Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir – The family of 18-year-old Rafiya Nazir remembers her as a sharp, sensitive and bright girl who aspired to become a doctor.
However, Rafiya’s aspirations – and her life – were cut short on Sunday, making her the latest casualty in a decades-old conflict in Indian-administered Kashmir, a disputed region divided between India and Pakistan but claimed in its entirety by the two rival nations.
An armed rebellion against the Indian rule in the picturesque Himalayan valley is now in its third decade, killing thousands of people, most of them civilians.
On Sunday afternoon, Rafiya, her mother Hameeda Nazir and elder sister Farhat Nazir left their home in Srinagar’s Sadrebal locality to visit a relative living in another part of the region’s main city.
As they walked through a busy marketplace in central Srinagar, a grenade explosion ripped through the crowd.
“I was holding a bag of bananas. My daughters were standing near me when the blast shook the ground under our feet,” Hameeda told Al Jazeera.
“Everything became dark for a moment, there was dust all around. Scared people were running for safety.”
Hameeda said she tried to pull an injured Rafiya towards a shop after her daughter was not able to stand.
“She asked me: ‘Mother, are you fine?” recalled the sobbing mother. “She touched her head and I saw blood on her hands.”
Hameeda said a man lifted her heavily wounded daughter and took her to a hospital.
“I lost my mind. I could not find my phone that was in my daughter’s hand. We couldn’t make a call. My feet were bleeding, Farhat was also injured. We were both bleeding.”
Doctors said Rafiya had suffered a serious brain injury. She underwent surgery at one of the region’s main hospitals.
The teenager struggled for life for a night before succumbing to her injuries on Monday.
Police said the attack, which also killed an elderly man, was carried out by anti-India rebels. At least two suspects have been arrested in connection with the blast.
“We have arrested two persons from Khanyar area who lobbed a grenade leading to two civilian deaths and certain injuries,” senior police official Srinagar Rakesh Balwal said in a news conference in Srinagar on Tuesday evening.
Such attacks are not rare in Indian-administered Kashmir where rebels target large gatherings or bunkers of the Indian armed forces, often leading to civilian casualties.
On Monday, police also claimed to have busted a grenade-throwing module of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a Pakistan-based rebel group, by arresting four of its alleged members in Pulwama district.
Meanwhile, at their home near the banks of a lake in Srinagar, Hameeda struggles to come to terms with the loss of her youngest daughter who they hoped would pull them out of poverty.
“I have four children. My elder daughter had to drop out of school because we could not afford her education. Our two sons work as labourers. Rafiya was the bright one. We all had our hopes pinned on her. I wish I had died instead of her,” a sobbing Hameeda told Al Jazeera as relatives consoled her.
Hameeda and her husband Nazir Ahmad, 50, work as carpet weavers, earning a meagre $3 a day.
“My husband has problems in his eyes, he also suffers from backache. But he would still work so that we could pay for Rafiya’s tuition so that she could qualify medical entrance exam,” Hameeda said.
Only last month, Rafiya had passed her Class XII exam, securing an impressive 94 percent in the sciences stream.
“She studied in an ordinary school. We had no money for her studies. But she was always ready to compromise. She studied at night. So I would make her a warm bed so that she doesn’t feel cold,” said Hameeda.
“Now she is alone in a cold grave.”