Srinagar, April 14: Curls of smoke still rose from the debris of what was a small house for a family of five in the Khudwani area of Kulgam. For the three children of the Wanis, losing their home, to a fire set off by some inflammable material sprayed by the government forces, wasn’t the only tragedy the family suffered. A bigger misfortune for them was the loss of their school books and notebooks.
Searching through the wreckage the 14-year-old daughter and her four year old brother could only find burnt books. The fire that consumed their home left nothing for them to salvage. On Tuesday night, when the gunfight raged between the government forces and three Lashkar guerrillas, the Wanis hid themselves in the kitchen.
On Wednesday afternoon when they saw their house had caught fire, the father asked his children and wife to jump out from the window and followed them as the heavy exchange of gunfire continued outside. “At around 1 pm the forces sprayed some chemical towards the house and it went up in flames I managed to somehow come out of the house along with my wife and three children through window even as bullets were raining from all sides and took shelter in the neighbor’s house,” said Mohammad Yousuf Wani, the father of the three children.
Wani, an old frail man had after a lot of struggle managed to build a small house for his family. He makes a living from working as a casual labourer. As the children looked for their books, he himself was trying to salvage utensils from the kitchen. But the fire had left them in no condition to be used again.
Wani’s house is one among the four set ablaze by the forces during an eighteen hour long fierce gunfight which ended on Wednesday evening with the guerrillas managing to escape. Four people died saving them as they pelted stones on the forces while the latter were seeking to kill the guerrillas.
“I put my everything I had to build this small three room concrete house but saw it being reduced to ashes within no time,” says Wani.
He said that he left the house along with his family only after it was set on fire.
“Me, my wife and children took cover here to prevent ourselves coming in way of bullets many of which hit the walls, windows and roof of our house,” said Wani pointing towards a traditional sink in the kitchen.
He alleged that the government forces did not allow him to come out of the house. “It was a narrow escape for all of us”.
“Despite Wani’s poor health condition he toiled hard to build this house and provide best possible education to his kids. Now he is left with nothing,” said Sheikh Jehangir who lives in the neighborhood.
The houses of Ghulam Muhamd Wani, Bashir Ahmad Lone and Nisar Ahmad Lone – all prosperous business persons of the locality, were also reduced to rubble.
“Bashir’s house was first blown up by security forces with heavy explosive and later it was set ablaze along with three others,” said the locals who had gathered at the encounter site helping them to clear the debris.
While the families were grieving for the loss, the neighbours were collecting donations for them to help them rebuild their homes. Nearby children and women offered juice to the visitors. “People are donating generously and it is our promise we won’t rest till we rebuild each of the houses,” the villagers vowed.