A rubble of dreams, home lost to gunfight, she waits for jailed husband

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Sitting under a tin shed, Heemu Jan cooked on a gas stove and kept an eye on a pile of debris, just a few meters away. In its corner lay the daily utilities and a pile of mattresses on another corner.  

Since 7 July, Jan and her 23-year-old husband, Bilal Ahmad Dar have spent uneasy days and sleepless nights and their 3-year-old son Faizan in the shed after their one-story house in a Pulwama village was gutted during a gunfight between the government forces and the militants. In Pulwama, at least 105 houses have been destroyed in gunfights since 2015.

For Jan, shifting to a temporary shed was difficult. “The first night that I spent there, I couldn’t sleep at all,” said Jan, 22. “It felt like the longest night of my life.” 

Gutting the houses that are used by militants as shelters during the gunfights has become a perpetual event in Kashmir’s counter-insurgency campaign. Hundreds of houses, built by years of savings, nourished by the memories of childhood, are razed to debris overnight, rendering dozens of families homeless. 

“Imagine, someone who has constructed a house brick by brick, by his sweat and blood,  getting vanished just like that?” Jan said. 

A long night

Jan and Dar had decided to visit her sister in law’s place, in Ratnipora, not too far from their village Puchal, in Pulwama. They left the home at around 2 pm and asked their father-in-law to look after the house until they were back.

Despite insistence from hosts to stay over, the couple started their 10-minute journey back to village by 7 pm only to encounter heavy deployment of the government forces, cordoning their village. “We realised something was wrong. My husband tried to go forward, but he was stopped by the army and told to step back,” Jan said. So, they turned back to Ratnipora. 

It took a few hours and several calls to know that a cordon and search operation (CASO) was underway in their village. At 12:30 am, first gunshots were heard, Jan said. A few minutes later, a neighbour confirmed that their home was the center of the gunfight. “I couldn’t believe it,” Jan later recalled. “I felt an earthquake hit and the house crumbled.” 

Jan waited anxiously for the dawn “to see my home.” With every bullet being fired, her husband would panic and scream – contemplating which one would have hit that wall, a door, or their favourite window.

Before leaving that afternoon, Jan had opened the windows of two rooms, on the back of their home, in her bid to clean the house. Maybe that could have been the entry point for militants, Jan still wonders.

The next morning 

At dawn, the couple left for Puchal but were stopped by their relatives. “His sister told him if he goes there, the army personnel might take him along. We have seen what the oppressors do then,” the caller warned. 

But they couldn’t hold them back. They reached their village at 10 am. Far from a sight, Jan saw her home – now a huge pile of rubble – and broke down as she ran. 

“Even at that time, there were women who asked me, ‘Why had I left my home if I had guests there? How could I have made them understand that I did not know a thing about it,”’ Jan said.

The truck driver of one of the trucks that carried government forces personnel later had told a shopkeeper in the village that the personnel had been tailing the militants since morning. “They saw this first house through the orchard and came inside,” Jan said that she believed.

Their dreams, which they saw together within the four walls, were shattered — lost in the debris. Jan said that she couldn’t comprehend that their life would change completely in a day, rather a night.

The detention  

The Dar family was trying hard to get back on track, but another tragedy was awaiting. On 13 August, Dar was summoned by the police in Pulwama. He was detained as a “precautionary measure” for 15 August, the police had told his wife. Next day, Jan went to the District Police Line Pulwama but was barred. 

Since then, Dar has been under detention. After a month, Jan said that he was booked under Public Safety Act (PSA), a draconian law that allows detention upto and shifted to central Jail – the case was registered against him for aiding the militants and giving them hostage, she further said. 

“They (Police) said that he was helping militants and would transport them from one place to another so they booked him for six months,” said one of the brother-in-laws of Dar, Fayaz Ahmad.  

The police, however, deny that he is booked under the PSA. Speaking to The Kashmir Walla, the Station House Officer of the Pulwama police station, Manzoor Ahmad, said that there is no PSA against Dar and that he is arrested in an FIR. 

“We can’t discuss such things,” he said in response to giving more details, adding “no one is arrested without a reason, he is arrested in a proper FIR”. 

Jan said that nearly a week before he was detained by the Pulwama Police, he was called to Malangpora army camp. “He was beaten up by the army for two hours and was given electric shocks,” she alleged. 

She said that the next time her husband was called, “they gave him three options – either attempt suicide, join militants or become our informer,” she remembered her husband telling her. 

The Srinagar-based PRO Defence, Colonel Emron Musavi, told The Kashmir Walla that the allegations against the army are incorrect. 

“The allegations are incorrect as no such incident has taken place,” he said. 

When her husband was taken, she stayed in the shed for a few more days; at nights, crying herself to sleep. “I would think, what have I done to deserve this?” 

Now, the house is not to worry about. It can be reconstructed, but her husband, who would make it a home, is not to be seen around. “When I was in that shed with my husband, it felt like a palace to me,” she said, in hindsight. However, “even if I live in a palace now, I won’t feel the same.” 

The couple had gotten married in 2018 after a relationship of five years. Next year, they had a child. “Doesn’t my small baby deserve to see his father,” she lamented. 

After her husband was detained, she said she couldn’t stay at his in-laws’ place alone. So, she shifted back to her father’s house in Pinglena, in Pulwama. 

From her clothes, utensils, gold, to her love, Jan lost all within a few days. But she said she still has the earrings that she was wearing. Now, she wants to bargain it against the release of her husband.

“I’m nothing without him. I just want him to come back and then I can live in that shed forever,” Jan said. 

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