31-year old youth from Naina in south Kashmir is one of many highly educated youth who joined militancy post killing of Burhan Wani

||ZAHOOR GULZAR

      On 8th of july after militant commander Burhan Wani was killed, 31-year old Sabzar Ahmad Bhat left his home for Delhi to join classes at Jamia Milia University where he was pursuing PhD in his “favorite subject” Botany. The situation was tense across Kashmir as the government forces had laid siege to quell the raging protests. A shy looking Sabzaar from Naina, Sangam in Anantnag, had completed his MSC from Burkhatulla University in 2013-14 and MPhil from Jivagee university Gwalior before joining Jamia Milia Islamia newdelhi in 2016. Sabzar also qualified NET,JRF and start coaching for IAS. But the family bid him goodbye hoping he would fly to New Delhi. For next three months the family, Bashmir Ahmad Sofi father of Sabzar Ahamad Sofi said, could not establish any contact with Sabzar owing to communication blockade in the Valley.

   Sabzar1 However in October 2016 the family got a shock when they came to know that Sabzar, instead of flying to Delhi, had joined the militancy. “We came to know about this fact in October last year. We tried to search for our son but didn’t have any success,” said Father Bashir Ahmad. “We miss him badly. We were under the impression that he is pursuing the Phd.studies at the university,” said Sabzar’s mother.

   According to her Sabzar, a “God-fearing and honest son” was a helpful human being who would help the students of the locality and encourage them to pursue higher studies. He start coaching centre (Acent) in his native place for some time where poor Students got free tuition. “He (Sabzar) did his MSC in Botany from Barkatullah University Bhopal before completing his MPhil from Gwalior. Instead of completing PhD he had joined militancy,” said his mother. “We searched him for many weeks but couldn’t trace him and finally we lodged missing report with Bijbehara police station.” “One day a police official came to our house and informed that your son has joined militancy. We didn’t believe it but we lost the hope when, some days later, a group of army personnel knocked at our doors and showed us a video in which Sabzar could be seen along with a group of militants with a gun in his hand,” Father said. Besides Sabzar, BashmirAhmad has two sons and a daughter who too are highly qualified.

     “He was so innocent that he wouldn’t even talk to anybody. We fail to understand this transformation in him,” said one of Sabzar’s relatives. He said Sabzar would never talk about the militancy or the situation in Kashmir. All his focus was on the studies and he wanted to achieve “something big” in his life to help his family and the society at large, he said. “We are at loss to understand what prompted him to join the militancy and how this transformation did take place in him.” Sabzar who comes from lesser know village of Naina Sangam Anantnag is one of the scores of educated youth who have joined militancy post the killing of Burhan on July 8 last year. It is these lesser known villages including Heff, Turkiwangam, Aglar, Chitragam and Imam Sahib in Zanipora- Shopian belt and scores of villages in Kulgam and Pulwama districts, where young and educated youths are joining new generation militancy. The public outpouring of support for militants is growing. This is like a replay of the early 90s when militancy was at its peak in Kashmir and enjoyed mass support.

     Today, people rush to the encounter sites to help militants escape and crowds of Kashmiris including young boys and women participate in militants’ funerals, indicating militants are again emerging as heroes though these new age militants are less active on the ground. A senior police official described Kulgam-Qaimoh- Khudwani-Arwani; Pulwama-Awantipora, Zainapora-Shopian, Tral and Dachnipora-Bijbehara belts as the “corridors” that have become the “fertile ground” for militancy in South Kashmir. Most of the areas in the south had been declared as militancy free by 2008 and the mainstream parties, especially the ruling PDP, had made significant inroads in these areas. But today not only is south Kashmir almost out of bounds for the parties, the militants have been targeting houses of JK police officials too, warning the families to persuade their kin to quit job.

     The situation is grim to the extent that Election Commission of India had to indefinitely postpone the byelection to Anantnag LS seat last April. “There is anger…the situation in some (south Kashmir) areas is still edgy with growing militancy, and law and order problem continues to be a major challenge,” the official acknowledged. In Kulgam district, as per police records, at least 20 militants belonging to Qaimoh, Yaripora and Kulgam tehsils are at present part of the militant network operating in southern districts of Kashmir. Areas like Redwani, Rampur and Khudwani are the hotbeds of the present day militancy. In the main market of Khudwani, a former PHE employee who identified himself with his first name Bashir only, said the pro-freedom sentiment never waned in these areas. It is not only the “inherent pro-freedom sentiment” that is contributing to the renewal of the militancy in Kulgam and other districts. Families of militants and locals whom Greater Kashmir spoke with said the harassment of the youth, who participated in the protests in 2010 and 2016, by the government forces was leaving young boys with no choice but to pick up arms.

Sabzar who comes from lesser know village of Naina is one of the scores of educated youth who have joined militancy post the killing of Burhan on July 8 last year

     “This harassment is only rejuvenating the spirit for Azadi,” said another local of Khudwani, Hafeezullah. “This fire is burning, the more they harass the youth, the higher the flames will go.” His answer to India media’s oft-repeated theory that youths throw stones because they are paid comes in the form of a question. “Why did a policeman recently flee with five guns if it was all about Rs 500…he must have witnessed the oppression our nation is going through, nowEvery youth here is a mujahid and if provided with weapons they will not hesitate to join their brothers. According to data compiled by security agencies, 67 local recruits have joined the militancy in the Valley since Wani’s killing in an encounter last July. Of them, 50 are from south Kashmir, Wani’s native region; 63 are below the age of 30, including two 16-year-olds and one 15-yearold; and, only three are “recycled militants”, or those who went back to militancy after being jailed.

       The data reveals that in South Kashmir, nine are from Pulwama district, nine from Awantipora (including Tral), 13 from Kulgam, 11 from Shopian, eight from Anantnag. Eight fresh recruits have joined militancy in north Kashmir: two from Kupwara, one from Handwara, three from Bandipore and two from Sopore. In Central Kashmir, there are five such new recruits – three in Budgam and two in Srinagar. What’s striking is the educational profile of these recruits. Apart from a PhD, an M Phil and two post-graduates, there are six graduates and five who were pursuing engineering and technical courses: two B Tech, one BE (Computer Science), one Polytechnic student and one diploma student in computer science. Then there are eight who were pursuing a Bachelor’s degree. Ten others have cleared Class 12; 12 have completed Class 10; three are madrassa students, including a Hafiz/Imam; and, the rest have studied until high school.