At around 9 pm on Saturday, a group of heavily armed militants appeared in Naira village of the volatile Pulwama district in south Kashmir. They started carrying out door-to-door searches and dragged more than two dozen people out of their homes and allegedly beat them up ruthlessly.
Naira, a sleepy village located some 37 kilometres south of Srinagar, is heavily affected by the militancy in Pulwama district, and it is part of a large cluster of villages across south Kashmir that have been at the forefront of an agitation that erupted after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in July last year.
Until midnight on Saturday, anguished villagers trapped inside their homes heard loud cries of people, apparently being beaten. They couldn't muster the courage to come out and rescue them.
This is the first time since a renewed insurgency hit the Valley that the militants have carried out such an audacious action by herding more than two dozen civilians from their homes and beating them for either working for mainstream political parties or helping security agencies track down militants.
Ashfaq Ahmad (name changed), a known drug smuggler involved in the marijuana trade, was one of them. He was dragged out of his house and beaten on the road, as other militants looked out at the roads leading to the village. Ahmad has, according to sources in the police, been involved in drug-smuggling previously and has been arrested many times for carrying out narcotics-related activities.
"All those, who have been involved in drug-smuggling or were working with security agencies, were beaten ruthlessly and told to appear in front of people in mosques in the village and publicly apologise," a villager, who spoke to Firstpost on condition on anonymity, said on Monday.
"I told my children to stay indoors and not to turn on the lights. After the militants left, the army appeared in the village and took some people away with them," he added.
Militants belonging to both Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Taiba have been seen roaming freely across the villages of four districts of south Kashmir since August last year, but the recent cordon and search operation by the army have largely ended the practice and the gun-toting men have been forced to retreat either to the jungles or to their hideouts. But Saturday’s incident has surprised many. Earlier, it was the army that would launch crackdowns — a practice that returned to the Valley after 15 years. Now, it is the militants who have been carrying out such activities.
Ghulam Hussain Khan, (name changed) a political worker for a regional party, fled the village by dawn on Sunday morning. Inside a rundown hotel room in Srinagar, Khan showed Firstpost the bruises on his back, narrating how he was beaten black and blue and told to ask for forgiveness in a local mosque.
Scared for his life, he left his village. "I have never seen so many militants together, I don’t know why they left me alive," Khan said.
Fear has set in among a cluster of villages after militants launched the cordon around Naira village and thrashed dozens of people, accusing them of working for political parties and security forces.
Villagers have been asked to immediately seek forgiveness in the local mosques or be prepared to die in next few days.
According to the police, at least 90 of the local youth, who have joined the militancy wave since June last year, belong to south Kashmir. Out of a total of around 200 militants active in Kashmir, 110 are local youths.
Senior Superintendent of Police Mohammad Aslam Chowdry told Firstpost, there were rumours about the incident in the district, but he could not confirm exactly what happened on Saturday evening. "We are investigating the matter and we want to know if they beat them up, why and how many people were assaulted. All the people we spoke to refused to give us more details. It could be because of fear," he told Firstpost.
"Around 20 people were beaten. But they did not touch any policemen, except for beating three SPOs who have been helping security forces track down militants," a resident of Naira said.
"They promised to return. We don't know what to do. We are caught between devil and deep sea."
Updated Date: May 23, 2017 08:18:00 IST