Featured image based on Masood Hussain‘s work
Aetimad makes a final call home. He seeks forgiveness from his family. He bids them courage. He is crying. He laments about a promise unfulfilled.
His father, Fayaz Ahmed Malik, consoles him from the other side. He asks him to remember God and remain steadfast. He inquires about the possibility of an escape. He realizes he is just about to loose his son forever.
Malik’s voice is strange combination of stoic and intimate when he says: “Wich, be hekai ne tse wanith surrender kar. Te heakai ne wanith”
“Na, na, na… No, no, no!” Aetimad affirms. However, the son has a request: “Abuji, tse roozi’zem raez, me roezi Khoeda saeb raez… Dad, if you remain content in me, so will be God!”
“Hato beha lagai tse wandith… be lagai tse wandith… be lagai tse wandith… be lagai tse wandith!”
Aetimad Malik was one of the thirteen young Kashmiri rebels killed by the Indian armed forces on Sunday April 1 2018 in three separate encounters in South Kashmir. At 28 eight years old, Aetimad was seemingly oldest of the lot. The youngest was Nazim Dar, an 18 years old Class 12 student who picked up arms in June last year. Aetimad had MA and B.Ed. degrees, along with an MPhil in Urdu from Hyderabad University. He also had a Junior Research Fellowship (JRF) and according to his family was planning to apply for a PhD. He joined the Hizbul Mujahideen in November 2017.
As the news of rebels being trapped spread, locals rushed to protest near the encounter sites at Dialgam, Kachdoor, and Draghad where one, five, and seven rebels were killed respectively. Ten of the thirteen belonged to Shopian district. Among the four civilians shot dead by the Indian Army, three were killed during protests near Kachdoor. The place was also the only site of casualty for Indian armed forces where three of them were killed. The day ended with bullet and pellet injuries to about two hundred civilians. At the closest sub-district hospital in Shopian, where the injured were rushed immediately, the armed forces opened fire at the casualty wards and the blood bank. Many with serious injuries were referred to hospitals in Srinagar city. A doctor at the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital (SMHS) recounted his day: “I performed 28 eye surgeries on Sunday. All cases were bad with perforations due to pellets. Many are at the risk of losing their sight.” At least, forty-one youth face partial or complete blindness. The ‘bloody Sunday’ was an eerie reminiscence of the summer of 2016 when Kashmir witnessed what was referred to as the world’s first mass blinding.
Aetimad’s father did not ask him to surrender in a possible shot to save his life. But the parents of Rouf Bashir Khanday did try. Police knocked at Bashir Ahmed Khanday’s door at 1:40 am in the night. Him and his wife were taken to the encounter site at Dialgam to convince their son to give up. Rouf, a 22 years old student in Bachelor of Arts at Government Degree College in Islamabad, had joined the Hizbul Mujahideen only two months back on February 4. He apologized to his parents and decided against surrender. The parents stepped out. Police sent in his friend, Imran Rashid, to convince him to surrender. Imran had accompanied Rouf to this house from an earlier site, but he was not carrying any weapon. After the house was surrounded, Rouf asked him to leave along with other civilians but Imran was detained outside. In an audio clip released over social media, recorded after his parents left, Rouf says:
Rouf’s tone is almost casual, matter-of-fact. Unlike Aetimad, there is no sign of his voice breaking. As he faced a joint posse of 19-Rashtriya Rifles of the Indian Army, 164th Battalion of the CRPF, and Special Operations Group of the J&K Police, his ammunition stock was over very quickly. By 4:00 am he was dead, and the armed personnel were leaving the site. Later in the morning, Bashir Ahmad Khanday was leading his son’s multiple funeral prayers.
Such scenes and stories are not unusual in Kashmir. News of young rebels trapped automatically declares their impending death. Outmatched in the face of much larger numbers of personnel and vastly superior ammunition, it is always only a matter of time. What often outlives their mutilated bodies and burnt remains of the houses they get trapped in are their final conversations with family and friends. There is almost a script to it. Yet each time the bloody cycle repeats, mortal gloom befalls the people of the Vale.
