Chake-Hajin, Jammu and Kashmir: In the early 90s, he was a young boy who weaved Kashmiri carpets like an expert artisan for a monthly salary of few hundred rupees. Then, armed insurgency broke out in the Kashmir Valley and soon, like most of the villagers of this south Kashmir area, Nazir Ahmad Wani and his friends struggled to find work.
Across the valley those days, every village would send dozens of its boys across the border to Pakistan for arms training. However, no one took that path in Chake-Hajin village of this south Kashmir’s Kulgam district. It was, and still remains, an island of peace untouched by the violence around its borders.
Nazir, instead of becoming a militant like many teenagers those days, joined a pro-government militia led by Javed Ahmad Shah, a notorious, government-backed commander of a private militia, in late 1994 “out of his free will, and that of God, nothing else”, his younger brother, Mushtaq Ahmad Wani, 38, who works at a band sawmill, said at his home on Thursday.
It was the same time when three former militia groups merged and formed Ikhwan-ul-Muslimoon, a dreaded militia that evoked fear among people for their brazen and often deadly ways. The militia was created to break the back of the militancy.
But in 2002, when Ikhwan was disbanded by the state government led by late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, Nazir was among thousands of Kashmiri’s who struggled to find a livelihood. He was now married with two children. Two years later, he joined 162 Infantry Battalion of Territorial Army of Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry in 2004, like most of his friends.
A resident of Chak-e-Ashmuji, Nazir lived with his wife, Jabeena, a school teacher. He had moved out of his village to the well-protected Ikhwan colony at the Kulgam district headquarters after he joined the counter-insurgency force Ikhwan two decades ago. One of his sons is studying outside the state while another is enrolled in a local institution. Residents said he got adjusted in the army when it offered jobs to a number of local Ikhwan cadres.
“They had to fight for getting into the army. One of his friend from Ikhwan time, Mukhtar Ahmad Malik, who was killed by militants last year, also joined the army. They both have to leave their villages. He was struggling before landing the army job,” Mansoor Ahmad, a resident of Kulgam and a friend of Wani, remembered. “In Ikhwan time, he was the most feared but he was also courageous.”
That trait of courage made Nazir, 42, run towards one corner of the house of Basher Ahmad Ganai in Batgund on 25 November last year where six militants had taken refuge. Nazir was part of 162 Territorial Army but was deployed with the 34 Rashtriya Rifles of the Indian Army for some time.
It was pitch dark. An army officer said at around 12:25 am, a soldier was hit by a bullet and he lay facedown near the parking garage of the house. Nazir tried to pull the soldier out while others hiding behind a walnut tree gave him cover fire. The firing continued and militants changed positions from one house to another, separated by a wall. When he reached the injured soldier, a militant peeped out of a window and fired a volley of bullets.
“He managed to enter the house and killed a district commander of Lashkar-e-Taiba and a foreign terrorist, before being hit by bullets. He also managed to injure a third militant before we stormed the building and killed the remaining militants. He was taken to a military hospital, where he died,” the army officer said.
On Thursday, a press release from President of India's Secretariat said Nazir has been chosen for the Ashok Chakra, the country's highest peace-time gallantry award. "Lance Naik Nazir Ahmad Wani exhibited the most conspicuous gallantry in eliminating two terrorists before making the supreme sacrifice in the highest traditions of the Indian Army."
“His extraordinarily fearless and courageous personage was reflected in getting the Sena Medal for gallantry twice in 2007 and 2018. Throughout his active life he always willingly faced grave potential threats and was a source of inspiration for others,” the statement said.
The officer said Nazir killed two militants inside one room. “The others fired back and he was hit, but he pulled out the wounded soldier,” said the army officer.
Six militants, a civilian and Nazir were killed in the encounter. Nazir’s body, draped in the tricolour, was buried after a 21-gun salute in his village on 26 November.
But in Chake-Hajin, a village of around 125 households, no one seemed to have any idea what the award means and Mushtaq, the younger brother of Nazir, said no one came to their home to offer compliments. The family also did not expect anyone. Curious residents, majority of them daily wagers, know nothing about the award. All of them knew he was a good carpet weaver. Most of them are also aware that he was an ikhwani. But few admitted to knowing how he was killed and why he was being awarded.
“People have no idea what this award means because all of us are illiterate, that is why no one came to our home,” Mushtaq said. “When he was alive, we prayed that he is not killed. Now, what purpose will these awards serve?”
Since late 90s, residents here took up jobs of daily wage labour. Hardly anyone has attended school here because of which the literacy rate is the lowest in the state.
“What is this award Nazir is getting?” a young boy asked visiting reporters from Srinagar, “Most of us are illiterate and we have no idea what it is. Can you explain please?”
Indeed an explanation celebrating Nazir's bravery and achievement is due.
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Updated Date: Jan 25, 2019 14:49:30 IST