On July 28, 2012, a blast occurred inside a bus carrying tourists in Anantnag, Jammu & Kashmir. It left four dead, and four others fatally wounded. The state police assertively put it down to a cooking gas cylinder exploding onboard. The survivors protested that there had been no cylinder on the bus. But the cops had their minds made up. Later, forensic reports disproved the cylinder blast theory, and stated that a terrorist attack had caused the explosion, just as the passengers had suspected all along. A grenade had been lobbed at the bus, the report stated.
The blast upturned the lives of tourists aboard that bus — those that survived — and the lives of the bereft, all of whom are awaiting relief. With the facts out, they still haven’t received compensation awarded to terror assault victims. A few are just waiting for the J&K government to issue correct death certificates so they can carry on with their lives.
Left picking shards
Geeta alias Pratimaben Jethva (67), a widow staying by herself in her small room at Rana Cottage, Malad (E), was one of the bus passengers. The four killed in the blast were her relatives. So were the other four injured, who were later airlifted to Mumbai.
Geeta has since been bed-ridden. She underwent four surgeries, and still has plasters on her leg. The muscles in her left leg are speckled with 120-odd splinters – shrapnel from the blast. Doctors say they are too tiny, and have penetrated too deep within, to be safely extracted.
Dr Ketan Panchamiya, the orthopaedic surgeon treating Geeta, said, “The left leg bone was shattered into four to five pieces. Her right foot was badly injured when she was brought to us. We have done bone grafting and skin grafting, and have performed orthopaedic as well as plastic surgical procedures on her over the last five months. She has responded well to the surgeries and will be able to walk with the help of a walker.”
She added, “We removed around 30 of the over 120 splinters from her leg; they were close to the fracture. She will have to live with the remaining. Removing them is not only risky but also difficult.”
The incident still haunts Geeta. “Life has never been so rude to me before. I haven’t slept properly in five months. I can’t get up from my bed. Had it not been for my relatives and neighbours, providing me both financial and moral support, I wouldn’t have been alive,” Geeta told MiD DAY, her voice thick with emotion. “Even after my husband died 11 years ago, I did odd jobs to run the house, and never took any money from outsiders. Now I depend on helping hands.”
Recalling the events in July, she said, “All eight of us (related bus passengers) had originally decided to visit Amarnath, but since only a few of us got the permission and we had to be together, we planned to visit Kashmir instead. We left the hotel room after the tempo traveller (JK-02-AP-0676) arrived sometime after the noon.”
“I was sitting in front of the door and we all were chatting. Soon after paying the toll at Brijbehra, we saw a young slim boy come close to the vehicle and throw something at us that came in through the window. I thought it was a stone, and informed the driver, who stepped out to check what it was. Minutes later, the blast happened,” she recalled.
“Bharati Purohit, Nisha Jhetva and Nirmala Rathod, my biggest support in life, were lying motionless inside the bus. I wanted to step outside the vehicle to rush them to the hospital, but I was unable to move my leg. Then I noticed that both my legs were bleeding. The locals rushed us to the hospital,” she added.
“At the hospital, the local police and security personnel kept on insisting that the blast happened because we had an LPG cylinder onboard,” Geeta said. “They told us we were making tea inside the tempo traveller. Utterly wrong. None of us even drink tea. But the cops had decided that it was our negligence. Even the doctors at Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS hospital) in Srinagar, said the injured had sustained multiple splinter wounds, indicating a grenade blast.
“We had no reason to lie. We lost four of our loved ones in the blast. At last, the truth has come out. It was a terrorist attack,” Geeta said.
According to the deputy inspector general of police, Kashmir (south), Vijay Kumar, “We suspected an LPG blast case. But in October we received the Forensic Science Laboratory (J&K) report, which after examining samples collected from the scene of the blast and the tempo, confirmed that it was a grenade blast.”
The J&K government did not pay any compensation to the injured or next of kin of those killed in the attack, citing at that time that it was an LPG blast. They only provided free medical aid. The air transport and subsequent medical expenses were borne by the victims.
Speaking to MiD DAY, Additional Director General of Police (J&K) Rajendra Kumar said, “As per the rules we pay an ex gratia amount of Rs 1 lakh to the injured in a terrorist attack. A job to victims’ next of kin is only for J&K residents. Tourists are not entitled to it. The Mumbai victims — since it has now been established that it was a terror attack — should write to the J&K government, seeking compensation.”
On December 28, 2012 two suspected LeT militants allegedly involved in the grenade attack on the tempo traveller were killed in a joint operation of the J&K police, the Rashtriya Rifles and the Central reserve Police Force (CRPF).
DIG Vijay Kumar said, “The militants were identified as Imtiyaz Ahmed Teli alias Fahadullah Kashmiri and Mohammad Aamir Bhat alias Khalid alias Khursheed. They were involved in the grenade attack, which killed four women and injured four others.”
Asked how he had ascertained that those killed in the encounter had carried out the grenade attack, Kumar said briefly, “We had specific information.”
Familes await death certificate
Bharat Jethva, whose mother-in-law Nirmala Rathod was killed in the blast, is facing another kind of difficulty. He is awaiting a valid death certificate from J&K. The certificate issued by SKIMS hospital in Srinagar has errors. Rathod’s age is written as 60, instead of 74 years, and her husband’s name is incorrect. The glitches are impeding the relatives from getting insurance, and operating her bank accounts.
“We have been asked by the institutions to get a proper death certificate from J&K. Otherwise, they won’t accept our petition seeking benefits after death,” Jhetva said.
Relatives of Nisha Jethwa, a UK national killed in the blast, are facing a similar problem. The certificate, made out on a plain sheet of paper, with errors of spelling in the name of the deceased, is not acceptable in the UK. The kin are concerned that insurance funds won’t be released without a proper certificate.
Neeta Jethwa (55), resident of Ghatkopar (W)
Geeta alias Prathima Jethwa (66), resident of Malad
Jayshree Desai (62), resident of Matunga
Jasuben Thakkar (76), resident of Vile Parle