Dispatches: At the Site of the Amarnath Attack, Witnesses Fearfully Recall the Violence and Subsequent Security Raids

14 July 2017
The windshield of a vehicle that was caught in the crossfire on 10 July, when militants opened fire on a police bunker on the Srinagar-Jammu highway and a bus carrying pilgrims for the Amarnath Yatra. Seven people were killed in the attack. The residents of Batengoo village, where the incident took place, fearfully recalled the firing.
Danish Ismail/REUTERS

Vehicles passed hurriedly, crushing the broken green glass that littered the part of a national highway leading to Anantnag town. The road is flanked by Batengoo village on one side, while the Jhelum river flows on the other. A crowd comprising paramilitary and military personnel, as well as media persons, had gathered on the side on which the village is located. Voices of journalists speaking into microphones could be heard, mixed with the sounds of the generators in the outside-broadcasting vans belonging to various news channels. On 10 July, at this spot, a group of armed militants opened fire on a police bunker and a passing bus that was transporting pilgrims on the Amarnath Yatra. As a result of the firing, seven pilgrims were killed, and close to 30 people were injured. The spot, which is located on the Srinagar-Jammu highway, is nearly 50 kilometers from Srinagar city. Several residents of Batengoo witnessed the firing.

I visited Batengoo the day after the attack. Around a dozen shops, located on the side of the national highway, were shut—local residents later told me that the shopkeepers had shut them on the night of the attack, and had been too afraid to reopen them the next day. I spoke to Ghulam Mohammad Pincho, a 65-year-old man, who was sitting by the side of a link road that leads from the shops to the village. Pincho runs a poultry shop located a few metres away, and is a resident of Batengoo. “Most of the villagers are sitting in their houses and don’t want to come out. It was a horrific incident,” Pincho told me.

The firing began at about 8.15 pm, Pincho said, and lasted only a few minutes. “There was no electricity in the village and I was closing my shop half an hour earlier than usual,” he said. “Before I could put a lock on the shutter, there were two loud bangs. I thought they were firecrackers.” Pincho continued: “After a few seconds’ pause, there was indiscriminate firing. I crouched on the ground, and saw two buses passing by.”

Pincho said that he then began running towards his home in the village. When he reached the link road, he continued, he saw that the grocery shop located next to it was open. “The shopkeeper was nowhere to be seen,” he added, gesturing towards the shop, which had a board that read “Showkat General Store.” “The shopkeeper lives just behind the shop,” Pincho said. He told me that he went to the residence and found the shopkeeper, Showkat Ahmad Laway, and his family sitting inside. “They were terrified. They refused to come out and close shop at first,” he said. “But after I assured them that the site of the attack was deserted, they came out and hurriedly locked the shop.”

Most of the residents of Batengoo whom I met seemed reluctant to discuss the attack. “We don’t know what happened,” a middle-aged man told me when I asked him if he had witnessed the violence. Two young men, both of whom were in their early twenties, agreed to speak to me on the condition of anonymity.

Aakash Hassan is a journalist working with the Srinagar-based weekly Kashmir Life.

Keywords: Kashmir militancy Amarnath Yatra