Photos by Mir Wasim/ Kashmir Ink
The family members of local militants from South Kashmir, who recently took up arms, open up about how their sons, brothers, nephews, husbands left their home one day without informing them. Later they come to know that they’ve joined militant ranks. Some of them have been killed in recent encounters, some of them still at large. Their family members know they can be killed anytime. They dread that news, which can arrive anytime, any hour. Sometimes, just a few months after leaving their homes, these young militants call their family members and parents one last time from the encounter sites. Staring at imminent death in the ensuing encounters, they only seek forgiveness. And then their bullet ridden dead bodies arrive home. And then thousands of people turn up to attend their funerals.
Kashmir Ink brings some of their stories, as told to us, by their fathers, mothers, brothers and wives, retaining their deep sense of loss, of young men who left their homes one day, choosing death over life, leaving behind their shattered families
‘Let us not glorify the death of our children'
Ghulam Rasool Dar, father of 23-year-old Engineering student Basit Rasool Dar, of Marhama village, Bijbehara, who was killed in a gunfight with government forces on December 13, 2016, in Bewoora village of Bijbehara
My youngest son Basit was a civil engineering student in Islamic University of Science and Technology (IUST) when he suddenly left home one afternoon on October 21, 2016. I can’t even understand how it all happened. He was a normal boy. He didn’t indicate any extreme inclination before he joined the militancy.
At home, he wasn’t that frank with me. He wouldn’t talk much about politics with me. I could have otherwise gathered something had I some indication of him having any extreme thoughts.
He left home suddenly on October 21, 2016, never to return. We searched for him for 53 days after he left home. For all these days we frantically tried to search him, but we were unable to locate him. From his side, he also didn’t make any attempt to reach or talk to us on phone. He didn’t talk to his friends either after he left home. He couldn’t be reached on his phone.
Before he left home, I remember he had to appear in his last semester university exams which were scheduled on October 24, 2016. On that Friday, he was moving around aimlessly. I asked him what’s he doing and that he needs to study for his exams ahead. He told me he will go out to offer afternoon prayers in a nearby mosque. We waited for him till evening, but he never came back. We also kept calling him on his mobile phone, but he didn’t pick up the phone. He had grown a faint beard. We thought he might have been picked up by forces since frequent processions and rallies were taken out by young people which were closely watched by the forces those days.
Next day, we went to police station to file a missing report. Then we began our search for him. We are mostly employees in our family. I work as a bank manager.
Once, I remember telling Basit why he attends all these rallies that were taken out by people following Burhan Wani’s killing last year. He said we are called anti-movement by people from neighbouring villages if we don’t participate much in these rallies and protests. He said he goes to show some participation from his area. I could understand his concerns then. His uncle would tease him, saying he goes to attend rallies, but can’t go out to pelt stones. He would say in response that these boys are foolish and that if they’ll throw stones, they’ll get bullets in return. He would say what’s the need to put your life in risk. He would think like that.
After some days the police station called me, asking me where my son was. I told them I know nothing and that we have also been looking for him since he left home that day. The police officials then told me that my son has joined militancy. Thus began our struggle to search for him. Since I’m working in a bank, I utilized all my contacts to get in touch. But there was totally no contact from his side. He didn’t even get in touch with any of his relations.
He had his phone with him when he had left home. We tried to call on his number almost every day. His mother would call on that number day and night, but there was no answer from his side. I can’t understand what happened to my son. Unfortunately it is such a painful death that we are reminded of it every time someone talks about him. It’s painful. There is no consolation for parents like us in this situation. The other university students and his classmates and friends told us that they never thought he’ll take such an extreme step.
It was only after his death that I came we came to know about his blog which was written in May, 2016. That showed he was a sensitive boy who was thinking about what was happening around him. He would pray like any other Muslim. There was no indication in his behaviour that showed that he would take such extreme step.
What can I say more than the fact that youth like Basit don’t see any hope to live anymore here. Why have they lost all hope from life here? We should think about it. They don’t see a light at the end of a dark tunnel. I think the present generation doesn’t know what peace is. They were born and grew up in this conflict. So they react accordingly.
