Amarnath Yatra terror attack opens old wounds for Mumbai resident

Monday's attack on Amarnath Yatra pilgrims brings back memories of loss and pain for Ghatkopar resident Neeta Jethwa, who lost four of her relatives in 2012 attack

Neeta Jethwa lost her relatives (clockwise from top) Nirmala Rathod, Bharati Purohit, Nisha Jethwa and Indira Parmar in the blast. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar
Neeta Jethwa lost her relatives (clockwise from top) Nirmala Rathod, Bharati Purohit, Nisha Jethwa and Indira Parmar in the blast. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar

Six years after Neeta Jethwa survived a terror attack near Anantnag, news of Monday's attack hit her hard. Besides the agony of losing four relatives, it was also a reminder that neither the J&K government nor Centre cared to provide the victims with any compensation.

Her husband Bharat Jethwa (63), a freelance graphic designer said, "She has been disturbed since Monday evening. I was out and she switched on the TV to watch the news, after our daughter Urvi told her about the terror attack. Ever since, Neeta has been upset and depressed."

The Ghatkopar West resident was injured in a grenade blast on July 28, 2012 near Anantnag. Neeta was in J&K with seven relatives - all women - for a pilgrimage to the Vaishno Devi shrine and an extended tour of the scenic state. The attack claimed four of her relatives and injured three others. All eight women left Mumbai on July 19, 2012 and were to return on August 1, 2012.

Also read - Amarnath terror attack: Brave bus driver saved many pilgrims' lives

Attacked on vacation
Their vacation was cut short abruptly on July 28, 2012, when two men on a motorcycle lobbed a grenade into their tempo traveller while they were on their way to Pahalgam from Srinagar. The grenade fell on the lap of Neeta's mother Nirmalaben Rathod (78), who was declared dead on arrival at the hospital.

Also read - Amarnath attack: Survivor from Maharashtra says driver's quick thinking saved many

The driver of the vehicle Ashok Kumar escaped unhurt and was taken into police custody. Investigating agencies earlier suspected it to be an LPG cylinder explosion, however, it was proven to be a terror attack as treating doctors at the Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Science, Soura, Srinagar found splinters in the bodies of the injured.

Lasting wounds
Bharat still recalls the phone call he received from Neeta that afternoon. She kept telling him she was okay, that she'd hurt her hand and leg, didn't know what had happened, but she was in the hospital, without a clue about the others and her mobile phone.

He said that even today, Neeta is unable to use her left hand properly. "We were informed by the doctors here that due to improper bandaging of her wounds post surgery in J&K, the blood supply to her fingers was affected. By the time she was airlifted and brought to Mumbai a few days after the attack, the damage was already done. At times she even struggles to hold a glass. She is still on medication."

Also read: Dahanu residents among pilgrims killed in Amarnath attack

Bharat added that Neeta's cousin Pratima Jethwa (71) who is a widow and stays alone in Malad has to use a walking stick for support. "She has no source of livelihood. We even contributed for her medical treatment, which ran into a few lakhs. Even today, she can't stand for long, as the grenade blast badly injured her left leg."

No compensation
Bharat claims to have made several attempts to reach out to J&K authorities seeking compensation for his wife and relatives, but he'd never be entertained. A few months ago, he called them once again but was insulted over the phone by a government official, who allegedly said, "We have already spent a lot of money on the treatment of your wife and others during the said blast and also airlifted them to Mumbai. All the money given for terror victims at the time has already been utilised for the medical treatment and transportation. We advice you not to make any more phone calls to us seeking compensation." After saying this, the official disconnected.

Also read: Bodies of Amarnath pilgrims reach Gujarat, Rs 10 lakh for dead

However, Bharat does not remember who the officer was from which department. "I was so terrified that I decided not to call thereafter. I am thankful that my wife could survive the attack," he said.

An anguished Neeta said, "A local tied to an Army jeep as a human shield was awarded R10 lakh compensation and terror victims like us are left in the lurch to meet our own medical expenses."

Troubles mount
The Jethwas also had a tough time in getting cashless treatment for Neeta at a private nursing home in Ghatkopar, as the Third Party Administrator (TPA) refused to accept the cashless claim, stating they were unable to issue the authorisation letter citing a revised clause by the insurance company, which said that the mediclaim policy does not cover war and war-like perils.

Also read - Amarnath Yatra terror attack: SRK, Akshay Kumar, other Bollywood celebs offer condolences to victims

"We were aghast with the bizarre reasoning, there was no war or any war-like peril, which led to the blast. Moreover, the concerned J&K police confirmed it was a terrorist attack, but the TPA concluded that there was such a situation in J&K, which was absolutely absurd on their part," said Bharat. However after lot of persuasion, the insurance company finally cleared two of Neeta's surgery bills, which was around Rs 1 lakh.

"We still wonder, that even this [Monday's] attack happened in July, similar to our case. Despite knowing the vulnerability of pilgrims visiting the shrines in J&K, the local intelligence and security agencies failed to prevent such an attack. We are now worried about those who survived and hope they do not face the problems we did in receiving medical treatment," said Bharat.

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