Making of a rebel in Kashmir
Syed Tajamul Imran
First thing First. Dear brother I think of you every day and I feel lost and broken without you. Few events change history and few storms shatter families. In the past thirty years of unending bloodshed, storms have one after another wrecked havoc on the families in Kashmir, while losing their loved ones to violent conflict. A year ago in 2017, a cousin of mine and a best friend Syed Naveed left home and joined Hizb-ul-Mujahideen militant outfit and a few months later our family once again was rattled with the news of my younger brother Syed Rubaan taking the path of armed struggle and leaving us all in pain and shock. Back home I see our parents broken and their eyes searching for both of them.
I belong to Nazneenpora, a small village in Shopian district, on banks of Rambiara nallah. As romantic name (Nazneen) of my village the gun too has been romanticized since 90’s. In 90’s two top commanders of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, Syed Mushtaq (one of my second uncle) and Mohammad Amin Hurra (a best friend of my father) were on forefront of armed struggle. Both were killed later. Since then every evening, young boys sit in groups and talk about militants and guns. This is how we all grew up. But in mid-2000, after government-backed counter-insurgency group Ikhwan [renegades] became active; these gun-talks became less frequent. After almost fifteen years lull, during which hundreds of Jama’at-e-Islami activits and sympathisers were killed, the romance surrounding the gun made a re-entry. The new era of this armed struggle in my village started in 2015 when a father of two kids, Farooq Ahmad sheikh joined Hizb-ul-Mujahideen. Farooq, a well-known business man was picked up by police and army on number of occasion, as they believed he was in contact with then Hizb militant, Waseem Malla. Farooq was allegedly abused, beaten and taken to undue task when the detentions and tortures became routine. So he left his two kids (4 and 2 years old then) and joined Hizb-ul-Mujahideen back in Feb 2015. After 14 months in May 2016 as the fate would have it Farooq was killed in an encounter at Pahlipora village of Shopian. But his presence in the area as militant with a gun had already stirred youngsters. A few months before Farooq Sheikh’s killing, in January 2016, Farooq’s namesake Farooq Ahmad Hurra, 20, a poor boy from our village, left home to join rebels. He wandered for a few days but couldn’t meet his contacts and it was on January 26, 2016, Hurra was arrested in somewhere in Pulwama. After his arrest, Police in Pulwama addressed a press conference and said: “They have arrested a militant with a pistol and other ammunition”. However the police claim was false as revealed by accounts of Farooq post his release.
After Farooq’s release, I visited him at his home. He told me that he was not carrying any sort of weapon. “They (Police) projected me as an active militant which was not the case,” he told me. Then, some four months after his release Farooq was again summoned by army and police. Post Burhan Wani’s killing the wave of joining militancy was at peak and Farooq’s summons became frequent. He used to discuss his life with elders of village as well as youngsters. As army and police were continuously calling him for the reasons only they know, Farooq again made his mind and left home again in September 2016 and joined Hizb-ul-Mujahideen. But like many others Farooq’s life was cut short. He was killed in an encounter at Padgampora, Awantipora, along with another associate in March 2017. Farooq was the main bread earner of his family and very dear to his mother. After his killing, tragedy finally got the address of my clan. As we pen it down as a “revolution or pain” the outcomes are slated. Syed Naveed was accused of being in touch with Waseem Malla, Zahid Ahmad, commander Hizb-ul-Mujahideen and other militants. Following a trail of harassment, Naveed was transferred to Ladakh where the concerned SP Police made him ‘drill instructor’. At the same time, he was ‘disarmed’. Perhaps in the story of Naveed and other cops who join the police services to create honest society but soon get the taste of troubled waters and feel rebellion is the only way left to shake the fabric of this corrupt system. Naveed did exactly the same. He is currently district commander of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen. Naveed is one among those boys of our village who feel pride in helping one-another; he is brave, smart, as well as energetic. A person with a heart of gold and a comical character. During his posting at Ladakh, I talked to him from Chandigarh a many times and every time before cutting the call he used to say maybe I will never call next time, remember me in your prayers. But I couldn’t get (then) what was he planning.
