A special I-Day for this village

MARRAH (SURANKOTE), AUG. 14 . Situated on the interior hills of Jammu and Kashmir, this terrorism-hit village is bracing itself for the Independence Day celebrations. And there are reasons why this year the occasion will be special for these villagers who dared to defy the terrorists.

On the night of June 25, over a dozen Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hizb-ul Mujahideen militants, armed with sophisticated weapons swooped down on the village and killed 12 sleeping Gujjars, including women and children. The prime reason for the attack was the fact that the villagers had dared to form village defence committees to defend themselves against militants. Despite the assault, the community members not only stayed on in the same village but also joined the defence committees in greater numbers.

Ali Mohammad could not attend the last rites of his father and mother — both were killed in the attack — as his three-year-old son was battling for life in hospital. When Ali came back, he was the first to pick up a gun and enrol as a village defence committee member. Ali says: "I have lost half of my family and I do not want to lose any more. There is just no option for us here except to pick up arms." Zakir Hussien, 25, and Naz Hussien, 30, also lost their relatives, and are now members of the defence committee. Mohammad Qasim, a community leader, says: "The Independence Day celebration is a special occasion for us as we value our freedom in a proud secular country like India. Not more than a year back, militants used to give us orders here until we threw them out. We are prone to attacks by them but we will fight it out." Mohammad Rafiq, a village elder, adds: "There is poverty in the rest of the country but here, we live in a dangerous combination of poverty and militancy."

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