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Sunday Special » People

Posted at: May 13, 2018, 12:06 AM; last updated: May 13, 2018, 12:06 AM (IST)

How Valley’s young sons lose to the gun

Kashmir, like any other state of India, looks at its youth with hope. Three decades of violence is a frighteningly long period in which careers have been destroyed, a generation has lived in fear, and worse, deaths of youths have been used as a tool to promote a dangerous cause. The Tribune puts together stories of four well-educated sons of the Valley whose tragic end is a never-ending suffering for not only their families, but also those who expected them to do something worthwhile in their lives

Rifat Mohidin in Srinagar

IT is pointless to ask the family of Dr Muhammad Rafi Bhat, the Kashmir University assistant professor, why the young scholar had to die the way he did. Bhat was killed 36 hours after joining the Hizbul Mujahideen group. For the record, he is the 28th local militant this year to have been killed by security forces. Sources say he had asked for forgiveness from his parents in his last call to them. “The shelf-life of militants is very less. We understand the young men have grown up in violence, but gun is no answer…the results are for all to see,” says People’s Democratic Party’s youth wing president Waheed Ur Rehman Parra. 

“We also have to see it (the educated youth joining militants) in the larger context that it is not a law and order problem alone. It is also an emotional, political and administrative issue. The youth are a collective responsibility of our society,” says Parra. In the first four months of this year, 39 youth — most of them in their early twenties — have joined militant outfits. In 2017-18, 10 graduates, four postgraduates and two MPhil and PhD holders each had joined militancy as per official record.

Here’s revisiting a tragedy that befell Dr Muhammad Rafi Bhat’s family exactly a week back:

Bhat, 33, pursued his masters in sociology from University of Kashmir. He cleared the National Eligibility Test (NET) twice and was selected as a junior research fellow, making him eligible for direct admission in PhD. Last week, Bhat earned a dubious distinction: he became the shortest surviving Hizbul Mujahideen militant, dying in an encounter with security forces in Badigam Shopian with four others.

Students and colleagues, who knew Bhat for a long time, describe him as a sober and disciplined man, who hardly showed any militant inclination. “He was very helpful and would demand us to work hard. He had a bright career. Why did he take such a step?” asks Rahel Ahmad, one of his students.

On May 6, before Bhat’s family members could reach Shopian to persuade him to surrender, they received a call on the way that he had been killed. “I am shocked. He was a professional academic,” says head of the sociology department Peerzada Amin. Director General of Police Shesh Paul Vaid said the police had made a special appeal to Bhat to surrender, “but he did not.”

Aetimad Ahmad (25)

In the ritualistic last call that militants make before death, Aetimad told his father that he was trapped, and that there was no way to come out alive. The conversation went viral. Aetimad belonged to a well-to-do family in south Kashmir’s Amshipora village in Shopian. He had completed his M.Phil from Hyderabad and had been a militant for less than five months. Aetimad had pursued masters in Urdu and had a degree in education as well. “He had been categorized as category ‘C’ militant,” a police officer said. 

Aetimad was killed in one of the biggest counterinsurgency operations in Kachdora village of Shopian along with 12 other militants on April 1 this year.

After clearing the NET, Aetimad was a potential candidate for a government job. After his disappearance in November last year, the news of him having joined a militant outfit surfaced on social media. In Kashmir, the families are generally unaware when their children join militancy. In most cases, their shocking pictures showing them wielding AK-47 rifles appear on Facebook. “The educated youth were being recruited by veterans like Saddam Padder (killed), an illiterate himself. The youth just try to glamorize militancy,” says a police officer.

Junaid Ahmad Khan (26)

An MBA from University of Kashmir, Junaid Khan is the son of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat chief Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai who recently took over from hard-line Hurriyat Conference leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Khan, the youngest son of the separatist leader, was reported missing in March this year and later his photograph holding an AK 47 appeared on Facebook with a message that he had joined Hizbul Mujahideen. Though the police urged Sehrai to appeal to his son to shun the gun, the family did not do so.

The family had filed a missing person report with the police, but after his picture appeared, they said they stopped looking for him. “The youth are joining militancy because they feel alienated and angry. The government should understand that it is not the problem of employment and economic packages alone,” says Aqib Gulzar, a university student.

Inspector General of Police Swami Prakash Pani says the police are making efforts to keep the youth away from violence. “There have been many cases when many youngsters have returned home after appeals by their families.”

Manan Wani (26)

His phone was switched off on a cold day of January this year. The family of Manan Wani started looking for him and lodged a report. The family says they lost contact with their son from January 4. He was last seen in the university hostel on Jan 3. Manan belongs to Tekipora village in Kupwara.

Mannan had enrolled in Aligarh Muslim University after completing bachelor’s in geology and earth sciences from the University of Kashmir in 2011. After his master’s and MPhil in geology from AMU, he secured admission in PhD in applied geology and was pursuing the degree when he disappeared.

Some days later, the picture of Manan holding an AK-47 appeared on social media, and later the Hizbul Mujahideen claimed he had joined the outfit. After his picture surfaced, he was suspended from the university.

“Mr Mannan Bashir Wani, Research Scholar at Department of Geology, Aligarh Muslim University has been awarded the Best Paper Presentation Award in an International Conference on Water, Environment, Energy and Society held at AISECT University, Bhopal,” says the AMU website. Manan did his schooling at Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya in Kupwara and was active in student politics. His father is an Urdu language lecturer while his brother is a junior engineer.

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