Conflict

Shopian Killings: The slain ‘human shield’s’ widow recounts the nocturnal terror

Mushtaq Ahmad Thakur

A year after the Indian Army used a Budgam weaver as a human shield in a blatant display of a war crime in Kashmir, the armed forces recently repeated the act at Dragad, Shopian. Here, the slain farmer Mushtaq Ahmad Thakur’s widow Raqeeba Akhtar recounts the horrible night that forever devoured her partner, her twins’ father and her in-laws’ support.

Like every night, we had long retired to bed on 31 March. There was nothing menacing in the air — until at around 2 am, there were knocks on our door. At once, we were thrown of our deep sleep. In the dead of night, we preferred not to open the door. But that didn’t help.

The loud yelling and repeated knocking on our main door continued for some 10 minutes. Then, my husband along with my aged father-in-law and I went to undo the latch.

With a solar lamp in his hand, my husband opened the door and saw a group of Indian army men standing outside.

“Are you a tailor?” they straightaway asked him.

“No,” replied my farmer husband.

They continued questioning him in an intimidating manner. As I saw it, they were clearly playing around and wanted to take him away.

“Are they inside?”

“Who?” my husband asked, quite meekly.

“Militants,” they said.

At this point, I got involved.

“Door is open,” I told them. “You can search the whole house.”

But they didn’t step inside. Instead, they took my husband with them.

“He has aged parents and little kids,” I pleaded with them. “They will die, if you take him like this!”

They didn’t pay any heed and took him as a human shield to a neighbouring house where, I was later told, militants were present.

Slain Mushtaq Ahmad’s family. (FPK Photo/Aamir Ali Bhat)

After a couple of minutes, the firing started. A torrent of bullets hit our outer walls and roof. I along with my aged in-laws, 11-year-old twin kids crawled towards the kitchen. We sheltered ourselves under the kitchen counter. I was desperately trying to save my family by putting a quilt over them. Worrying about my husband, I was wringing my hands in anxiety.

When one of the bullets hit our water tank on the floor, my son told me, “Mumma! Can you please collect some water before all gets lost? What will we do if we later feel thirsty?”

His words broke my heart. I clutched him with my chest and cried.

“Don’t cry, Mumma,” he tried to console me. “Nothing will happen to Dad.”

Hearing this tender resilience, I wanted to scream. But I just couldn’t. How helpless I felt at that moment!

At around 3:30 am, I finally mustered courage and peeked through the kitchen window to see if my husband was out there. Shockingly, I saw three dead bodies lying outside. I screamed. Just then, my son came and peeked through window.

“Mumma,” he whispered, “they are militants. Look at their shoe!”

When the firing stopped the next morning, the army came to our house with some locals for searching.

“Have you seen my husband?” I tried to check with the locals. They feigned ignorance. The answer numbed me. I wanted to know what happened to my husband whom they dragged out so mercilessly last night. All sorts of thoughts were crossing my mind. But I had to contain and control myself for the sake of my children.

“Bring my husband first,” I told the army, when they asked me to leave. “My mother-in-law is unable to walk. Call him, so that he can put her on his shoulders.”

“Don’t worry, your husband is with us, inside a vehicle,” they assured me, and I left the house along with my family.

But I never knew that the rudest shock of my life is awaiting me outside.

The locals hesitatingly told me that my husband’s dead body was lying in our next-door neighbour Rafiq Ahmad Mengoo’s lawn. The solar lamp he carried that night was still in his right hand.

I cried over my sudden doom and fainted on the spot.

Once I regained my senses, I realized how those untimely knocks and the armed forces had rendered my twins orphan. Both Hadi and Muntaha are still studying in Class 6, and along with my aged in-laws, they’ve lost a significant support.

It was only later I learned that the forces had taken him to Rafiq Sahib’s house, to check if the militants were present there. It was there he was shot dead. All the seven militants, including Rafiq’s relative Zubair Turray were killed within first hour of the gunfight. I was told that the militants didn’t want the house to be damaged and therefore had come out to fight.

And yet they staged the drama of firing throughout the night. Even after Rafiq sahib sought police help, the firing didn’t stop. His lecturer son was later beaten, and their valuable belongings were damaged.

Whatever happened that night was a gross injustice. Today, I’m the victim; and tomorrow, god forbid, another victim will emerge. This is how this military occupation is shaping our lives.

 

This incident was narrated by Raqeeba Akhtar, the widow of Mushtaq Ahmad Thakur, and is reproduced here, as told to Amir Ali Bhat.

 

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