Pulwama attack: Villagers near blast site struggle to rebuild lives

Shabir Ahmad and his neighbours' houses developed cracks and glass panes of the windows shattered during the terror strike. Photos: Prabhu Mallikarjunan

At around 3.30 pm on February 14, Adil Ahmad Dar rammed his SUV loaded with explosives into a bus carrying paramilitary forces, killing a troop of 44 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) soldiers.

It was one of the deadliest terror attacks in decades in the disputed region of Kashmir. While the incident shook the nation, it also shattered the lives of the residents of Kumhar basti (potters township) in Lethpora, Pulwama district, along the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway

The residents of the basti, located 200 metres from the Jhelum river, use mud from it to make pots. The Lethpora region is also a hub of saffron cultivation. On the highway, many saffron merchandise shops have sprung up in recent years.

The high intensity of the blast damaged several houses in the village, shattering window panes and cracking walls. The metal and body parts strewn around their houses after the blast terrified the children and elderly. While some fled the area after the terror attack, many decided to stay on in the damaged houses. Almost three months since the attack, the residents run from one department to the other, seeking the government’s help to rebuild their homes.

The blast site.

Wild goose chase

Shabir Ahmad Kumhar, son of 60-year-old Jana Begum, says the blast damaged their house and he sent a written request to Pulwama district development commissioner, the tehshildar and the Superintendent of Police office, to assess the damage and accord them compensation. Till date, they haven’t received a response.

“We sent a letter and personally followed up many times but we got no response. Our family of eight lived in a relative’s house for the first 10 days. Then we moved back as we had no choice,” says Shabir.

Shabir and his family dread the night as cold winds blow through the shattered windows. Shabir, a school teacher, says the house is unsafe and unrepairable. They built the house five years back, spending about ₹20 lakh. He doesn’t expect the government to grant full compensation. But he hopes they’ll at least pay for the damages, which comes to ₹2 lakh according to his estimate.

The letter moves from the police to the National Investigation Agency, and then gets forwarded to the road and buildings department. But none of them assure compensation to Shabir and his family.

Another resident, Abdul Hamid, recalls a similar story and says that though he works in the government-owned power corporation, he could not push for the compensation process to fasten. No political party, too, assures them help.

A silent town terrorised

Two days after the blast, reports started to emerge about the suicide bomber. Adil Dar lived in Gondi Bagh, a village about 10 kilometres from the blast site, a kilometre away from the CRPF headquarters (110 battalion) on the national highway.

The inner roads along the Jhelum connects Gondi Bagh to Lethpora. All along the inner roads, people living on the banks cultivate paddy and mustard crop.

Gondi Bagh sees no troop movement during daylight. But on the main roads connecting the village, Army people guard the village. The family members of Adil Dar decline to comment on the issue.

A neighbour chips in, saying that if they speak, they will come under attack from both sides (terrorist groups and the police). “We do not want any media attention and do not wish to speak,” a family member said.

Begum recalls no big terror strike or militancy presence in the region before this. She says the silent town turned into a terror radar after the attack and it cast a shadow on their lives with constant policing. She says she still cannot sleep well when she recalls the terror strike, because of the body parts lying all around her house. Shabir’s seven-year-old son got injured in head when the glass panes shattered during the blast.

“We don’t understand why it happened here. Maybe it was a safe heaven and no one expected anything to happen here. Perhaps the terrorist chose the place because the locality witnessed almost no disturbance in the past,” she says.

The district administration told The Federal that the compensation letters were forwarded to the governor (since there is no government in place). “Whether the government can give compensation or not will be discussed post elections on May 6,” an officer at the Pulwama District Commissioner’s office said.

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