Kuland, Kupwara: Their sad eyes and pale faces relive the horror of spending hours with the tiny lifeless body of their little sister.
The tragic images of little Kaniza, bleeding to a painful death from a bullet injury to her chest, and their brother Faisal winching in pain will stay with Aslam and Zaffar for a long time.
A bullet also hit Faisal (6), the youngest of five children of the Chechi family. Doctors at a Srinagar hospital say he is out of danger.
Three Pakistani militants of the Lashkar-e-Taiba were gunned down and a policeman wounded in Wednesday's eight-hour gun-battle.
Recounting the tragic incident, which has left the family in grief, Aslam said heavy firing woke them up early in the morning.
“Firing started near the house, but we could not tell where because it was too early,” he said. "We were all sleeping in one room; Zaffar and I at the back and others in the front.”
He said a bullet hit Kaniza in the chest while she was asleep. “She kept crying in pain. We could see her writhing till she died,” the eldest of the Chechi siblings recalled.
Otherwise a family of seven, Aslam and his 10-year-old brother Zaffar are the ones at home today. While their only sister was killed during the encounter, their parents and two younger siblings are off to a Srinagar hospital to attend to injured Faisal.
In their modest house, relatives and neighbours are finding it difficult to console the two.
“They are quiet. It will take them time to return to normalcy,” said Haneefa, their aunt, serving meals to them.
“The boys have not eaten since yesterday morning. There is no one at home to cook for them. I could come only today because we were not allowed to visit them yesterday,” she said.
“My sister and her husband had buried Kaniza in the village and immediately had to leave for Srinagar. Who will give Faisal his medicines?” she asked.
A single shot had pierced Kaniza's chest and another shattered Faisal’s hip during the encounter in the small valley of two dozen wood-and-mud houses on Wednesday.
“I hid at the back of the room. I could see my brother Faisal’s leg bleeding. My father tried to take him out, but each time was asked to go back.” Zaffar said. “And when the encounter was over, police rushed him to the hospital in Srinagar,” he added.
Kaniza was not that lucky though.
Villagers said three vehicles carrying police in plain clothes were the first to arrive in Kuland, an hour before the light faded out on Tuesday.
Soldiers in jeeps and trucks followed. They fanned out and soon circled the three houses below one of the mountain ridges. Soldiers in olive green and police from the crack unit of Special Operation Group (SOG) took positions and waited for the three militants to make the first move.
The village spent a tense night. At the crack of dawn, the lull was broken by a volley of gunfire. Heavy firing erupted from different directions — the mountain tops, behind the deodar trees, from the nullahs, behind the dozen odd village houses targeting the house from where militants fired at the soldiers.
The firing continued for hours before the target house was brought down by a hail of gunfire. It continued to burn even on Thursday.
“As per the security precautions that we take during encounters, we did ask the villagers living close by to move out to safety. The family was perhaps unable to move out,” said Shamsher Hussain, Kupwara district senior superintendent of police.
“It is unfortunate that the girl was killed. Otherwise, the operation was very clean,” he said.
Javeed Geelani, IGP, Kashmir told News 18 that the girl “was killed due to a stray bullet”. “She was at a distance of 100 metres from the encounter scene,” he said.
Villagers took the News18 team to the front of Chechi family’s house and showed the holes made by the two bullets that hit the children.“This is unlucky. But why did the police not insist that the family get out of harm’s way? Why do small kids have to die?” a villager asked. “There were no protests in the area. No one tried to hamper a security operation,” he added.