People throng Khudwani gunfight site, contribute to rebuild houses

Hundreds of people thronged the house of Ghulam Mohammad Wani, for the second consecutive day on Thursday at Khudwani, in which the militants had taken shelter leading to a 16-hour long standoff between them and government forces which subsequently resulted in torching of three houses, along with Wani’s.
Some 18 family members of Wani family were asked to vacate the house after militants took the position in their house. The stench of burnt petrol still filled in the environs at the encounter site making one feel nauseated. Locals claim that the forces sprinkled petrol on the houses using a spray motor, in order to force the militants come out of the house.
“The forces had laid an ambush on the main road probably after receiving the information about the movement of militants in the area and as soon as the contact was established, the militant trio fled inside the congested locality of Wani Mohalla and jumped inside the courtyard of Ghulam Mohammad Wani. The army men chasing these militants took positions around the Wani house leading to an encounter at around 10:30 pm on Tuesday night. The family was asked by the army to vacate the house and by then the initial exchange of fire had already started which resulted in injuries to at least three army men. Amid intense rainfall, the gunfight had started and the locals had instantly begun to converge on the encounter site to disrupt the operation as the announcements were made on mosque loudspeakers urging locals to come of their houses”, says a local.
The operation was halted for the entire night as more reinforcements were brought to the gunfight site. Early in the morning, the stone-throwing protests became more intense, which later led to the death of at least three civilians while another civilian was shot well inside a bathroom, as per locals.
The three militants later emerged unharmed from the encounter site as they had hidden themselves in a makeshift godown in the lawns of Ghulam Mohammad Wani.
“The forces fired hundreds of rounds, blew the suspected house with IED and even tried to airdrop commandos from a helicopter onto the roof of the house in which the militants had taken refuge. After setting this and two other adjacent houses on fire by sprinkling petrol with a spray motor, which is used for spraying pesticides in the orchards, the troopers left the area due to intense protests and not finding the bodies of militants after three-hour long searches. As soon as the forces left, three militants emerged from a tin shed some 15 metres opposite to the house onto which the forces were firing all day. Even few army men had taken the position on top of this tin shed, where the Wani’s had stored some of their merchandise, but they couldn’t, for even a moment think of searching this particular structure. The militants had literally managed to hide beneath the feet of the army men and it seems that during the dead of night the militants had shifted from the house into this shed without the army men noticing the same,” adds a local.
Besides the house of Wani’s lies another one-storeyed mud house of Mohammad Yousuf Wani, a laborer by profession. Even though his house has not collapsed but some portion of Yousuf’s house too was damaged in the fire which he says was set by the forces in the afternoon of Wednesday after no fire was being retaliated by the militants from the target house. He along with his three kids and wife were not allowed by the army men to flee the gunfight site and this family of five managed to conceal themselves in a 2 by 1 feet concrete sink of their kitchen throughout the night.
“As the exchange of fire began at 10:30 pm in the night, we rushed into our kitchen and hid into the concrete sink, praying for our lives. The army men did not ask us to come out and we did not dare to do that in pitch dark. It was in the morning when we tried to flee from the rear side of our house but the army men chased us back into our house, warning us not to come out or they will shoot us dead. We again hid in this sink as the forces fired hundreds of bullets onto our neighbor’s house where they believed that the militants were hiding. At around 1 pm in the afternoon, when the forces began to sprinkle petrol on the target house and ours too, we decided to give it a last try and jumped through the windows of our kitchen from the back side of our house and managed to flee as the houses were set alight, including ours,” recalls Yousuf.
Yousuf’s wife, two daughters, an 8th and 3rd class students and his son, who studies in nursery were able to run towards safety after remaining trapped for 14 hours in their house, which is separated by only a five-inch-thick wall from the target house.
The locals had managed to collect more than five lakh rupees since Wednesday evening to rebuild the damaged houses in the locality. Visitors, who had converged at Wani Mohalla of Khudwani area in Kulgam district were pouring in as far as from Srinagar, Shopian, Pulwama and Anantnag areas, and were dropping money ranging from rupees 10 to 500 as a contribution for rebuilding the houses damaged in the gunfight.