Militants are revered in Kashmir as holy sons.
This is what was reflected in the words of Mymoona Akthar, mother of Burhan Wani who had interacted with this author couple of months ago in Pulwama. Most of them are driven to militancy at a young age. Political stimulation for the same is supplied by a structural deficit that resulted painful life under what Kashmiris call 'occupation'. As far as militants are concerned, personally there are experiences filled with horrific incidents of family members and friends being tortured.
The cost of living with humiliation is not an option for them. Many households in Kashmir seem to have a special place for young 'Mujahideen' who lay their lives for the longstanding dream of driving the military establishment out. Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) Chairman Yasin Malik is quoted saying that ‘the majority of the militants who have been killed in recent times had been forced to pick up arms when the State agencies went after them and turned into hell the lives of their families for the sin of having resisted peacefully during 2008 or 2010.
Talk of a 'peaceful path' is a flawed imaginary for the current young generation of Kashmiri society. This was clearly evident in the incidents that happened in and around Handwara in early 2016 when a schoolgirl was allegedly molested by army men in uniform. Reactions against it were cracked down on with a heavy hand. Youths who protested peacefully were fired upon and killed. "It took young lives to realise the removal of a bloody army bunker from Handwara," said the editor of a reputed Kashmiri magazine during a chat with me last year.
I visited Sameer’s home early this year in February 2017.
Sameer Ahmad Bhat is just 19 years old and was a student of Class IX in the Government Boys' School of Drabgam. On 7 April, 2016, he disappeared from his home located in Drabgam village of Pulwama fistrict. Months prior to his disappearance, he had started becoming emotional about the movement for Kashmir’s 'azaadi'. According to his friends, he was actively involved in stone-pelting incidents and was on the radar of the security forces. His father Mohammed Maqbool Bhat was also arrested many times but he was not involved in any anti-State actions. But, security forces used to arrest Maqbool whenever Sameer was not at home.
Between 2014 and 7 April, 2016, Sameer used to be arrested by the local police most often on grounds of stone-pelting and anti-India sloganeering. The last time he was arrested was on 3 April, 2016 by the Indian Army at his home and transferred to police custody (Rajpora Police Station in Pulwama), then again handed over to Kakapora Police Station in Pulwama. He went underground for a brief period and his detentions were carried out without any procedure. As a result, no documents are available with his family. On 7 April, 2016, by around 9 am, Sameer communicated to his family that he wanted to visit Pakerpora Shrine situated in Budgam, and left home. After his departure, he did not contact his family. The day Sameer disappeared was the day he was supposed to produce himself before the local police station.
Father Maqbool thinks that Sameer was gripped by an intense fear of police custody and torture. He categorically stated that Sameer was not in touch with any leader of 'tahreek'. Now, with his son out of the vicinity, Maqbool says, "Sameer has gone to fulfil Allah’s path and doesn’t expect that he will come back. Even if he comes back, he will be tortured by security forces. In both ways, my son is a sacrifice for me. I will not get him back."
After the disappearance of Sameer and the consequent unrest following Burhan’s killing in 2016, Pulwama's superintendent of police regularly calls Maqbool to his office. Since Sameer's disappearance, Maqbool has been picked up eight to 10 times, including on special days like 15 August and 26 January. The police has also been searching the homes of Maqbool's relatives and inquiring about whether or not they still have contact with Sameer.
Maqbool believes that 'azaadi' is a free environment where everyone moves without fear as he experienced in his childhood. He dreams of an 'azaadi' in which his son could return and live without fear. In between our conversation, he was interrupted by a call from the Rajpora Police. Maqbool was directed to attend what he called 'Police Line Pulwama'. Maqbool is of the view that only dialogue, non-violence, and unity among Kashmiris can realise the goal of 'azaadi'. He doesn’t envision any role for Pakistan and doesn’t want to be part of Pakistan.
Maqbool opines that that if a peaceful environment is created, militancy will not proliferate. Sameer's mother Gulshan Banoo is understandably very concerned about her son. She wanted to know whether her son was 'alive and eating proper food'. According to her, "Since he has taken Allah’s path", his decision is a "rightful one". Getting emotional, she says, "If I meet him, I will cry in pain and hug him."
Gulshan doesn’t want the presence of security forces that breeds daily oppression. She believes that if militancy is just a zero sum game without public support, the 'tahreek' will be futile. Only constant mass support and strong resistance at different levels can sustain militancy. "Young mujahideen including Burhan struggled for the people of Kashmir and they wanted to finish zulm," she adds.
Unlike Burhan, Sameer is from a relatively poor background. It is illogical to conclude that his entry into the ranks of Hizbul Mujahideen is because of unsound socio-economic conditions. What is common between Sameer and other teenagers who joined the militancy is their ill-treatment at the hands of the armed forces. Sameer was put under surveillance at a young age and subjected to constant web of punishment, both psychological and physical.
He was always under the threat of arrest or death. Such a situation is common to most of the teenagers in today’s Kashmir where the Indian State is waging psychological warfare on their society. Moreover, this vicious interface entrenches the family of a militant in the site of conflict thereby landing them in trouble. Sameer's story clearly shows that the warfare in Kashmir is asymmetrical in many respects and that raises pertinent political questions.
The author is a doctoral researcher at the Centre for Political Studies, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University
Updated Date: May 08, 2017 16:09 PM