In between all this I was, as usual, lost in my own world of dreams. I was eagerly looking forward to having a whole lot of fun. I am always busy dreaming about how we would all have a fabulous time. In order to make my dreams come true, I had left home in 2011 for studies and career. Ever since then my younger brother Rubaan (now 20) was left with parents and is more close to everyone in the extended family. He is very dear and in fact clearly the heart of my mother. Rubaan has a very compassionate outlook and is filled with kindness and he used to participate in marriages of poor people without any invitation and when asked why he did so he in reply stated: “I feel good to see their children happy, that is the only reason I go and participate in their happiness. It gives me satisfaction to participate in their happiness as well.” Few months ago a newspaper came with a story of a slain militant commander Farooq Ahmad Sheikh’s daughter, who was suffering from lungs disease, that very day Rubaan came to Srinagar and requested me and my other friends to do something for her. As I saw Rubaan crying, moved by his tears and the story of that girl, I was broken and so requested my friends and took him along and we succeed in helping the family. Rubaan was always kind and emotional to the core. The pain and aura of conflict that has shrouded entire south Kashmir could not keep him away from the storm. He was always sentimental when it came to the plight of people in conflict-hit Kashmir. On 17 June 2018, at 11:30 pm, army came to our village and surrounded it from all sides. Then they entered our house and assembled us all in a room. They accused us of harboring militant, especially Naveed and his associates. Then after three hours of search, in which they searched all three houses: ours and our uncles, but couldn’t found anything. Then, to everyone’s surprise, one of the army personnel slung his AK-47 over Rubaan’s shoulder and started clicking his pictures. That very moment I feared I would lose him. When my mother and other family members intervened, they started abusing them all. In the meanwhile, I confronted the army officer and asked him why they are harassing us. Instead of answering my query one of army personal started beating me ruthlessly. At this point, Rubaan told them that don’t harm my brother as he knows nothing. “He stays outside Kashmir. He is out of home for last seven years,” Rubaan told them.
But this was not the first time when Rubaan was harassed. It all started in September 2016, after Farooq Hurra and Naveed joined militancy as Hurra was a close friend of Rubaan and Naveed a Cousin. Later I came to know that Rubaan, who had studied in Army Goodwill School, was picked by JKP on the direction of senior police official in December 2017. As usual, I was outside the state but when I came to know about his detention, I became restless. After four nights and five days long struggle, I succeeded in getting Rubaan out. He was beaten ruthlessly and was not able to walk for a month. The same day I talked to my mother and somehow convinced her to send Rubaan outside Kashmir. Finally, Rubaan came to Chandigarh, where I was studying as well as doing a job. In Chandigarh, Rubaan showed me his deep wounds on his left leg as well as on his back. He stayed with me for 23 days, but during that period army from Ahagam camp visited our home looking for him. One day they asked my father to tell him (Rubaan) to come back. With no option left, I left my job and came back with him to Kashmir. I just wanted to keep my brother out of harm. I was told that apart from this senior police official, an army man, from Ahagam camp, apparently an officer, has allegedly abused and beaten Rubaan on a number of occasions earlier. That night, when I was beaten too, it was the same army man who abused him and my other family members. It was this officer who put his AK-47 on Rubaan’s shoulder and clicked pictures. I remember the officer telling Rubaan, “You have a beard, a cap on your head and you pray five times. Then why don’t you join your (militant) cousin Naveed?”
These continuous harassments had not only shattered our family but pained Rubaan too. Before his ordeal began, Rubaan known for his best cricketing skills is a well known cricket face in district. Rubaan had played good as well as bad cricket from police tournaments to army tournaments to local tournaments in Pulwama, Shopian, Kulgam, Islamabad, Srinagar and other parts of J&K. I remember, in 2016 post Burhan Wani’s killing, the army forced lot of boys, especially from south Kashmir, to come and play in their organized tournaments, Rubaan was one among them. Rubaan was taken by the same army camp and asked to play with other team members and was also given deadline that if he will not come ‘anything’ can happen. That day I was also at home, finally, he went along with other boys to Ahagam Good will (Army) school in order to play the tournament in which they had least interest. However, to everyone’s surprise, Rubaan’s team won the trophy and after taking the pictures of Rubaan receiving the winner’s trophy, the army captain asked Rubaan to put back the Trophy as they have to organize another tournament and they don’t have funds to get a new trophy. That evening, we all laughed for the “request”.
