On the night of September 12, responding to an SOS, a team of five Army personnel led by an officer launched a relief operation at Srinagar’s Lal Chowk, a separatist stronghold. Carrying out rescue work in the area needed recce and more importantly concealment of identity.
Dressed in civvies, the team began its operation at 2 am and worked till late in the evening on September 13. During the day-long exercise, the personnel witnessed firing at Army boats trying to ferry out stranded people to dry areas, and raised slogans of “Azad Kashmir” to maintain their cover even as they laughed at the rumours that Pakistan had sent 80 helicopters to help rescue operations.
“On the night of September 12, we received an SOS for two people. By 2 am, we were on our way. Knowing that it is a notorious area, we decided to conceal our identities. Dressed in civvies, we went in a Sumo vehicle. After crossing Gupkar, we realised that the vehicle could not go further. We did not have life jackets… and decided to swim… we waded through 800 metres,” said an Armyman involved in the operation.
At one point, the group found an abandoned wooden boat with no oars. Rowing the boat with their hands, the group reached Exchange Road adjacent to Lal Chowk at around 5 am. “There were four women and they did not have food or water. We had to ask our operation commander to send air support. We needed to be stationed at a height to receive the air support, and thus got on to one Dena Bank building,” the official said.
Considering the difficulty that the incoming helicopters might have in locating the team from amongst several others atop the houses, the group told their commander that they would “remove their shirts and stand in two groups — a few feet from each other — waving black clothes”.
“We sent the supplies, including some specific medicines. And with the peculiar arrangement that our men created on the top of the building, the helicopter located them easily,” said the operation commander. One of the flood-victims provided relief was an 84-year-old Kashmiri Pandit woman who was being looked after by a Muslim family.
After distributing the air-dropped aid, the group started rowing the wooden boat to return to its base. “At this time, two Army boats on routine rescue mission entered from south and were fired upon. We told the boats to retract and disengage. To row away from the scene, we navigated to a muhalla. Three Hurriyat men got onto our boat… they told us that Pakistan had sent a help of 80 rescue helicopters, which India denied.We went to a mosque. I told the maulavi to pray that the water recedes soon and peace prevails.The maulavi said that the tragedy has brought people of Kashmir together and prayed for Azad Kashmir… to remain under cover, we too shouted for Azad Kashmir.We all laughed at this later… (but) at that time, we were one amongst them,” said a member of the Army team.
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