A breath of fresh air

Soldier in Kashmir

Having been under a non-stop curfew for 35 days, the residents of Palhalan in North Kashmir’s Baramulla district inhaled their first breath of curfew-free air on 23 October, a crisp autumnal Saturday morning. The streets were littered with schoolchildren, and half-open shop shutters lined the busy marketplace.

Speaking to Kashmir Dispatch, student Rameez remembers the last time he attended regular college. ‘I think it was 22 June. Since then this town has seen four deaths and scores of injuries.’

Rameez, a Mass Communications student from Baramulla College, not only lost all those days in college but also a college friend from the same department to the violence in July. Eighteen year-old Syed Farakh Bukhari was allegedly picked up in a protest in late July and was tortured and killed in custody.

‘We need to prepare for our exams but I am unable to concentrate,’ complains Fayaz, another student, going on to explain how difficult it was to cope with constant raids and harassment from the government forces during the curfews. ‘Villagers were afraid of even meeting their neighbours and the forces would conduct surprise raids all day and night. We used to just watch television at home. Despite telling them that we needed to get to our orchards to pick apples and box them, they wouldn’t let us get through. It all depended on their mood.’

Meanwhile, in neighbouring Kreeri, long lines at the Block Hospital fail to faze Medical Officer Dr Khursheed Ali Khan. He recounts how in the last four months the hospital has seen 30 patients with bullet injuries, of whom nine were admitted and six were referred to a hospital in Srinagar. Six gunshot injuries were operated on and one postmortem was conducted. Three women had gunshot injuries and two were crippled for life after being operated in Srinagar.

Back in Palhalan at Syed Farakh Bukhari’s house, his father, Bashir Ahmed Bukhari, waits for the postmortem report of his son, who was brutally murdered and hurriedly buried by the police in a shallow grave in Uri.

Bashir pushes a stack of books Farakh had just bought to study two days before he was picked up. With his picture hanging on the wall in his room, the Bukhari family awaits justice – along with the families of the other 122 people killed in the last four months of violence in the Valley.

Names have been changed.

Photo by Ajay Tallam under a CC Licence

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