Wednesday, November 15, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Village wakes up to see all lost
From Ehsan Fazili
Tribune News Service

BATAPORA (Wathora), Nov 14 — It was a horrifying experience for Khatji, an 80-year-old village woman, who had to be herded along with other women and children in one house at one end of the village. When security forces left the village after concluding the four-day operation against militants on November 5, Khatji saw her house reduced to a rubble.

“How did I know that militants were in this village? They have never come to this village in the past 12 years.... They (security forces) set ablaze our houses and now we do not have anything to depend upon.... No house, no food, and we have the harsh winter ahead...” laments Khatji.

That is the tale of almost everyone in the village. Nine days after the conclusion of the longest ever operation against militants in the valley, this village is reduced heaps of debris of houses and stink all around. Many head of cattle also perished as they were roasted alive or buried under the falling debris. The heaps of hay stored for feeding animals in the snow-bound winter, dozens of granaries which stored the year’s harvest of crop and the winter stocks of rice and other material have been reduced to ashes. The stink of burnt houses engulfs the village and smoke emanates from a few heaps of half-burnt paddy.

At least 153 structures, according to officials, have been damaged. They include 43 residential houses, which have been totally razed to ground.

According to the Deputy Commissioner of Budgam, Mr Rohit Kansal, the victims have been provided with 40 quintals of ration, three quintals of sugar, 1260 litres of kerosene, 150 blankets, 109 coats, utensils and bed sheets. Besides, 28 tonnes of CGI sheets and 1500 CFT of timber had been stocked for distribution. An ex gratia of Rs 1 lakh has also been given to the next of the kin to the two girls, Masarrat and Sabeha, killed during the operation.

The Chief Minister, Dr Farooq Abdullah, who visited the village yesterday assured that the government would rebuild it as a model village and seek Central assistance on the pattern of Ahgam (Pulwama district) for rehabilitation of the villagers whose houses and other structures were gutted in the clash. He said that government would provide all possible help to the people to rebuild their houses. He said in view of the ensuing winter structures would have to be raised soon so that people who have lost shelter do not further suffer due to snow and rain.

About the relief provided to the fire victims the Chief Minister said Rs 1 crore had been provided to them which includes Rs 44 lakh as cash relief. He said free ration for six months would also be provided, besides timber and CGI sheets for reconstruction of their houses.

For Ali Mohammad Bhat, a mason, all has been reduced to ashes. He has lost a two-storeyed building, a granary full of the stock of paddy harvested this season, and a cowshed where to cows he had got on bank loan were roasted alive. His son, who completed his graduation recently, lost all certificates and marks sheets of his examinations. His daughter, who had appeared in the Class XII examination, also lost her marks certificates and other important documents.

He had been given a cheque for Rs 1 lakh as compensation. “They (Revenue authorities) have asked me to return the cheque as the amount exceeded the loss,” he adds. Bhat claimed that the loss he suffered was in lakhs, and that the cheques handed over to many villagers were without the authentication of the revenue authorities.

Saleema, another village woman, recalls how two young girls, Masarrat Nazir and Sabeha Akhtar, aged 10 and 12 years, fell victim to the bullets of the security forces. “Children were crying for a drop of water, but we were not allowed to get it for two days”, she said as she along with many other village women and children were herded into another house at the other extreme of the village. She saw Masarrat suffer for about two hours, before succumbing to the bullets of the security forces.

The spacious house of Abdul Ahad Bhat, a Central Government employee and his brother, Ghulam Nabi Bhat at the entry to the village, has been reduced to rubble. Nothing is left of the belongings. For the family of a dozen members of the two brothers, it would take years to recover the loss. While the male members were away on duty at the time of the beginning of the encounter, the females and the children suffered for long hours.

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