Chunduna, Ganderbal: Among thousands of mourners, more than a dozen students sat in a line, waiting for the dead body of professor Mohammad Rafi Bhat to arrive in Chunduna village of Central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district on Sunday evening.
As the family members carried the bullet-ridden body of the lecturer, who was killed in Shopian district of south Kashmir during an encounter, inside the house, every ten minutes, one of the students would break down.
“More than a teacher he was a friend and a guide,” Malik Abdul Momin, a Master's student from the Sociology Department of Kashmir University, told Firstpost. “His death and his decision to join militancy have left us devastated,” he added.
Last Friday morning these students had gifted, Rafi, an assistant professor at the Department of Sociology in Kashmir University, a wristwatch after he informed them that he was leaving the varsity for another assignment in Hyderabad.
Rafi, 32, was among the five militants killed on Sunday morning in Badigam village of south Kashmir’s Shopian district. The clashes that broke during the encounter and afterward left five civilians dead as well, and more than 50 people injured, according to police and doctors.
Hizb-ul-Mujahideen suffered a major setback on Sunday as four of its longest surviving A++ category militants were killed within a few hours in Shopian district. Saddam Paddar, Bilal Ahmad Mohand, Adil Ahmad Malik, and Tawseef Sheikh were at the top in Hizb-ul-Mujahideen hierarchy and were considered “most wanted” by the security agencies. Paddar had joined Hizb-ul-Mujahideen in 2014 when Burhan Wani was the chief of the outfit in Kashmir. He comes from a well-to-do and influential family which owns several orchards in Kashmir. He was the only surviving militant in a photograph that had gone viral in early 2014.
Back in Chunduna, more than Rafi's death what has shaken the entire area is the professor's decision to join militancy. Though he survived for less than 40 hours in his new incarnation, Rafi was perhaps the most educated militant in 27 years of insurgency in Kashmir Valley.
He served as an assistant professor for little more than a year at Kashmir University where he completed his PhD last year. An MPhil and a Master's degree holder, Rafi had cleared the National Eligibility Test (NET) twice, JRF once, and for his meritorious academic record, he was given a job in the same department.
Peerzada Amin, head of the Department of Sociology at Kashmir University, was among the thousands of people who joined the funeral prayers of the doctor, as he was known at his native village Chunduna.
“He was not just a brilliant scholar but a dedicated teacher as well,” says Amin while speaking of Rafi, a former student, and colleague.
On Friday morning, Rafi gave his last lectures — one on Indian society and another on post-structuralism. At 3.06 pm on Friday, 25 minutes before he disappeared, Rafi posted a poem that one of his students had dedicated to him, on Facebook. "Gift from my students. I will remember your love and respect," he wrote, adding, "Allah bless you all."
At around 3.30 pm on Friday, he left his department at the Kashmir University, with a sling bag and a backpack. That was the last time anyone saw him alive. After he went missing, the students of Kashmir University held a protest demanding the whereabouts of their teacher.
"No one could have thought that he was leaving to become a militant," Jehangir Ahmad, another Master's student at the Department of Sociology, Kashmir University, told Firstpost.
At 7.30 am on Sunday, Rafi's father Abdul Rahim Bhat received a call. It was his lecturer son on the other side.
"I am sorry if I have hurt you and this is my last call as I am going to meet Allah," Rafi told his father. Rahim was taken aback when his son told him that he was trapped with other militants in Badigam village deep south in Shopian district.
"When did you become a militant?" the astonished father asked his son. The call got disconnected. He received another call, this time from the SSP of Shopian, asking him to come to Shopian to try to motivate his son to surrender.
The surrender did not happen.
The police brought his family including his father, brother, and wife, to get him to surrender. Rafi had married four years and has no children. A police official in the district said that the lecturer wanted to surrender, but was not allowed by another slain militant, Sadam Paddar.
Rafi's father Abdul said that he had kept a close watch on his son after two of his cousins — one in 1991 and another in 1993 — died trying to join militancy. He said he did everything to give his children a good education.
"But I think somehow my efforts failed,” Abdul said.
Police in the Shopian district said when they came to know that Rafi was trapped inside the house, they halted the operation and got his family. "But they refused to surrender," said Shalinder Misra, SSP, Shopian.
Rafi had completed his PhD in 2017 on globalisation and emerging trends in consumerism: comparatives Study of rural and urban Kashmir. Before the degree was even awarded, he was offered a job at Kashmir University.
“When educated and gainfully employed young men choose the path of militancy — it should serve as a wakeup call for those who have turned a deaf ear towards repeated pleas for initiation of dialogue with all stakeholders to find a solution to this quagmire,” Omar Abdullah, the National Conference leader, said in Ladakh region on Sunday.
"Turning a blind eye towards the alarming situation won’t change reality. The growing levels of alienation and isolation are alarming signs and need to be acknowledged and addressed politically. This is not an economic issue and cannot be resolved through economic packages," he added.
At least 114 people have been killed in militancy-related violence in the Valley in the first four months of this year. Among them, 53 were militants from Hizbul Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, 33 civilians, 14 policemen, 13 army men and one BJP worker.
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Updated Date: May 07, 2018 12:00:20 IST