At home we would often talk about the political situation in the valley like other people do. And Basit would listen to our talk, but he would not express his thoughts.
I think something is awfully wrong. They call it failure of parenting. But what can we do. These kids are not animals who can be secluded and kept in cages. If you call it failure of parenting, I can call it a failure of the state.
It was surprising for us not to hear at all from Basit till his death. Usually when militants are trapped in some house and surrounded by forces, they call their parents to talk to them one last time. But in Basit’s case, he didn’t even try to get in touch in his last hours before his death.
I can’t fathom what has happened, how we lost our young son.
Thus is a serious situation. I lost my son, but I don’t want other parents like me to lose their sons. To be honest, and keeping aside whatever ideologies and politics we have, we are losing another generation now. We need to save them. There is another boy active in another area in Pulwama. He is the son of a postman known to me from my office. He left home in the morning before Burhan Wani was killed. He is NET qualified, has an MPhil degree, and he also got selected for PhD in botany that too in JNU before he left home to join militants. He is an active militant now. He can be killed anytime. Think about what his father must be going through. I can feel that pain now.
As a parent, this pain I’ve to live with for the rest of my life, I don’t want other parents to go through this eternal sense of loss. It’s unbearable and indescribable.
Something needs to be done. Everybody should realise the gravity of the situation now. All these youth who are killed in encounters could have contributed a lot to the society had they lived. Ultimately we must realise that we are losing another generation. We will realise its consequences later, say after a decade. The gap created by these boys who are dying so young is a big void we can never fill. Everyone should think about it. And it’s unfortunate that we are glorifying the death of our young boys. It’s not right. These are my true feelings. I can’t get back my son now. As a parent, it’s a very, very acute pain to bear.
‘He had 19 bullet wounds on his body'
Ghulam Qadir Lone, father of Younis Ahmad Lone. He has been unwell since Younis left home to join militants last year. Grief stricken, he cannot talk much, also suffering from high blood pressure
Brother of Younis Ahmad Lone, 28, resident of Hawoora, Kulgam. Younus, a Hizb-ul-Mujahideen militant, was killed after a nightlong encounter with government forces on February 12, in the Frisal area of Kulgam district in which three more militants, two troops and a civilian was killed
Last November, he was arrested from his home by the army and kept in police station for about 10 days. They would accuse him of terror activities and held him responsible for some killings in this area. When he was produced before the court, he was arrested by the police again.
He was doing PG in sociology through distance learning from Kashmir University when he left home to join militants. Earlier, whenever army would raid the village, he would be picked up, sometimes during the night time. There was some Sarpanch killed in this village back in 2011. The police and army would accuse Younis of killing him, which is not true. They would often harass and arrest him. His life was made difficult. In the past few years, he was in prison for about four years. He was last released from central jail in 2015. Then last year he left home on Jan 3 and since then he never returned home. He remained at large for about 40 days.
He didn’t want to do anything with protests. He said he wanted to go to Jammu. He was also unwell, as years of imprisonment had worsened his health. He was on medication. He had swollen body. He couldn’t walk much. We have only two rooms. He was trying to make a small house outside. He was arranging for his sister’s marriage. ..
When he left home on January 3 this year, he didn’t remain in contact with any of his family members. We came to know he had taken up arms when we heard his name while he was trapped in the house during the encounter. His father remains ill and can’t speak much. Since his son left home in Jan he has been unwell. He is also suffering from high blood pressure. Younis was killed in the Kulgam encounter. We received his body from police. He had 19 bullet wounds on his body.
‘He didn’t surrender, He didn’t want to'
Muhammad Akbar Tantray, father of Mudasir Ahmad Tantry, 28, of Redwani Bala area of district Kulgam
Muhammad Akbar Tantray, father of Mudasir Ahmad Tantry, 28, of Redwani Bala area of district Kulgam. Mudasir, who was affiliated with LeT, was killed in the same encounter with government forces in Frisal area of Kulgam
He was alive for two years and eight months after he left home to join militancy. He would rarely come home after he picked up arms. When he was killed in the recent Kulgam encounter, he had not come home or spoken to us for over a month. The police would come and often tell us to ask him to surrender. He didn’t. He was 28 year old.
