, but Saima continued to cry. Till the morning of December 15, her life was near perfect. Saima, who is from Indonesia, had fallen in love with Abid Hussain Lone after their interaction during a programme in Hyderabad in 2014. Two years later, they got married in the city, where Lone, an MBA graduate, worked in a garment company, his cousin Suhail Ahmad said.
The couple decided to move to Lone’s native village of Kareemabad in restive south Kashmir last year after the condition of his mother, a widow, deteriorated.
Just four months ago, Saima had given birth to a girl. They named her Adifa. The family was now planning to travel to Indonesia and spend the winter there. But in a place like Kashmir, where conflict has left scores of families devastated, Saima has become another chapter in the region’s painful history.
“She (Saima) travelled thousands of miles from her home, left behind everything to start a new life, only to become part of our unending suffering. There can be no tragedy worse than this,” Abid’s uncle Ghulam Muhammad said in desperation as he recalled the “humble and helping nature” of his nephew.
The Lones live barely three kilometres from Sirnoo where a gunfight had broken deep inside an orchard between a group of militants and the security forces. At around 8 am, scores of youth from Kareemabad started marching towards the encounter site. Twenty-eight-year-old Lone too joined the march, assuring his wife and ailing mother that he would return soon.
But that wasn’t to be. Half an hour later, a neighbour broke the tragic news to the family that their son had been hit by a bullet and he was being rushed to a Srinagar hospital. In the afternoon, as the family hoped against hope for a miracle, Lone’s bullet-riddled body was brought home.
The army has repeatedly warned civilians not to gather at encounter sites, a common practice. The army says the men who gather not only impede their operations but also actively seek to disrupt them, so as to allow the militants to escape.
According to a local youth, Lone was fired upon by soldiers from an armoured vehicle which had got stuck on a roadside, away from the battle site. He was one of the seven civilians killed in firing by forces on protestors after three local militants and an army man died in the encounter.
“You would never leave us. Oh my son, what pushed you to death? Didn’t you think once about us?” the slain youth’s mother wept aloud.
A young woman held Lone’s head in her hands, moving her fingers occasionally on his pale face. “She is Abid’s sister,” a young girl among the mourners said.
Saima sat on one side of the bed on which Lone’s body lay flat and motionless. She held the hands of her husband, tears rolling down her face. “Look at her (Saima). Why did you leave her alone?” another woman sobbed.
When Saima visited Indonesia in 2017, her niece, seven-year-old Insha, accompanied her to Kashmir. “Her (Insha’s) parents had died in a road accident some years ago and they (Saima and Abid) had decided to take care of her now,” said Ahmad.
But, he sighed, nobody would have thought that their own daughter, who is too little to understand this tragedy, would soon lose her father.
“May Allah’s wrath be upon those who snatched our son from us,” said an elderly woman while raising her hands towards the sky.
As a group of young men pushed their way to take the body for the funeral, Saima pleaded with them to let her spend a few last moments with Lone. Then she moved along with the mourners towards the “Martyr’s Graveyard”, crying bitterly. “What will she do now? Her life is destroyed,” a young woman said as she struggled to take Saima back home.
“Please let me go, Please don’t stop me,” Saima kept saying softly as she saw the procession disappear in the nearby lane, taking her husband away for his last rites.
Mudasir Ahmad is a Srinagar-based reporter.