Batamaloo Gunfight: ‘No Tweet, Probe Can Get My Mother Back Now’

Aqib Riyaz showing mobile click of his slain mother at his residence. Photo by Hibah Bhat

A fortnight after attending her son’s wedding, a Batamaloo woman is resting in her grave. She became yet another conflict casualty after stepping out of her house for an early morning bakery shop routine.

By Hibah Bhat

WITH an expression of misery etched on his face, Aqib Riyaz looks haggard as he recalls the horrific morning of August 18.

It was almost like any other daybreak. He was awoken by his 45-year-old mother, Kousar Riyaz Sofi, who had already been up for hours to pray her midnight subjugatory prayers.

At around 4am, the mother-son duo left for their bakery shop in Baranpathar area of Batamaloo, distanced at almost 2-3 kms from their house.

A few bakery shops had already opened as usual, and the air was filled with the early morning bird chirping and faint sounds of moving vehicles.

“Everything seemed normal until I sensed some disturbance around us,” recalls Aqib, who had then decided to take a U-turn. “But as I turned back, a bullet pierced our car and straightaway bore a hole in my mother’s head.” She was sitting in the passenger seat.

Suddenly, a new dawn turned into an eternal dusk in Aqib’s life when his mother’s face sank into his arms like the setting sun into the sea. Even before he could fathom what had happened, his mother had already lost her heartbeats leaving her 25-year-old son, in his white Santro car, numb and frozen in his seat.

The incident happened in the congested locality, where tensions had already flared up due to the search operation followed by an exchange of fire between the militants and armed forces. Acted on a tip-off, a battery of counterinsurgents had earlier shown up in Firdausabad locality to pursue three militants in a house.

Terming Kousar’s killing “unfortunate”, J&K DGP Dilbag Singh expressed his “sympathies” with the bereaved family in a post-gunfight presser. Further, in an official statement, J&K police said that the woman died in the wake of “indiscriminate firing by terrorists”.

A tent housing mourners at Aqib's house in Batamaloo. Photo by Hibah Bhat.

No moment to grieve

Hesitant to face the truth, hurriedly, Aqib packed his emotions and decided to take his mother to a hospital but soon understood that it was going to be bootless.

“She was dead,” he laments while surrounded by long-faced mourners in his home. “I just wanted to be with her at that moment.”

In five minutes or so, two cops came running towards his car and ordered him to get into a police van along with his mother’s body.

“We were taken to a nearby Police Control Room (PCR) and later to the Batamaloo Police Station—where I was kept waiting in blood-soaked clothes along with my mother’s dead body for hours,” the grieving son recounts.

Before taking her dead mother for a final homecoming, Aqib says, his bereaved family members were asked to sign “an undertaking” that no protests would happen if the body would be handed over.

“Around 25 people signed a bond before they gave us the body,” says Aqib’s cousin. “We gave in to their demands because we wanted to see her face.”

Back home, the family performed her last rites soon, as the slain mother’s oozing blood was constantly flooding her body bag.

“They punished us for our own tragedy,” wails a relative in the background.

No Caution

Normally, search operations in the Kashmir valley follow a pattern of putting restrictions on the movement and mobile and internet services to hinder any attempts that militants could make to escape as well as to avoid any public backlash during the operation. That also serves as a warning for people to stay steer clear of the sensitive areas.

However, in Aqib’s neighbourhood, people thought the gunfight had ended in the night itself and were as clueless as Aqib himself, about the ongoing operation.

“If the situation was still not under control and there was a possibility of something like this to happen, why didn’t the police cordon the area,” asks Aqib, who feels that if they were cautioned by the police or movement restrictions were put in place, his mother’s death could have been avoided.

Wedding bells turned into Eulogies

As Aqib narrates the horrors of the fatal dawn, the room where he sits is filled with the sound of rhythmic wailing, sobbing and calls to the dead.

Beni kotai gayakh, beni (Sister, where did you go, sister),” cries a relative of Kousar, while blubbering in the courtyard, the same spot, which was buzzing with the festive folksongs just 15 days ago on Aqib’s wedding ceremony.

“His mother was so excited about his wedding and today she isn’t here. None of us could imagine this,” says Suhail Ahmad, a family relative, in a disheartened tone.

He then points towards Aqib’s little finger which is still stained with henna his mother had put on his wedding day.

Wedding henna on Aqib's little finger is yet to fade, as he mourns his mother's loss. Photo by Hibah Bhat.

Nothing can bring her back

Soon as the news of Kousar’s killing spread, the roads in the locality got stained with brick marks and covered with stones and burnt tyres, following a clash between the armed forces and the angry youth.

However, Aqib and his family think nothing can turn it back.

Another voice in the room narrates how Kashmiris have been living in the conflict since more than 70 years and how this case will only add to the cases that are already there awaiting justice.

“Truth remains,” says Aqib before withdrawing into his grief, “no tweet, condolence or investigation can get my mother back now.”

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