Mudasir Ahmad Tantry, LeT militant who was killed in Kulgam encouter with Younis Lone
Before leaving home, he used to earn a living by working as a labourer. He would also engage in farming. We have some farmland and we survive on that. Army once came and searched the home without telling us anything. They were looking for him. When he was trapped, he called me at about 4am in the morning. He only asked for forgiveness. I couldn’t say much. That was the last time we talked. Then I saw his dead body at home.
‘He can be killed anytime'
Rasheeda Bano, wife of Hizb militant, Muhammad Abbas Sheikh
Rasheeda Bano, wife of an active Hizb militant, Muhammad Abbas Sheikh, 42, from Rampur area of district Kulgam
He must have spent about five to 10 years in jail. He was often arrested by police and army. His life was made difficult. One day in 2015, he was at home, sleeping. There was some movement outside. We realized that it was a raid by army and STF people. He was asked to come out and present himself before some officer at a distance from our home. But he was fearful that if he goes with them, he will be killed. So he jumped off the window and ran away from the backyard of our home. At that time he was not an active militant. He was trying to live a normal life. But they didn’t allow him to live a normal life in peace.
Whenever someone would be killed or some grenade attack would take place closer to this area, he was the first person to be arrested and harassed. They would accuse him of being involved in carrying out blasts or killings whenever such things would happen close to our village here.
When one of his relative joined Hizb some years ago, he was again called by the army. They wanted to make him convince his relative to surrender. I would also tell him to go to the SP Police office and tell them there that he can’t do anything about it. Then he was arrested again after some time and taken to a jail in Jammu where he was kept for one year in 2014. A year later, when he was released, he was again harassed at home. Whenever anything would happen in this village or in some adjoining village, the police and army would come to him first. Then people from his village and elders here told him that he can be killed anytime and that he won’t be allowed to live a peaceful life. He didn’t see any hope to live at peace. The army and STF would not let him live peacefully. He didn’t have many options. Then he left home for good and joined Hizb in 2015.
I thought he was arrested then. They ran after him. They fired shots in the air but they couldn’t capture him.
He is just over 40 year old now and till now he must have spent about six years in jail. Some years ago he was released from the jail after three year. He once had a narrow escape after he was shot at in his leg. They have also slapped some cases against him, accusing him of being involved in the killing of some Sarpanch. But the family of that Sarpanch said in the court that my husband was not their killer. But he was still imprisoned and released after a few years from jail.
Before 2015, he was harassed many times and would often be summoned to the nearest police station. The army and STF would keep a close watch on him before he left home that. He has about seven cases slapped against him, including PSAs.
His elder brother was also a HM commander. He was killed in 1999. He was killed in an encounter. He was 30 then. Another of his younger brother was also a militant. He was killed seven years ago. He was tortured a lot. He was imprisoned for many years. After their first brother was killed, the second brother was harassed and jailed. His life was made hell. Then one day he left home never to return. He had joined Laskhar (LeT).
Our entire family has been destroyed. About 13 people have been killed in this conflict till now from his extended family. We just have these three small rooms which is our home. And this house is owned by three families. Before he left home, he wanted to buy this house from his uncles. But that couldn’t happen.
The police once told us that no one from this village wants to be employed in police. The police wanted to recruit some youth from this village but no one here wants to work in police.
I have four kids, one daughter and three sons. Sometimes he comes out of nowhere and then leaves in a jiffy. We don’t get to talk much. He’s been able to come home briefly only three times since he left home, that too for a few minutes. He can’t stay at home for a night. He hasn’t been home for a long time. I always worry about him. I always dread that news, that he can be caught or killed anytime. I always live with these thoughts. It’s not easy. But what can I do? Our life was destined to be like this.
Abbas was a tailor master. He also worked in Ladakh for some time. He had also opened a small tea stall in nearby Kohemoh village to earn a living. But police would come there as well and harass him. He was also once arrested from there. He had invested some of his money to run that tea stall. But he couldn’t run it well after he was harassed by the police and army.
