After a nightmarish November that shell-slaughtered six of their clan members including a seven-year-old boy, distraught denizens of militarized towns and hamlets of Uri now fear the numbing winter.
Lapping her seventeen-day-old daughter Areeba inside a mournful home in Uri’s Sultan Deki, Shazia looks as deserted as death.
The 28-year-old mother’s dirges in the forlorn, foggy, frosty heights of war-torn Line of Control (LOC) hamlet make a howling sound.
This frontline grieving makes her tribe paranoid about the long winter at Uri, where the Indo-Pak belligerence refuses to thaw.
“Who will bring him back?” the young widow asks me in a frantic voice and tearful eyes.
Her husband Tahir Hameed Mir, 30, was a daily-wager in a food store bombed in fresh LoC escalations. He was among the 6 civilians killed on November 13, 2020.
“Most of the men were out for Friday prayers that day,” Shazia, struggling with her fragile emotional state, recalls. “I sensed the bad omen beforehand. An unusual contraction clenched my heart before I heard a rattling explosion.”
Panicked by the blast, she called her husband Tahir and asked him to come home.
“He told me that he’s coming home after performing his prayers,” she recounts her last conversation with her life partner.
It was around 1.30 pm.
Five minutes after that call, she heard another blast. She feared for him. But as her repeated calls went unanswered, she became restless.
Outside, the run for life had already begun. Villagers were abandoning their homes. Women and children were shrieking in terror. But by then, the deafening explosion had already done the damage.
It had found its target: Shazia’s homebound husband.
When the fatal shell struck Sultan Deki, Shazia’s younger brother, 22-year-old Yasir, was sitting on the Pir Panjal mountain heights with some of his friends. He could clearly see his slain brother-in-law’s food store from there.
“I saw him talking on phone and within minutes, he was dead on the ground,” recalls Yasir, a Humanities student at Government Boys College, Baramulla. “He was hit by the shell whose splinter blades destroyed his urinary system and gouged his intestines on road.”
Amid this grim war-torn account, Shazia’s 3-year-old daughter, Aania—who can be seen in a faded photograph with her slain father—is oblivious of her orphan-hood. She peacefully watches cartoons on her mobile phone.
“We won’t be able to handle her if we tell her directly that her father is no more,” says Shazia.
“She was closer to her father. She used to video call him during his working hours. Now, she doesn’t call him but behaves with a bizarre unfamiliarity.”
Married in 2016, shell-shocked Shazia is not new to tragedies.
When bombs rained on Sultan Deki “like hailstorm” in 1998, her mother and aunt were retrieved dead from a smouldering rubble.
“I don’t even remember my mother’s face,” Shazia howls. “I was too young then. Nothing changed all these years. Are we meant to lament over our loved ones like this?”
Such numbing questions were always there, and Sultan Deki’s silenced lives—some buried inside conflict cemeteries, some walking on crutches and some sorrowing survivors like Shazia—are seemingly screaming for a change.
“I was a bright student,” Shazia says, “but my mother’s killing and our uncertain lives reduced me to a fretful homemaker.”
Clearly, mood in this misty LoC village remains mournful. The villagers fear that ongoing belligerence might once again rear its explosive head in winter.
“You can never tell,” says Abdul Rehman, a village elder. “We might be running for our lives again. These border games are being played on the dead bodies of Kashmiris.”
One such recent dead body was that of Rehman’s fellow villager, 50-year-old Irshad Hussain.
The day Shazia’s husband was found dead with his vitals grotesquely visible near the food store, shopkeeper Hussain was also spotted lifeless nearby.
“He [Hussain] saw my brother-in-law reclined on the road so he treaded towards his dead body to lift it up but subsequently one more shell exploded on his face. He died on the spot,” Yasir, an eyewitness to the incident, recalls.
Hussain is survived by his 40-year-old widow, Ameena, and six children, including four daughters—Nahida (25), Saydha (24), Misba (6) and Saima (16).
Numb with pain, Saydha looks at her tall and blonde fiancé at a distance. For her, the loss is huge.
“My father’s killing has not only jolted me emotionally but threatened my marriage too,” she says with wistful eyes.
“It was our father who was saving money for our marriage. Without him, our matrimony is not possible. We are poor people.”
These poor souls caught in the LoC confrontations have repeatedly urged authorities to construct bunkers for ensuring their safety. They’re yet to get shell-proof shelters.
“When we go to sleep,” Saydha continues her quivering speech, “we don’t expect to wake up again in the morning.”
Sultan Deki’s serene mountain-view and fresh air, however, conveniently masks these murderous miseries. The prevailing meditative calm in the frosty season of silent guns makes the hamlet heavenly. But Hussain’s widow terms the place as a bottomless pit.
“We live in a war zone where the cross-border shelling never stops but escalates and deescalates untimely,” Ameena says. “We can’t even call it a life.”
In an unending war between the two neighbours, Hussain’s widow says, Kashmiri lives have no worth.
“We’re targeted as the collateral damage,” she says. “It’s traumatizing to live on borders, but then who can abandon home?”
But that home mostly looks like a bullet-bored bunker at frontline.
Apart from shell-shattered ceilings and windows, Ameena’s son, Yasir, talks about their damaged crops and livestock.
“I wanted to study more but unfortunately, I’ve to earn a living for the family now,” 16-year-old Yasir, a 10th class student, who now looks after his slain father’s shop, says.
Such macabre scenes are also flagrant in Kamalkote area of Uri.
When November bombing began, 40-year-old Nadir Hussain was hit by a stormy mortar—which dissected his lower limbs from his body.
His son, Zahid Hussain, a college-goer, says he already gave up studies for stepping in his father’s shell-consumed shoes.
“In last 5 days, I’ve already spent Rs 80,000 on father’s treatment,” Zahid, who’s attending his father in SKIMS hospital, says. “I had to raise funds with the help of my friends. And to repay them, I’ve to earn money at the cost of my education now.”
He has four siblings – Segeera, Murtaza Fatima, Qaunsar and Gilsum – whose responsibility now lies on his shoulders.
“No one has to die, if India and Pakistan build good relations,” Hussain says.
“There are treaties which relent them from targeting civilians,” he says. “I wish United Nations Military Observer Group (UNMOGIP) in India and Pakistan intervenes in wake of ceasefire violations on the line of control.”
But since 1949, UNMOGIP, a United Nations group in Srinagar, which is supposed to supervise the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir, has only become a fence-sitter.
“It seems everyone is watching a slow genocide without making efforts to end the hostility which is only consuming Kashmiris,” laments Hussain.