Deaths of Jammu and Kashmir policemen at the hands of militants feeding into unpopularity of extremists in state

Wohlitra: As a growing number of Kashmiri policemen are killed by their own in the war of attrition, the massive gatherings at their funerals strike down the very cause of what militants in the Valley want — grassroot support. The continuous killings of local policemen in Jammu and Kashmir have done what security establishment could not do for years: it is feeding into the unpopularity of militants at the ground level.

On Tuesday, as Muslims in Kashmir were observing the night of Shab-e-Qadr, a pre-drawn strike by suspected militants on a guard post of a court complex in Pulwama district left two Kashmiri policemen dead. When the body of Ghulam Hassan Chopan was brought to his native village of Wohlitra in Rafiabad area, 70 kilometers north of Srinagar, thousands of men and women gathered to pay their last respects.

Chopan, a tall man in early forties with trimmed beard and a muscular frame, was father of three young boys. According to the villagers, he was a 'pious man’ who took care of his old parents and helped others in this remote hamlet in Rafiabad. "Thousands of people walked for kilometers to reach his house and participate in the funeral prayers. It is a sign of his popularity and humbleness," Abdul Rahim, a villager said. As his elder son, Sajad Ahmad Chopan, carried Chopan's body his on shoulders the gathering shouted: "Pakistan Murdabad."

At their modest house, Misra Begaum, the wife of Chopan, questioned and cursed militants for killing her husband. She said she had told her husband many times to leave the job, because the situation was not conducive to be a policeman in the troubled Valley. But he had refused saying, “How will I raise three children, give them education and take care of my old parents.”

 Deaths of Jammu and Kashmir policemen at the hands of militants feeding into unpopularity of extremists in state

Azi Begam, mother of Ghulam Hassan Chopan, is being consoled by relatives. Image courtesy: Sameer Yasir

"If these people (militants) will come in front of me, I will chop them with an axe. They are not militants, but vagabonds. If they would have read Quran, they would not kill people like this. What kind of Azadi will you get by killing your own countrymen," she asked. Outside Chopan's single storied house, his mother Azi Begam, a diabetic patient, and his father were being consoled by relatives.

At the funeral procession of Chopan, it was a sense of deja vu: boys armed with mobile phones hanging on to poplar trees, some trying to find little space on the verandah of a neighbor’s house while women beat their chests, a very similar scene from that of a militant's funeral.

This is a scene replicated whenever a policemen gets killed these days in Kashmir. There is anger and frustration in the force, especially since militants have killed 20 policemen since the beginning of 2018. And despite security forces announcing a unilateral ceasefire, the attacks have not stopped. Three policemen have been killed this month, three in last month, one in April, four in March, five in February and four in January.

Traumatised families can't air their grievances publicly or speak out loud against militants as that might invite their anger. One morning last month, after his father was killed, Muneeb Ahmad sat in his room looking at the picture of his father on his mobile phone. Shamim Ahmad Thakor, his father, was killed when militants attempted to force their entry into a guard post in Wardwan village of Budgam district.

He was on his way to offer prayers at a nearby mosque, when militants took him hostage. The policeman, a selection grade constable, was then asked to lead them to the guard post. However, he raised an alarm and the policemen inside the post fired at the militants. He was injured in the attack and later succumbed to his injuries.

Since then, Ahmad has barely spoken to anyone except his mother. A Class nine student, the killing has left Ahmad, a resident of Chek Hanjan area of Yaripora in Kulgam, numb. His family says he has fallen silent and often keeps staring at the picture of his father in his mobile phone.

"I was in Punjab when my uncle called to say that my father has been injured in an attack and I should come," Zahoor Ahmad Thakor, the elder son of slain policeman who is a student at a college in Punjab, told Firstpost last month at his home in Kulgam. "What kind of jihad is this which makes one snatch the bread earners of families? Are the people in uniform not Kashmiris?" he asks. “Look at my brother!. He doesn’t even talk to anyone now.”

“Don’t they think what will happen to the family of those whom they kill and who will take care of their parents and children?” Saleema Bano, Thakor’s wife said.

On 16 May, Bilal Ahmad Shah was travelling in a police vehicle along with his colleagues, when militant fired at the vehicle. Two policemen were injured. Bilal, who was one of the injured, succumbed. At the house of Shah in Malikpora, on the edge of Verinag in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district, the dirges of the wailing women sounded like a replay of the mourning at the home of a militant killed by the police. Chest beating women, heartbroken father, inconsolable sisters or toddlers too small to understand the significance of the loss. Before he become a Special Police Officer (SPO) in Kashmir police, he regulated traffic at a busy intersection as a volunteer at Qazigund toll post for at least three years. And whenever, Mohammad Abbas, Shah’s father heard about his son’s love for police force, he would cringe with helplessness.

On the evening of 16 May, Abbas accompanied a casket that carried the body of his 27-year-old unmarried son, few hours after he had promised him over phone that he will back for the first day of Ramazan. He came back but dead, carried on the shoulders of people, one day before the Muslim holy month started.

"He lived the dream of wearing a police uniform and he died in the same uniform,” Abbas said as he returned home that evening after burying his son in a grave that is visible from their home. "He is my martyr and no one can take away that title from him."

Updated Date: Jun 13, 2018 13:45:28 IST