This house was also vandalized about three times by police and army. Whenever there was some firing incident in this village, he was suspected and summoned by the police and the army would also come looking for him.
Our kids always ask for him. When we make some special dish during some festival or on Eid, the kids say, ‘Abu should also have it’. They miss him a lot.
We have left his fate to Allah now.
‘Even educated youth here want to become militants'
Bashir Ahmad, uncle of Muhammad Abbas, from Rampur, Kulgam
A 70-year-old elderly man, Muhammad Ramadan Sheikh, has been slapped with a PSA in this village last year. Almost everyone in this village has been tortured over the years by army and STF.
When my brother was killed by the army, his daughter was six months old at that time. No one helped us. People from this village have lost all hopes from government. No one listens to us. We have pressure from police and authorities. This village has been neglected in development works as well as no one votes here for any candidate.
And they look down on us, saying that we produce only militants. We are often ridiculed. Mostly people here work as labourers. People are living in poverty here. Though we have many educated youth in this village, but they can’t find employment. I earn a living for my family by working as a small time tailor. My kids have PG degree but they are unemployed. Police authorities at times say these youth can join police as SPOs, but our youth don’t want to join police. They see it as an insult. There are no government schemes we can benefit from in this village. Our roads are pathetic and deliberately neglected.
If a Mujahid is spotted in this village, all villagers come out of their homes to protect him. Such is the situation and public support for them here. The youth remain on guard till the militants are in some home to meet their family. People here give whatever they can to militants.
People have been tortured, harassed and neglected here. Now the situation is such that that even educated youth having PGs and other higher degrees are ready to pick up arms and join militancy. They don’t have any weapons at hand. Otherwise they too would have left their homes.
‘No one could tell that he would become a militant'
Shamim Ahmad, elder brother of Adil Ahmad Reshi
Shamim Ahmad, elder brother of Adil Ahmad Reshi, a Hizbul militant from Iqbal Mohalla Bijbehara killed in an encounter with government forces in the Awoora village of Pahalgam on Jan 15
We own some hardware shops and run a successful business here in Bijbehara. Adil left home on June 16, 2015. He had completed his graduation. He also had a diploma in computers. He was working as a salesman in a company here. He was born in 1993.
That day we had gone into the fields to tend to our crops. Adil also came along to help. My father was also there. Next morning, Adil had to appear in his exams. But he didn’t return home with us in the afternoon. When it got late, we called him. He told father that he’s coming in a while. But when he didn’t return in the evening as well, we called him again at about 9.30pm. His phone was switched off. He didn’t get in touch with us either. The night passed. We couldn’t sleep much.
In the morning, we left home to look for him in the nearby areas and also called his friends seeking his whereabouts. They had no idea where he was. Then we came to know that another boy, who was his friend, had also disappeared the same day. They were both missing. We thought he will return next day. But he didn’t and the police came to our home next day and told us that he has become active and joined Hizb outfit.
He was absolutely normal before he left home. He had one close friend though. They would go out and pray together. But there was nothing in his demeanor that suggested that he will take such a radical step. We can’t understand how it all happened. He also talked normally at home. No one could tell that he would become a militant. Earlier he didn’t grow a beard either. He was like any other normal young person.
Our house was also raided many times after he left home in 2015. Army would also suddenly appear and search our home. They were looking for him. We would tell them that we had no idea about his whereabouts.
We don’t know how it all happened. There was no contact with him after he left home in the summer 2015. After about six months, while he kept searching him, he suddenly appeared at home one afternoon. We were all surprised by his sudden appearance. He was accompanied by another guy. He stayed for a brief time. They had tea and left in hurry. We didn’t talk much except asking for his welfare. We knew now that he had picked up arms and he wouldn’t want to return to his normal life. He came home early last summer at the start of the agitation. He was in civil clothes. That was the last time we saw him briefly.
Then he called for the last time in the early morning hours of Jan 15. He was surrounded by army, caught in an encounter with two more militants. The army had surrounded him by then and there was exchange of fire. He called his father and sought forgiveness. We had accepted his fate. He died after a night long fight with the forces.