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Silence in Sopore after sisters’ killing

On January 31,gunmen dragged two teenage sisters out of their home in Sopore town and shot them,ignoring pleas of the three women who had followed them.

Written by Bashaarat Masood | Sopore |
February 9, 2011 8:52:44 am

On January 31,gunmen dragged two teenage sisters out of their home in Sopore town and shot them,ignoring pleas of the three women who had followed them.

Since then,while the Lashkar-e-Toiba has alternately claimed and denied responsibility for the murders,Sopore has been silent,with no sign of protests or demands for identification and punishment of the killers. Sopore did shut down two days later,but the killings are never discussed in public,except in whispers.

Even Ghulam Nabi Dar and his wife Frecha Begum,50,prefer to mourn their daughters in silence. “We can’t say who the killers were. They could have been STF men,Mujahideen or from the Army,” said a member of the family. A cousin admitted,“We are scared.”

Outside,a neighbour whispered,“The older sister had been warned earlier. Their behaviour was not good. Probably that’s why they killed them.” The sisters had been “punished” for allegedly promiscuity and passing on information to security forces,a justification no one has dared question.

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The household
The family lives in a single room,10 ft by 8,that serves as kitchen,bedroom and dining hall,its concrete walls darkened by smoke from the kerosene stove and the fireplace. Bedclothes hang out of an open almirah; steel utensils are scattered around the portion serving as a kitchen; a wall clock once yellow and now blackened hangs from the wall; clothes crowd a shelf below it; a thin,worn-out rug covers the floor. Stairs lead upstairs to the house of an uncle of the girls.

Between the room and a tin gate,which has “Welcome” written on it,is a tiny compound. A wooden door opens into the room.

The house is on a narrow four-foot lane dotted by small houses with common walls on both sides. A small clan of Dars live inside this congested cluster in Muslimpeer,often called a neighbourhood of separatists.

The abduction
On January 31,at 7.45 pm,Akhtara,19,was cooking and chatting with her mother and younger brother Ghulam Jeelani,16. The other sister Arifa,17,was upstairs in her uncle’s house. Their father was at the mosque.

“A gunman barged in. His face was covered by a black muffler. Only his eyes were visible. Two others followed him,” said Jeelani. “They were speaking Urdu. One spoke a few words in Kashmiri.” They asked Akhtara about her sister. “We told them she was upstairs,” Jeelani said.

Outside,gunmen had cordoned off the small lane. Some neighbours say there were eight men,others say there were 10 or 11. “One of the neighbours tried to peep through a window. They told him to shut it.”

The gunmen asked the sisters to follow them and their mother pleaded with them. “They told her that she was like a sister to them and they needed to talk to the girls for five minutes,” Jeelani said. “They took them away and slammed the door.”

Frecha Begum is unwell and couldn’t follow her daughters. “I told them,if they have done anything wrong,forgive them. I told them that if they want to kill them,do it in front of me,” she said.

As the militants dragged out the sisters,Akhtara grabbed her aunt’s pheran. The aunt and two other women relatives followed them. “We begged them to spare the girls,” one said. “After some distance,they ordered us to return. We had to.”

The murders
The killers took the girls to Rahim Sahib,a neighbourhood some 500 metres away. A maze of narrow and broad alleys through Kralteng connects Muslimpeer to Rahim Sahib. In the early 1990s,the entire area was a militant stronghold dominated by Hizbul Mujahideen under the command of Afghan militant Akbar Bhai.

The men shot the girls at point-blank range,close to the shrine of Rahim Sahib. Arifa was hit in the head,her older sister in the chest and abdomen.

It was around 8.30 pm and some shops were still open. Shutters were rolled down and people rushed home.

The discovery
In Muslimpeer,Ghulam Nabi Dar had returned from the mosque. He works with a government ration depot,carrying rice and flour bags to customers’ homes. The Rs 10 he earns for every sack was the family’s only source of income till a few months ago,when Akhtara got a job . “She would clean around 25 kilos fish each day,” fish supplier Riyaz Ahmad Dar said. “I paid her Rs 13 for every five kilos.”

Once Dar returned,the family informed the police station,400 metres away. SP Altaf Khan said: “We found the bodies in the street.” Police said investigations suggest three or four Lashkar militants were involved. They named two,Muzaffar Ahmad Naikoo alias Muzza Moulvi and Waseem Ganai alias Sheer Uni,both of Sopore.

The response
Late in the night,the bodies were returned to the family. A handful of neighbours visited the grieving family. Outside,the separatist reaction didn’t go beyond the ritualistic condemnation,which came with the observation that “even Indian security agencies could have been behind it”.

Two days later,a call for a shutdown came from Hurriyat hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani. This was after the Lashkar’s Pakistan-based spokesperson had denied the oufit’s involvement and accused “Indian agencies”. Last year,when Ashiq Hussain,owner of Sopore’s cable network,was gunned down,no one had protested till United Jihad Council chief Syed Salah-ud-din blamed “security agencies”.

This time,the first condemnation came from Chief Minister Omar Abdullah who asked on Twitter why separatists were silent about the murder. The People’s Democratic Party didn’t react immediately.

Three days after the twin murders,the Army killed a student at Handwara and both the Chief Minister and PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti rushe to console the family. The route passes Sopore but neither leader stopped at Dar’s home.

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