By Mohammad Suhail
Bewildered family looking for answers
Dooru, Anantnag: It was another regular Sunday at the house of Manzoor Ahmad Rather, in Dooru area of Anantnag district, before a midday phone call changed it into a day the family would never forget.
Altaf Rather, one of Manzoor’s three sons, left home for mosque to offer the Zuhr prayers when his phone rang.
The call was from his younger brother Sajad Rather’s number, but Sajad was not on the other end of the call. Instead, a stranger delivered a message that turned their world upside down.
“Your brother, Sajad, has been martyred here in Shopian,” Altaf recounted the person at the other end telling him.
But Altaf had a million questions ready to burst his head apart and most of them remain unanswered.
“I knew some militants had been killed in Shopian but the question was, what on earth was Sajad doing there?” Altaf told Kashmir Reader, at their modest house in Sehpora locality of Dooru.
Early Sunday morning almost the whole valley had come to know that Hizb commander Saddam Padder and his associates were fighting government forces in Shopian district. The family had heard the news too.
At about 8:30am Sajad had left home, without his morning tea, telling his family that he was going to work.
“This was a routine. He left home early morning for work and had his breakfast after he came back later in the morning,” Sajad’s father, Manzoor, told Kashmir Reader.
Sajad worked as a labourer, often loading and unloading goods vehicles at a local hardware shop.
On Sunday, as well, he went to the particular hardware shop to unload a truck carrying cement bags, the family believes.
But what happened after remains a mystery to them.
How did he reach Shopian, where was he shot-during the encounter where five militants and four other civilians were killed? How did he breathe his last? The family knows nothing of it and the burden of these questions is crushing them.
“I had even called him at around 10:30 and asked if he could accompany me to a place of work in case he was free. But he turned down my offer,” Another brother, Bilal Ahmad, who also works as a laborer, said.
Less than three hours later, Altaf got the dreaded call. In another hour and a half three young boys from Shopian, in an alto car, drove into Dooru carrying the lifeless body of Sajad.
“They told us he died before they could rush him to the hospital. He was shot in the left eye, the bullet piercing his skull in the process,” Manzoor said, his voice faltering as he held back his tears.
The family members are unable to comprehend the turn of events, for Sajad never gave them a reason to think he could travel more than 40 kilometers, some day, to be at an encounter site where bullets are flying blindly.
The Rather brothers had to give up their education when their father, Manzoor, was diagnosed with multiple ailments a decade back and has remained on a virtual death bed ever since.
While Altaf and Bilal took to shop keeping and working as a laborer, it was Sajad who worked the hardest and supported the family in the most difficult of the times.
“He was the most capable of the three. He had mastered the art of unloading goods vehicles and earned decent money to support the family,” Manzoor said, adding that what Sajad earned in half a day others took two days to earn the same.
As per the family Sajad seemed to have only two things on his mind, earning for the family and playing cricket.
They describe him as an avid cricketer who took time off from his hardworking days to play a match of cricket.
“Despite working so hard he never stopped playing cricket. It was his passion,” one of Sajad’s friends present at his house told Kashmir Reader.
Sajad’s friend also expressed surprise at his presence at the site of an encounter.
“I don’t know what was he doing there? I can’t fathom what came over him?” the friend said, adding he only knew the hardworking and the cricketer Sajad, “and nothing beyond that,”
With Sajad gone forever, the family is as bewildered at how to move on, as they are about the fact that Sajad went to an encounter site, leaving behind his work and his family.