As Kashmir descended into collective mourning, Indian Army celebrated the “special day.” The “biggest strike of the decade” would also bring the armed forces involved in the operation a reward of 20 million rupees (USD 308, 233) as part of the “cash for kills” incentives regularized by the Indian government. At current rates the awards range between 200,000 rupees (USD 3, 082) for a “category C” militant to 1, 250,000 rupees (USD 19, 263) for a “category A++” militant. Sunday garnered the “highest ever” total award for a single day since the beginning of the armed rebellion three decades back.
In the context of the civilian killings, the armed forces also reiterated their warning: “The frequency of protests during encounters has increased. We ask locals not to come out and protest near encounter sites. It will not stop us from conducting operations and encounters,” told the Inspector General (Operations) of the CRPF, Zulfikar Hassan to the media. Last year in February, it was the Indian Army Chief himself who threatened that people protesting near the sites of gun-battles will be treated as “anti-national elements” and “over-ground workers” of armed outfits. Such threats have been repeatedly carried out since, as they were this past Sunday. Yet people continue to rush to these sites, and routinely risk their lives. For many in India, when not overtly condoning the Indian Army’s direct shooting at civilian protestors, this is baffling. As a known Indian TV anchor wondered as to “why are civilians rushing into encounter sites to shield the militants/terrorists?” Are Kashmiri civilians themselves to blame?
And why are civilians rushing into encounter sites to shield the militants/ terrorists? Those misleading the people of Kashmir into thinking an armed conflict is the solution are the ones who should hang their heads in shame https://t.co/koW4zWJAwp
— Nidhi Razdan (@Nidhi) April 1, 2018
Eighteen-year-old Saima Wani might have had the answer. On January 24, Saima along with her friend rushed towards Chaigund village in Shopian district where two Hizbul Mujahideen rebels, Sameer Ahmad Wani and Firdous Ahmad, were trapped in a gun-battle. While the rebels were eventually killed, along with a minor boy Shakir Ahmad Mir, Saima and her friend were injured. She eventually died of her injuries on February 10. One of the rebels, Sameer, was her brother.
Even without the misfortune of having lived under a brutal military occupation, it is perhaps not so hard to imagine peoples’ urge to save their family members by any means when the latter are facing death. Hoping against hope in such situations is not exactly a matter of individualistic rationality. While decades of military occupation have deeply scarred the Kashmiri society, it has also forged strong bonds of collective solidarity and meaning in resistance. Such affective ties go beyond family and kinship networks into wider social and political circles. It is this which allows a conversation such as between Fayaz Ahmed Malik and his dying son, Aetimad, to take place. For Kashmiri people, it is a matter of dignity even when it is routinely shredded to pieces. A mode of survival in even in the face of violent death. It is the bonds of love and selfless care which are at stake when people rush towards encounter sites. “Be ha lagai tse waendith”
While the behavior of Kashmiri civilians is seen as confusing and irrational—it is harder to label entire villages collectively as terrorists—the Indian discourse is clearer about the motivations of armed rebels who are repeatedly portrayed as fully brainwashed products of radical Islamism. The consensus on this, and the consequent de-legitimization of the entire spectrum of Kashmiri peoples’ resistance, unites all shades of political spectrum in India. Even among the sections of India’s minute radical left who support Kashmir’s self-determination movement, the popular idiom of its articulation creates great unease.
Works on the modern history of Islam in Kashmir have shown how an Islamic idiom provided means for articulating political demands for Kashmiri people since the late nineteenth century. This continued in the post-partition period, and remains a relevant insight for contemporary Kashmir. Cabeiri DeBergh Robinson, in her fascinating work—Body of Victim, Body of Warrior: Refugee Families and the Making of Kashmiri Jihadists—based on extensive ethnographic fieldwork and numerous interviews with armed fighters who fought and/or trained for jihad in Kashmir, explores the social production of the discourse of jihad among Kashmiri refugee families in Pakistan and Pakistan administered Kashmir. Robinson’s work makes it clear that the motivations of Kashmiri jihadists were less attuned to the orthodox concerns associated with categories of Islamic fundamentalism and Islamism. The full import of their actions cannot be understood by merely citing passages from Islamist political treatises. Instead, the everyday discursive production and legitimization of jihad in Kashmir was significantly guided by the ethics of humanitarian justice and social care. Kashmiri refugee communities routinely referenced international humanitarian norms through the concept of insānī haqūq (human rights), whose practical failure legitimized the practice of armed jihad not necessarily for territory but for the very survival of bodies under threat of torture and violent death. Moreover, jihad as an armed struggle only existed on a continuum of civic, spiritual, and militant forms. Robinson’s insights remain highly relevant to contextualize the motivations of contemporary Kashmiri rebels as well as their civilian defenders, who live amidst a constant denial of rights and brutal suppression of peaceful political resistance under the military occupation.
