Fourteen years since five civilians were killed by the army in an allegedly fake encounter, villagers of Wuskhas in Pathribal are keeping their memory alive and, as a tribute, have turned the site into a memorial shrine.
At Zoni Tengri — a small plateau high up above Wuskhah — the villagers have fenced the place and set up a raised platform.
“It was a collective decision of villagers to use this area for prayers only,” says Gulzar Ahmad Khan, a resident of Wuskhah village.
The villagers are angry over Army officers recently being given a clean chit.
“The decision was taken immediately after they (victims) were identified as civilians. They were innocent people”. The villagers decided not to grow any crop inside the fenced area.
In winters, Gulzar and other villagers of Wuskhah reside in mud and brick houses on roadside neighbourhood but in summers shift to these shacks built at Zona Tengri. In the spring of 2000, when the five civilians were killed, they were yet to shift.
“It was March and still cold. We usually shift in late April or early May,” says Gulzar.
“After the firing stopped that day and crackdown ended, we moved towards the shacks. We found five bodies burnt and mutiliated there”.
Most shacks in which these Gujjars were living had been destroyed by Army mortar firing that day. It had been 14 years since but villagers haven’t repaired them. Instead, they built new shacks adjacent to damaged ones. “How could we reside in those shacks? The blood of innocent people have been spilled there,” says 65-year-old Syed Mohammad Yousuf. “Many times, we get frightened there. We hear some strange sounds during the night”.
“We knew it was going to happen. We were helpless,” says Yousuf. “Our villagers were ready to be witnesses but the state government rejected any security to us”.
Most people of this remote village inhabited mostly by Gujjars don’t understand what a court martial means. But one thing they all understand is that “innocents have been killed and injustice has been done to them”.