Rubaan is the only boy in our family who knows everything about our property, land and other things. He never left our parents for more than 30 days. At Chandigarh with me after three weeks he often used to ask, “I want to go home, I miss Baba and Maa [parents]. Please send me back.” But I was aware about his wounds. That is why I stopped him from visiting home but when army asked my father that they need his presence with no option left I came with him so that I can rescue him but I failed. Just like my cousin Naveed, who couldn’t bear unending scrutiny by his own police department, Rubaan too had enough and decided to take the extreme step and join militancy. On 18 July 2018, after offering evening prayers, Rubaan came home, took a bath and once again left for Isha (night) prayers. This was his routine. So nobody suspected anything unusual. Since he was first harassed, he used to stay at friends houses quite often. When that evening, Rubaan didn’t come home, we thought he might have stayed at some friend’s home for the night. But that was not the case. My mother, who saw Rubaan leaving, sensed something suspicious in his behaviour as he wore a new pair of shoes for prayers. The next day when he didn’t come and his phone was switched off, we thought he might have been arrested again. As the news of Rubaan’s disappearance spread in the area, people started pouring in at our house. Two days later, I came across Rubaan’s picture on Facebook where he was holding a gun in his hand. The writing attached suggested that he had joined a little known militant outfit called Al Badr. I was instantly shattered. I now knew for sure that we have lost Rubaan forever. But still, I didn’t want to give up hope. Since that day everyone in the family is trying his best to get Rubaan back. We know it is an impossible task, but we have no option but to try. All we have is hope.
I at this moment stand distraught and shattered to hilt along with my family. Summoned, abused, harassed allegedly by police, army and other agencies, we are very worrisome about Naveed as well as Rubaan; both of them are close to our heart. The pain of our parents and of course mine is immeasurable; as we are dying a new death every second in their absence fearing the worst case scenario. We also are aware about the hundreds and thousands of households of Kashmir that have lost their loved ones to this brutal and bloody conflict. How long will tears be the only expressions of parents and how long brothers and sisters will lose their siblings? I do not know what this storm has in store for us at this time, I do not know the right and wrong, methodology and I do not know the world of ideologies and counter ideologies, what I know is that life is such filled with pain in Kashmir that taste of life is nowhere. The cricketer that Rubaan aspired to be with his all-round skills could have easily made it to league level but he was born in unfortunate land called Kashmir; where conflict force and deprives you of everything. His room, his cricket bat, his uniform seems to have developed pain as they call him back. We never knew suppression has brewed such lava in his heart. It is not only the state that we say to have mirror and not take power casually and for granted but society as well. We in Kashmir celebrate martyrs in funerals only but are by and large hypocrites. Since the day my brother’s became militants eighty percent of my known acquaintances left contacting me and we all know well how stone pelters are denied marriage matches just because they have police record. Facebook status for likes, shares and shouting in funerals is no parameter for resistance but often personal portfolio building. Like others in Kashmir, whenever the three of us got together, we would have great fun together. Our family members considered the three of us as the ultimate gang who believed in having a gala time all the time. We loved one another and both my brothers pampered me a lot because I was physically weaker than them. But, suddenly everything was over, in just a jiffy.
I would always hang out with them during my vacations. I was just a kid to them; they would always pamper me and treat me like a cricket ball. They would always make me laugh and now I miss them a lot. Never before in my life had I felt so lost and lonely. I say, dear beloved brothers, my eyes yearn for you and there are a billion stabs in our heart and younger sister awaits your loving calls. Tears, misfortunes, sadness, loneliness and above all frustration define our life now. May Allah bless humanity
(Syed Tajamul Imran is younger cousin of Syed Naveed and elder brother of Syed Rubaan. He can be reached at Aclockdies9@gmail.com).
Tag: first-hand account