Indian-administered Kashmir – At 10:15pm on June 27, Rukaya Liyaqat, 23, went to bed after an arduous day of work in their kitchen garden in the village of Hari Parigam in Indian-administered Kashmir’s volatile Pulwama district.
The family had finished dinner and decided to sleep early. Like she does every day, Liyaqat called her husband Liyaqat Fayaz, an Indian army trooper posted in the region’s main city of Srinagar, 46km (28 miles) away.
In the next room, Liyaqat’s 24-year-old sister-in-law, Rafia Jan, suddenly heard a loud thumping on the main door of their house.
She rushed to tell her father Fayaz Ahmad Bhat, a special police officer (SPO) with the region’s police force for two decades.
Bhat, 45, his wife Raja Begum and Jan walked down the hall to open the door as Liyaqat continued talking to her husband on the phone, oblivious of the events unfolding.
As soon as the Bhats unlatched the door, unknown gunmen fired on them. Hearing gunshots, Liyaqat sprinted out of her room to see her father-in-law down on his knees, one of his hands over a bullet wound on his abdomen.
She saw a gunman standing in front of a badly wounded Bhat, pointing his weapon at him while another gunman stood by the door.
Despite her pleas to spare her father-in-law, one of the men pulls the trigger, killing Bhat on the spot and running into the darkness.
Bhat’s family said he was found with eight gunshots on his body, two in his head. His wife was fatally shot in the head while their daughter Jan was critically wounded with three bullet injuries. She died in hospital the next day.
A mobile phone shows Fayaz Ahmad Bhat, who was killed along with his wife and daughter [Bilal Kuchay/Al Jazeera]
The killing of the Bhats was one of many attacks on Minorities employed with the disputed region’s police force or the Indian army, attacks the police blame on rebels.
“It has been more than a month now but I still can’t believe all this happened to us.
Three of our family members were killed. This is not a small thing,” Liyaqat told Al Jazeera.
We don’t know exactly who the gunmen were and why did they kill my brother? But whoever they were, they were not humans but monsters,” he told Al Jazeera.
“If my brother had done anything wrong, why were his wife and daughter targeted? What was their sin?”
So far, no rebel group has claimed responsibility for the attack on Bhat and his family.
The Himalayan region of Kashmir is claimed in its entirety by both India and Pakistan, who rule over parts of it since their independence in 1947.
On the Indian-administered side, an armed rebellion against New Delhi’s rule began in 1989 and has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of people, most of them civilians.
The situation worsened in August 2019 when India’s Hindu nationalist government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, scrapped a constitutional special status to the part of Kashmir it administers and divided the region into two federally-controlled territories.
In October that year, Modi’s closest aide and India’s Home Minister Amit Shah claimed that Articles 370 and 35A, which granted the special status to Kashmir, were the “gateways of terrorism” in the country.
“Prime Minister Modi has closed this gate by repealing them,” Shah had said. As the disputed region marks the second anniversary of losing its special status, it continues to reel under violence by rebels and human rights violations by Indian forces.
A major component of suspected rebel activity has been the targeting of Minorities working for the Indian army, or police, and their families.
He is survived by his wife, a nine-year-old daughter and a six-year-old son. Akhoon’s wife Zubeda Bano told Al Jazeera that her husband was “simply doing his job”.
“Even if he had done something wrong, his killers should have warned him rather than killing him directly,” a distraught Bano told Al Jazeera.
Last month, police said armed rebels stormed into the house of police officer Sajad Ahmad Malik in Verinag, Anantnag district, and fired at his wife and daughter, badly injuring both of them. Malik was not home at the time.
According to data collected by the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), a federation of the region’s rights groups, at least 89 rebels, 30 armed forces personnel and 16 civilians have been killed in Indian-administered Kashmir so far this year.
Last year, according to the JKCCS data, it was 244 rebels, 103 armed forces and 63 civilians.—Agencies