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The curious tale of Ishaq Newton, a brilliant student who picked up a gun instead of a stethoscope

On a bright Monday morning on 16 March,  2015, Ishaq Ahmad Parray, asked his father if he could lend him Rs 1000 for paying his tuition fees. The father stood up, entered the next room, grabbed his waistcoat hanging on the wall, took out the money and gave it to Ishaq. That was the last time Mohammed Ismail Parray, saw his teenaged son alive. On Thursday, 3 March, 2016, almost a year after he went missing, he returned with a bullet-ridden face on the shoulders of a crowd. He was dead.

Ishaq Newton, 19, as he was known in this beautiful hamlet of Laribal, was famous for his sheer academic brilliance and for being an ‘exceptionally intelligent boy’ in school. One afternoon in April 2015, Kashmir police broke the news to his father that he had become a militant, thereby shocking Mohammed and the entire village.

Newton, the police said, was now part of Hizbul Mujahideen, a Kashmiri militant group whose cadre is largely drawn from local Kashmiri Muslims, and which has been fighting the State since an armed uprising began in the early nineties, after decades of political discontent.

Ishaq Newton

Ishaq Newton

He, along with dozens of others, became part of a steady flow of recruits for the Hizbul Mujahideen; he was part of a local unit of militants, majority of whom are residents of Tral, a village in the southern district of Pulwama. The Hizb commander and the poster boy of Kashmir’s new militancy, Burhan Muzaffar Wani, son of a school principal, is also a resident of this village.

Tral is a bowl of small hamlets on the foothills of the vast terraneous mountains, 11 kilometers from National Highway IA, which connects Srinagar with the rest of India. It is a picturesque village known for its breathtaking green mountains and lush green forests, and its freshwater streams are a perfect attraction for tourists. But in recent years, it has achieved notoriety for being a hotbed of a renewed face of insurgency in the state, although sparse but deadly.

Newton’s friend remembered him as a pious and a hardworking boy, always reading something or the other, but who hardly discussed politics with anyone, including his own friends. That could be the reason why, when he was termed a militant, no one believed it at first.

“He scored 98.4 percent in Class X in December 2011, securing ninth position in the Kashmir zone. Then 85 percent in his Class XII and was now preparing to be a doctor,” Amir, a childhood friend of Newton, told Firstpost.

“But before he went missing, one day when we were talking in a nearby orchard, he suddenly started talking about the rising presence of forces in and around the Tral; about the regular harassment faced by young boys at the hands of the police and army. The ‘mukhbirs’ (informers), militants, and Burhan Wani!” said another friend Suhail in a surprising tone.

“But I never thought he would soon turn to guns, because he was that guy. He was just a normal boy, who wanted to become a doctor,” he added.

One afternoon in December 2015, I walked through a narrow lane in Laribal, where Newton used to live with his parents and two brothers. I was curious about what had led him to join the militants and to choose a path which has only one ending: death. Unlike others, he was too young and hardly out of school.

Men and women walked quietly on the pavements, their pale faces reddened by the cold drafts. The road leading to the Parrys' home was dotted on both sides by walnut trees. Empty fields were filled with stacks of dry grass piled under decaying tin roofs.

Mohammed Ismail Parry

Mohammed Ismail Parry

When I entered the house of Mohammed Ismail Parray, Ishaq Newton’s father sat on the verandah with produce from the kitchen garden. Parray, a gaunt-faced man with shiny black eyes and a flowing white beard, sighed between sips of Kashmiri nun-chai (tea). He was shocked about his son's decision and he didn’t want to see him buried in the martyrs’ graveyard.

“I first wanted him to become an Islamic scholar but he was interested in medicine and would read anything that would help him get into a medical college. Because he excessively read books that had nothing to do with his Class XII syllabus, he scored less compared to Class X. He would read books day and night,” Parry said, while staring at the tall mountains, dotted with tall pine trees, behind which deep inside, the militants are generally believed to be hiding.

“But with the passage of the time I made peace with it, although, I had never thought of it before, despite knowing the atmosphere in the area,” he added.

“The decisions they take (young boys joining militancy) can hardly be understood, and there has been a surprising surge, despite knowing well the results of joining a militant groups these days. The forces don’t arrest them now — although they try to — but they are buried alive in the places where they are trapped. They know it but despite that they keep joining. If you don’t ponder over it now when would you? It is not for us but for the leaders to understand why,” he said.

On the second floor, Newton’s room was ordinarily furnished with cement plastered naked walls. It was filled with books: on general knowledge, on medicine, on how to prepare for Common Entrance Test (CET). The only book about Kashmir was a novel by British-Kashmiri writer Mirza Waheed, titled The Collaborator.

As I prepared to leave the house Parray, exhausted till now, grabbed my left hand before opening the gate, “I get nightmares,” he said, in a soft voice, his eyes brimming with tears. “I see him, every week, draped in a white shroud on the shoulders of young boys of this village being carried into this house for the last time.” He turned his face away.

I failed to assure him that his son would be all right, because the survival rate of those becoming militants in Kashmir these days is almost zero.

That nightmare came true for his father on Thursday morning, when news broke that Newton, along with two other local militants, was killed in a nearby village.

Security forces had cordoned off the Dadsara village of Tral on Wednesday evening; many people in the area smelled a gunfight, after a few policemen appeared in civilian clothing in the area. What they did not know was that by the end of this encounter, the 20-year-old boy Newton, named after the English physicist and mathematician, would be one among the three militants killed.

The encounter continued throughout the night in a single-storied house that was reduced to rubble, where the trio were putting up one last battle. Desperate attempts were made by villagers to save the militants; police had to throw teargas shells to disperse the crowd before dusk.

On Thursday I called Amir, Newton’s friend; he, along with thousands of others, had joined his dead friend's funeral procession for his last rites.

“He was killed today, in the morning, we will miss our Newton he was a gem. We defied restrictions and came out for his funeral,” Amir shouted before the call suddenly got dropped.

Asked why young boys join militancy, political analyst Noor Mohammad Baba says, “The alienation continues and the institutions of state have failed to address it. Something needs to be done, on an urgent basis, to address these young people; otherwise things will become worse.”

Compared to 2014, the violence has come down in 2015; militancy-related incidents had claimed 220 lives in 2014 but in 2015, 197 people died including 102 militants, 12 policemen, 41 civilians, 35 army soldiers, five BSF personnel and two CRPF men.

One of the disturbing trends that has emerged since 2015 for the security agencies in south Kashmir is the increasing number of local youth taking up arms. The fear of more people joining militancy in the Valley has given state officials sleepless nights. As people were taking the dead body of Newton towards his grave, I remembered a police officer once telling me that earlier, politics attracted young people towards guns; now it is dead bodies and funerals.

So it won't be a surprise if tomorrow you hear that someone has else has gone missing, again, from Tral.

Updated Date: Mar 05, 2016 11:42 AM

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