On Wednesday morning, in Kashmir's Kupwara district, three terrorists were killed in a fierce gun-battle with the security forces. In the operation, the stray bullets also killed a girl, barely six years old, who was inside her house a short distance away.
"She was sitting in her house, about 300 metres from the encounter site," Shamsher Hussain, superintendent of police, Kupwara district said.
The news of 6-year-old Kaneeza's death spread with many coming out on the streets to protest.
Dozens of students of the Islamic University of Science and Technology (IUST) held a protest on Thursday, holding placards that read, "I am Kashmir, I am Kaneeza".
On the fateful morning, Makhini Begum and her family were fast asleep in their house, just metres away from the encounter spot.
"Suddenly, I was woken up by gun shots. I whispered to my husband that firing was going on near our house. We decided to stay still to escape the bullets. But that didn't happen," Makhini told Indian Express.
Kaneeza was Makhini and her husband's only daughter.
In a heartbreaking interview to Indian Express, the 32-year-old described the fateful incident. "She was sleeping on my right arm. Suddenly, she breathed hard. I put my hand on her and felt something sticky. I looked at my hand, it was red with blood. I kicked the blanket aside, saw blood all around. I saw blood dripping from her body and that of Faisal."
Kaneeza's brother Faisal also suffered a bullet injury during the gunfight.
In trying to protect her other children, Makhini took shelter behind a school building even as gunfight continued. "When they launched the operation against the militants, they didn't try to first rescue us," she said.
Even the villagers of the area said the same thing. "They did not allow us to move out after the cordon was laid," some villagers told Greater Kashmir.
The residents said that the exchange of fire started between the militants and the forces at around 5 am on Wednesday.
When the encounter finally ended at 3 pm, Kaneeza's brother 15-year-old brother Aslam tried to wake her up. "I tried to tell Kaneeza that the encounter is over, but saw blood on her mattress. She had died," he said.
Kaneeza's family told Greater Kashmir that a Senior Superintendent of Police visited the family later in the evening and provided 5 kg sugar, 25 kg rice, 5 kg mustard oil and five blankets. "They asked us to keep all the food and assured they will solve the killing (case) amicably," said Aslam.
A week ago, 15-year-old Aamir Wani was shot in the neck during an encounter in South Kashmir's Pulwama district. As Sameer Yasir notes in this Firstpost article, "the killing of a 15-year-old boy during clashes at an encounter site is a stark reminder of what the valley is going to witness in the coming days."
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