Families Who Fought Infiltrators Left Out In The Cold

2 April 2009
The Hindu


Handwara: Roshan Khan woke up before dawn, as she had done all her life, and was headed for the yard to milk the cows. But the cattle weren’t the only thing she found in the cattle shed: a tall young man dressed in white snow gear lay face down in the hay, a Kalashnikov assault rifle propped by his side. “I wasn’t sure what to do,” she recalls, “so I hollered at him a little and then poked him with a rake.” Luckily for her, the man didn’t wake up. Ms. Khan’s husband, Younus Khan, came out to see what was going on - and promptly called the police. Half an hour later, the Khan family watched as officers from the Jammu and Kashmir police’s Special Operations Group and the Army battled the terrorist hidden in the cattle shed. Their home was gutted, their belongings were destroyed, and their five cows persished in fire. Ever since the March 22 shootout, the Khans and their six children have been living with neighbours. Army troops have helped out with a month’s rations, while a police officer has given the family Rs.5,000. But no one from the State government has taken the trouble to visit Shaldori to assess the damage - and there’s been no word on when the Khans might be compensated for the loss of their assets. Infiltration worries North Kashmir’s mountain communities - made up mainly of Gujjar pastoralists - fear that such stories of loss will become more common as spring sets in. Located at the end of the infiltration routes used by Pakistan-based jihadists to cross the mountains into Jammu and Kashmir, villages like Shaldori have found themselves in the middle of some of the most intense fighting in years. Last month, Ghulam Mohiuddin and Ghulam Mehrajuddin bolted their doors when shots rang near the village of Hafrada, near Handwara. Huddled in the living room, the brothers and their families cowered as machine guns and mortar shells went off all through the night. In the forests just above the village, troops from the Army’s 1 Paracommando Regiment had just engaged 18 Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists who had crossed the LoC. In the course of the night, soldiers Shabbir Ahmad, Sanjay Singh, Anil Kumar, Netar Singh, Bhakar Sanjay Annasahib, Rajneesh Kumar, Manoj Singh, and the officer who commanded them, Major Mohit Sharma, were killed. But the troops also claimed the life of five of the 18 terrorists in the hills, forcing the rest of the group to disperse. Early next morning, one of those survivors banged on the Mohiuddin families’ back door. “He told us to get out, and bolted the door behind him,” says Ghulam Mohiuddin’s son, Farooq Ahmad. Now, the family had a choice: to alert nearby troops of the presence of the uninvited guest, and risk its home being destroyed in the fighting, or to remain quiet until dark and allow him to get away. It wasn’t an easy choice. Built over nine years, the house represented not just the family’s savings but also its hopes. “In the end,” says Ghulam Mohiuddin’s wife, Afroza, “we decided to tell the Army. We wanted to do the right thing.” Compensation Like the Khan family at Shaldori, though, the Mohiuddin and Mehrajuddin families have reason to regret their decision. Despite desperate calls to local administrators and politicians, the family is yet to receive compensation. Indeed, no district official has even visited the village to survey the damage. Troops at Hafrada have helped the families as best they can with rations, but they have been forced to depend on the kindness of neighbours for shelter, fuel and even clothing. India’s efforts to defeat the surge in cross-LoC infiltration will depend, in no small part, on the goodwill of rural communities. So far, the Jammu and Kashmir government is showing little sign that it wishes to win it.