As a newly posted officer in kashmir valley, I was still getting accustomed to the operational role and our Area of responsibility, the once dreaded Lolab valley in Kashmir. On an early autumn morning, we received information that four terrorists were hiding in the forested area adjoining the neighbouring station. Self and my subordinates were tasked to assist the neighbouring CRPF/Army camp to carry out Search And Destroy operation and neutralise the terrorists. This involved climbing to a height of over 9000 ft, forming a human chain and moving down the forest in the same formation. I rallied my troops through the gruesome climb and managed to meet the Mission Leader well before sunrise. The parties rolled down the suspected area but the effort was in vain as neither terrorists nor any hideouts were found .After the search got over, self and my neighbouring camp officer decided to fall back . Seeking an opportunity we decided to carry out search for mountain tracks between his company and mine along the ridge line. During the recce, when we reached a place called ‘Dhanna Dhok’ we were surprised to see an old man herding his cattle. As Dhoks were occupied during that time of the year, it was common to see people in the jungle, however, what surprised us was his age.
He seemed to be older than the time itself. At such high mountains with narrow routes where the fittest of the persons finds it difficult to reach, we wondered how he got there in the first place. Overwhelmed by curiosity we decided to go & meet him. He was tall but the time had bent him humble like a Kashmiri walnut tree. He was old and weary but had resolute footsteps and spark in his eyes. In his rusty broken voice, he told us his story and the story of Lolab. He was a teenager when the Pakistani Kabalis invaded Kashmir in 1947. When he narrated the story of horrendous inhuman atrocities of murder, rape and loot, the pain was evident in his eyes.” Soul of the valley was wounded and spirit of Kashmir was broken. Indian Army came down from sky like angels and pushed back the marauders. The olive green inspired the valley and gave us courage to fight back. During my youth every Kashmiri household saw Indian Army as saviours or angels” His voice was trembling when he spoke to us. As decades passed by, he recollects the political turmoil in Kashmir, brainwashing of youth and birth of terrorism.
He was, but a helpless bystander and silent witness during the unspeakable horrors unleashed on Kashmiri Pandits and their subsequent exodus from the valley. He remembers how his Pandit friends and neighbours had to flee their home land fearing death and rape. “Most of them took up arms because they were attracted to Kalashinikova, they did not even know what was going on. All Tanzeems looted, murdered & raped our women in the name of Azadi. We Gujars were affected the worst, they were no different from the Pakistani invaders, Saab, I counted more dead bodies than I can remember, I just want this to end” He recounts the time when Army was not present in hinterland & terrorists roamed around the valley in strength of upto 150. He witnessed the induction of paramilitary forces and how we cleansed the valley floor off terrorism.
When we were about to leave he stood up with the help of his walking stick and chanted “Bharat Mata ki jai , Indian Army ki jai ho ” .Those slogans were coming from an honest and innocent man who remembers the true story of Kashmir. That innocent, rusty voice represents the real Kashmir. Touched by his story, while moving back to our COB, it caught me thinking, how many such centurions are alive now, who could narrate the true story of Lolab? If the misguided youth of the valley understood the actual history of Kashmir, a day may come when me and my comrades are not required to walk down this valley of death with weapons in our hands. That day Lolab will once again become ”The land of love and beauty”.