SURROUNDED BY apple orchards, smoke is still billowing from the charred remains of former PDP sarpanch Mohammad Ramzan Sheikh’s house, which was set ablaze by a mob on Tuesday, a day after he was shot by militants. Sheikh’s immediate family — his 75-year-old mother, wife, four minor children, younger brother and his family — has gone into hiding.
Sheikh, 50, a block-level PDP worker, was killed in an attack by three militants inside his house on Monday. One of the attackers, identified as Hizbul Mujahideen militant Showkat Ahmad Kumar alias Falahi, reportedly died in a scuffle with Sheikh’s family members and neighbours. The mob, of 300-400 people, was angry over Showkat’s death.
“We were sitting in the upper storey of the house when at about 4 pm, a crowd surrounded the house and started pelting stones. Some youths shouted at us to leave the house, saying it belongs to a person who was responsible for the death of a militant,’’ said Mohammad Ismail Sheikh, uncle of the slain PDP worker who lives next door.
“They were young boys… they were angry and didn’t listen to anyone. We left the house with the women and children, and escaped through the orchards. Soon we saw smoke rising from the house,’’ said Sheikh.
His daughter, who did not want to be named, said the mob came on tractor trolleys and were carrying cans of petrol. “They warned us that if we tried to stop them from setting the house on fire, we would also be treated as enemies,’’ she said.
The Sheikhs live about half-a-kilometre away from the main village, which has over 200 houses. “All the three houses here belong to our family. When the mob surrounded his house, we thought they would not spare our houses also. But after setting his house and cow shed on fire, they left the area, shouting slogans,’’ said a cousin of Ramzan Sheikh, who did not want to be named.
“We called the police several times, just when the mob started gathering. But the police and Army came after the house was on fire,’’ alleged another relative.
“I begged them to spare Ramzan Sheikh’s family, but they were not ready to listen. Even my shed, in which I had stored some apple crates, was set on fire,’’ said a neighbor, Ghulam Ahmad Dar.
“The security forces came only after the mob left. By that time, the house had been razed to the ground. But before setting the cow shed on fire, the mob allowed us to free the cattle,’’ said another neighbor.
According to the villagers, Showkat was killed inside Ramzan Sheikh’s house, after being hit by a sharp-edged rod or axe. The doctors at the Community Health Centre in Zanpora, the nearest hospital, said only the former sarpanch’s body, with bullet marks, was brought to the hospital.
“On Monday, I offered evening prayers at the mosque at 8:20 pm, along with Ramzan Sheikh’s younger brother. The mosque is about 50 metres away… We were just leaving the mosque when I heard three gunshots. We ran inside my house. After a few minutes, we heard wailing from my nephew’s house… I ran there and saw his body lying there… the militant was lying motionless in the courtyard of the house,’’ recalled Ismail Sheikh.
“My nephew had been hit by bullets and his face was bleeding… Within seconds, a crowd had gathered. We took Ramzan Sheikh to the Community Health Centre in Zanpora, while the militant’s body was taken by villagers,’’ he said.
Another villager said Showkat was taken to the nearby village of Badigam. “He was already dead when he was taken there. There was no bullet injury, but he had deep cuts on his head and eye,’’ he said, adding that the villagers then sent his body to his home in Trenz, about 8 km from Sheikh’s house.
At Trenz village, Showkat’s neighbour, who did not want to be named, said: “The people here are angry because they think that Showkat had only gone to the former sarpanch’s house to urge him to quit mainstream politics. But he was killed there.”
Before Showkat joined militancy last year, he was a teacher at a private school.
Meanwhile, police claimed that Showkat was hit by a bullet fired by another militant. “He died after he was hit by a bullet when another militant was firing at the sarpanch… The militants are under pressure so they are spreading false information,’’ said Shopian SP Shriram Ambarkar Dinkar. He said police couldn’t save Ramzan Sheikh’s house as there was no water available, and the house is isolated from the main village.