Zubair Ahmad Turray was a 12-year-old student of Class 6 when he was arrested for the first time by the Indian Army in 2004. After torturing him, they handed him over to the Border Security Force (BSF) for a month, which was followed by a two-month detention by police. Within days of his eventual release, Zubair was arrested again and detained under the Public Safety Act (PSA) for six months in spite of being a minor. The torture under custody this time left him bedridden. The ensuing decade would see him arrested multiple times. He was arrested during 2008 protests, during the 2009 Shopian agitation, and again during 2010 summer uprising in which he also suffered multiple pellet injuries in his abdomen. He was also detained in the aftermath of the hanging of Afzal Guru in February 2013. In all, he had as many as 23 FIR’s registered against him. Every time his lawyers managed to convince the court to quash his detention, the police booked him under a different one. In one such detention order, he was accused of spearheading a ‘million march’ against the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit on November 7 2015. Around that time, he was in police custody at Heepora for 27 days. The alleged million march never happened.
Zubair’s final PSA detention was quashed on February 28 2017 after which he was released from the Central Jail in Srinagar. Soon after he was asked to report to the Counter Insurgency Kashmir (CIK) wing of the J&K police who detained him and handed him over to the police station at Keegam, Shopian where he was kept for three months. On the morning of May 1 2017, his father Bashir Ahmad Turray, received a call while working in his orchard. The police informed him that his son has decamped. On May 12 2017, a video featuring Zubair went viral on social media. Wearing military fatigues with two Kalashnikov rifles and two hand grenades on the table in front of him, Zubair spoke about the “tyranny of the imperialist forces” and announced his reasons for joining the rebels:
He also asked his father to be happy.
Bashir Ahmed wanted Zubair to come back, but asserted: “deep inside I feel he will be again arrested for no reasons, so why should he come back?” He added,
Zubair, now 26 years of age, was killed at Draghad. Not everyone who pick up arms has such a tumultuous personal history. But his story exemplifies the structural condition which Kashmiri people are deeply aware of and inhabit intimately. After offering prayers at his funeral on Sunday, one of his friends donned combat dress, exhibited his gun publicly, and joined the rebel ranks.
On March 24, Junaid Ahmad Khan, a 29 years old MBA pass out from Kashmir University joined the Hizbul Mujahideen. Junaid is the son of Muhammad Ashraf Sehrai who was recently elected as the interim chief of the Tehreek-i-Hurriyat (TeH), a pro-freedom political group. His election came after the resignation of veteran leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani who led the party since its founding in 2004. This was widely hoped to bring a new edge to Kashmir’s political resistance to which Sehrai has remained committed during his longstanding political career. Asked about his son’s decision to join the armed ranks, Sehrai said: “Today’s youth are born in conflict and cannot bear the humiliation of slavery anymore. They are sensitive and prefer dignified death over life in perpetual occupation. May be he saw me, Geelani sahab and others closely and realized that government of India was not ready to accept the reality and our struggle for Right to Self Determination. This may have forced him to think that he can play a role in different way.”Questions about what motivates young people like Junaid, with possibly bright futures, to opt for a “different way” have been repeatedly asked.
In response to Sunday’s events, the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL) in Kashmir gave a call for a solidarity march to Shopian on April 3. Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who continues to be a part of the JRL along with senior leaders Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik, too hoped to march this time. The government had recently announced his release from a seven-year-long house detention after his resignation as the TeH chief. As Geelani slowly walked towards the gate of his party residence, he found it closed. Peeping out through a small window in the door, he asked the armed personnel stationed outside to open the gate. When they refused citing “orders” Geelani quipped: “Darwaaza kholo, tumhari jamhooriyat ka jinaza nikal raha hai…hindustan ki jamhooriyat ka… uska jinaaza nikal raha hai”