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When Jhelum Wept | Gandbal transformed into wailing hamlet

“May I be sacrificed for you my dear!” women said, their voices trembling. “Where are you, my dear!”
01:01 AM Apr 17, 2024 IST | HASEEB IBN HAMEED
when jhelum wept   gandbal transformed into wailing hamlet
Women wail as boat capsizes in river Jhelum in Srinagar, leaving six dead, and several others missing. Photo: Mubashir Khan/ GK

Srinagar, Apr 16: One could hear the cries before seeing the wailing women along the Jhelum embankment and inside the lawns, on the roadsides, looking out the windows, and on the rooftops.



Everyone was sobbing and mourning.

At around 8:10 am on Tuesday, Mubeena Bano was about to board the boat along with her two kids to drop them off at school when they both refused and asked their mother for money.



The 37-year-old mother of two was angry at her kids.


Now, she said, she’s alive because of their demand.


As she went back home to get the money and came back to her kids who were waiting on the banks, Mubeena watched as the boat they were supposed to board with around 19 persons on it was crossing the River Jhelum.

“When it reached the middle of the river, the boat was tethered with a rope to a cable for support suddenly broke,” she said.

The strong flow pushed the boat towards one of the iron pillars of the under-construction footbridge, smashing it in the middle and leaving people on the boat, mostly school-going children and their parents fighting for their lives.

“Standing alone alongside my kids, I shouted and cried for help, and people came running outside,” Mubeena said.

As the ferociously moving river took the struggling people with it, Sajad Ahmad Parray, a 45-year-old resident of Gandbal was on the banks a few hundred metres away.

“When I saw what happened, I rushed to my boat and rowed it to the middle,” he said. “I then jumped and rescued three persons - Masrat, Mehraj, and Rafiq.”

As more locals joined him, they were able to fish out six more persons.

Sajad Ahmad Parray

“However, six others had already lost their lives,” Parray said standing on a boat, his trousers still rolled up to his knees. “We saw hands raised above the surface of the water, signalling in desperation and flowing away with the river but we couldn’t do anything as they were too far.”

As the news of the tragedy broke across the hamlet, it broke the hearts of the residents of Gandbal, a settlement along the River Jhelum in Srinagar’s Batwara area.

Men, women, young, and old rushed toward the spot where the tragedy befell.

As per the locals, the first rescue team reached the spot after two hours of the incident.

As the news of the boat capsize spread like wildfire across Kashmir, the small hamlet was swarmed by people from across the Valley, joining them in mourning.

After some time, five coffins were brought to the hamlet.

In them were 11-year-old twin brothers, Mudasir Fayaz and Tanveer Fayaz, their mother Firdousa, 45, Shabir Ahmad Bhat, 35, and Gulzar Ahmad Dar.

Photo: Mubashir Khan/ GK

While the twin brothers were on their way to school accompanied by their mother, Shabir Ahmad was out to find his daily labour, and Gulzar was rowing a boat.

As the Imam (religious leader) turned on the microphone of the nearby Masjid, thousands of men gathered for the funeral prayers of the dead while scores of women watched from the road above.

The rows were straightened and the Takbeer was said.

As the Imam started to pray for the deceased, the ‘Ameen’ of men reverberated across the place while the cries of the wailing women became shriller.

The body of the sixth deceased, a girl Razia, was taken to her residence in the Lolab area of north Kashmir’s Kupwara district.

The dead were buried and the mourning continued.

“Oh God, this place has turned into Karbala,” sighed a septuagenarian man who had come from south Kashmir’s Pulwama district to attend the funeral.

Sobbing Fayaz Ahmad Malik sat inside his house, unable to utter a word, unable to keep his head up.

His wife Firdousa was with their twins Mudasir and Tanvir who were on their way to school.

“Fayaz was having breakfast when the boat capsized,” his uncle said. “Little did he know that he would never be able to see his wife and two sons again.”

“Firdousa did around eight rounds per day, accompanying her two sons to school, bringing them back, then taking them for coaching classes, and then bringing them back again,” said her cousin-in-law who refused to identify herself.

She said Firdousa didn’t leave them alone for a moment as she feared they might drown.

“Now, they drowned together,” she mourns and rushes inside her home sobbing.

While some mourned their dead relatives, others like Masrat and Pinky were anxious about the fate of their missing relatives.

Masrat was also on the fateful boat along with her 7-year-old son Farhan.

Though she was rescued, Farhan is still missing.

Sitting and wailing on the lawn of her house, Masrat is surrounded by other women.

She too is traumatised to speak.

Some 200 metres away, Pinky cries the name of her husband, Showkat, and her 10-year-old son Haziq. She too sits among scores of women, mourning on her lawn.

Her husband Showkat Ahmad Sheikh, a labourer by profession was accompanying their son Haziq to school.

While the residents of Gandbal were overwhelmed by sadness, they were also furious at the failure of successive governments to construct a footbridge for around a decade..

“The foundation of this cursed footbridge was laid in front of my eyes, but to this day it remains incomplete,” 55-year-old Mushtaq Ahmad said.

On whether the boat was overcrowded, locals say it was a big boat with a capacity of carrying around 30 persons.

“This was not the first time that 19 people were onboard. This is our routine. The tragedy happened because of this cursed footbridge,” scores of residents said. “Time and again, we approached the concerned authorities. Sometimes they would blame the lack of funds and other times say that the administration was not willing to complete the under-construction footbridge.”

People kept arriving in the locality throughout the day as the family members whose loved ones were still missing stood on the banks of Jhelum hoping against all hopes.

Women raised their hands in prayers, beseeching for divine intervention in the rescue efforts.

While mourning, chaos, and anxiety, two sexagenarian sisters Fareeda Begum and Maimoona Begum distributed water among thousands of people present and hundreds more coming.

“We distributed some 20 buckets of water,” they said.

Four school bags that the children were carrying to school were recovered from the river at Chattabal Vier, some 5 km from the spot of the tragedy.

Around eight rescue boats of Police, MARCOS, Army, and SDRF were near the spot, searching for the bodies.

Onlookers along the riverbanks shouted at the officials to extend the search downstream, citing concerns that the swift current might have carried the missing individuals farther away.

Each cry or commotion sent ripples of anticipation through the crowd, only to be met with disappointment as false alarms dissipated.

“May I be sacrificed for you my dear!” women said, their voices trembling. “Where are you, my dear!”

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