Keller Mourns Shiraza’s Killing

20 December 2009
Greater Kashmir
Arif Shafi Wani

Srinagar: Nestled between lush forests, this sleepy hamlet resounds with wails from the modest house of 20-year old Shiraza Akhtar who was killed by unidentified gunmen last week. Fear was writ on the faces of villagers as they have shouldered coffins of seven civilian including four women- all victims of unidentified gunmen during the past eight months. Though police has blamed militants, no outfit till date has owned these killings. Shiraza was killed two days after Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) ruled out rape and murder of Asiya and Neelofar, who were found dead on the banks of Rambiara nallah in this south Kashmir district on May 30 this year, and tempers were running high against the CBI. Her killing evoked a widespread condemnation from separatists as well as mainstream politicians and brought Keller on the center-stage. Visibly in shock, Shiraza’s 72-year old mother, Khati Begum constantly gazed at the door from which her “world was shattered.” “The gunman entered from here,” she said while pointing towards the main door. “He was wearing a long phiran, speaking Kashmiri and had a gun in his hand. Shiraza was serving food. He asked for our names. As Shiraza uttered her name he instantly fired upon her…”she said. “Her teeth and pieces of jaw bone were scattered in the kitchen. Before I could react, bullets riddled her chest and she breathed her last in my lap. I could only see blood…” she said and broke down. Without caring for her life, Khati said she had followed the gunman. “But he also fired on me,” she said pointing towards bullets marks on the door of her living room. Victim’s younger daughter, Daisy, was so shocked that she could not even utter a word. Khati said, Shiraza was an obedient daughter and a good human being. “She had no enmity with anybody. I don’t know the whether killer was a militant or a trooper. But I can’t forget the face who shattered my world.” she said as tears trickled down her wrinkled face. “What was my daughter’s crime?,” she screamed demanding punishment to the accused. She said last year the personnel of the Special Operations Group (SOG) had thrashed her son, Tariq Ahmad. “Shiraza tore the uniform of a SOG officer and rescued her brother from his clutches. Her right arm was fractured to thrashing by the SOG men.” She was seconded by her neighbours. “She was courteous and brave. We don’t see any reason for her killing,” they said. But the locals were so fear-stricken that they refused to divulge their names. “It seems the killing was planned,” said one of her neighbours. “As the dogs barked continuously, we thought the troopers were patrolling the area. Instantly somebody pelted stones on our houses and there were wails from Shiraza’s house. It was apparently done to cover up the bullet sounds. When we rushed to the spot, she was dead,” he said. Khati has regrets. “Not a single Hurriyat leader visited my house to offer condolences. It seems that have set parameters to offer condolences. I want to tell them that Shiraza was like any other Kashmiri woman,” she said. Keller which is at the fag end of developmental activities, was considered to be bastion of militants during 90s’. Its plain are presently dotted with many camps of troopers including that of Rashtriya Rifles. Three militants including divisional commander of Hizbul Mujahideen, were killed in an encounter in Shalidar forests in Kellar in October this year. Since April this year, unidentified gunmen have killed Reshma Begum, Saifuddin, Nigeena Akhtar, Parveena, Muhammad Aslam Awan and his three-year-old son in various areas of Keller. The Station House Officer (SHO) Kellar, Farooq Ahmad, blamed militants for the killings. “Preliminary investigations reveal that Shiraza was killed by militants active in upper reaches of Keller. But we are yet to identify the accused and ascertain motive behind the murder. The pattern of this incident is identical to previous killings,” the SHO told Greater Kashmir. However, the villagers demanded a through probe into the matter. “How many more coffins have we to shoulder? Enough is enough. Whoever the killers are must be punished at an earliest to restore sense of security in the area,” they demanded.