EARLY WEDNESDAY morning, as J&K police and army launched an operation against three militants at a remote village in Kupwara, Makhini Begum and her family were fast asleep just metres away from the house where the targets were hiding. But before Makhini could realise what was happening, she found that the mattress they were sleeping on had turned sticky — and red. It was the blood of her 12-year-old daughter Kaneeza and six-year-old son Faisal, both hit by stray bullets while asleep. Kaneeza died immediately, Faisal survived. On Thursday, Makhini was sitting beside her son at a hospital bed in Srinagar but her thoughts were all about Kaneeza and her motionless body.
“It was very early in the morning. We were sleeping with our children in the same room,” says the 32-year-old. “Suddenly, I was woken up by gun shots. I whispered to my husband that firing was going on near our house. We decided to stay still to escape the bullets. But that didn’t happen.”
Struggling to hold back the tears, she says, “I loved Kaneeza so much. I have four sons, she was my only daughter. She was sleeping on my right arm. Suddenly, she breathed hard. I put my hand on her and felt something sticky. I looked at my hand, it was red with blood. I kicked the blanket aside, saw blood all around. I saw blood dripping from her body and that of Faisal.”
As the gunfight intensified, Makhini decided to move out and seek help. According to her brother-in-law Ghulam Hassan, “Makhini’s husband Khushi Mohammad is an old man who can barely move. She was married at an early age and it was her husband’s second marriage.”
Makhini says her husband told her that Kaneeza had died but Faisal could be saved. “The firing was going on and I went out crying. I could feel the bullets moving in all directions. As I opened the door of my house, I saw three policemen. I pleaded with them to save my family. It was around 7 in the morning”.
The policemen, she says, helped her bring her sons out, including Faisal, who was hit on his shoulder. Her husband remained inside with the body of Kaneeza. “I didn’t want to leave her body inside. But I was also thinking of saving Faisal,” says Makhini.
For half an hour, Makhini and her sons took shelter behind a school building nearby before an ambulance arrived.
Makhini says her house in Batpora-Kunnad village was next to the one in which the militants were hiding, separated by a small stream. “When they launched the operation against the militants, they didn’t try to first rescue us. I don’t know whose bullet hit my children,” she says.
Local police say they tried their best to move the family out. “This family’s house is on the other side of the stream. They were afraid to move out as firing was going on,” said SP Kupwara Shamsheer Hussain Khan.
Makhini says she couldn’t even see her daughter for one last time before her burial because she was with her son at the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) hospital in Srinagar. “There can be no bigger pain than this for a mother,” she says.