They were an employee and an employer, sharing not only the name but an urge to rebel, too. Shams Irfan tells the story of south Kashmir’s two slain friends whose motivation to pick up the gun and the outcome still baffles their families
On June 16, 2015, the call for Isha prayers from under-construction Sheikh Masjid echoed through the dark alleys of Bijbehara town, 35 kilometres south of Srinagar.
Around two hundred meters from the Masjid, in a small alley, near a grocery store, under a newly installed street light, sat five friends.
Two of them Adil Reshi, 23, and Adil Sheikh, 17, who wore ankle-high military style boots, something odd for this time of the year, looked tense.
The friendship between namesakes was a peculiar one; during day they were employer and employee, and after evening, friends.
While other three friends chatted heartedly, both Adils kept their eyes fixed across the highway, at a red-and-blue Iron Gate, marked Police Station Bijbehara.
A few minutes later, a lone figure walked out of the police station, carrying an AK47 on his shoulder, and walked towards a shop located across the highway.
The sound of his jackboots hitting on the highway alerted both Adils. They looked at each other, blinked their eyes, and quickly slipped into the darkness, leaving behind their friends with questionable expressions.
Five minutes later, three pistol fires, shot from close range, broke the silence of the night. The policeman, a constable named Arif Nazir, instantly fell on the ground, dead.
A Day Earlier
At 2 pm, the small Sheikh Mohallah locality, hidden behind rows of oddly constructed shops in main market Bijbehara, where policeman Arif will be killed after 31 hours, wore a festive look. A girl from the neighbourhood was getting married.
Adil Shiekh, a labourer who earned his living by helping un-load cement bags, iron rods, hardware items, came home after he had lunch at the would-be-bride’s house.
He ran straight to his room located at the first floor of his mud-and-brick house. The room was more like an alley – long and narrow. Inside, his mother Shameema Akhtar, 46, was taking a siesta after the feast. “He literally shook me up,” recalls Shameema. “Please, can you sleep down-stairs? I want to take some rest,” Adil Sheikh told his mother.
When Shameema’s repeated requests didn’t change Adil Sheikh’s resolve to have his room to himself, she left in anger.
“I slept in the kitchen instead,” said Shameema. The kitchen was located just below Adil Sheikh’s room.
As Shameema struggled to sleep again, the sound of Adil Sheikh’s footsteps vibrated through the wooden planks supporting the earthen floor above.
“I was about to sleep when I heard a gunshot,” said Shameema. “It came from Adil’s room.”
Shameema rushed upstairs only to find her son’s room locked from inside. “He opened the door after I knocked desperately.”
Adil Sheikh told his mother that it was a firecracker he had bought for his neighbour’s wedding. “It went off accidently,” he told Shameema nervously.
But it didn’t convince her, rather she asked him to tell her the truth. “Later I came to know that he had a pistol. It had fired accidently,” recalls Shameema.
For the rest of the day Adil Sheikh confined himself to his room. It was his last day at home.
Same afternoon Adil Reshi, a science graduate, who recently joined his family’s business, left home to take care of “something important”.
Normally Adil Reshi would spend most of his time at his family owned three-storey shopping complex that housed godowns, small office, and retails shops. This was where his friend Adil Sheikh worked as a labourer.
Located adjacent to their newly constructed sprawling house, the shopping complex occupied 3.5 kanals of total 11 kanal property Reshi family owned on the highway.
In the evening, after dinner was served, Adil sat with his father, Mushtaq Ahmad Reshi, 50, and began talking about his future. Mushtaq asked his son about the status of his passport. He also asked him about his plans to visit Dubai for a job. “He seemed enthusiastic about it,” recalls Mushtaq in a confusing tone. “I don’t know what happened within a night that changed him.”
Next day, at around 8 pm, when Adil Reshi didn’t return even after dinner was served his father called him on his cell-phone. “Just give me ten minutes,” he told his father and disconnected the call in a hurry.
Almost half-an-hour later Mushtaq heard a few gunshots, and he immediately grabbed his phone and dialled his son’s number again. The sound of gunshots came from near the police station, barely 300 meters from their house. “His phone was switched off,” recalls Mushtaq. “Later, I was told that a policeman was shot dead.”
The killing of Arif, a resident of Safakadal in Srinagar, by unknown gunmen, left entire security grid in a fix. Their ground level intelligence had failed to identify the men or the outfit. Interestingly, the same confusion prevailed in the militants ranks, especially in Bijbehara belt.
Everyone was asking just one question: who did it?
The answer came within a day when police zeroed in on Adil Sheikh, a highly religious boy, who had recently donated Rs 30,000, his entire savings, for the construction of Sheikh Masjid. Besides, Sheikh would teach local kids Quran in the mosque.
Earlier, in 2010, his signature long locks and free-flowing beard had earned him an FIR for alleged stone-pelting. “He was harassed on and off for his looks,” said his father Fayaz Ahmad Sheikh, 47, an auto-driver. “He trimmed his hair after he was beaten by STF men at Wuranhal village.”
However, after constable’s killing, when police failed to locate Adil Sheikh, they picked his father, Fayaz and elder brother Amir. Both spent 21 days at the Bijbehara police station. “I lost first crucial days behind bars, else I might have convinced my son to come back,” said Fayaz regretfully. “I just wanted to meet my son.”
Fayaz’s wish to meet his son came true sooner than he expected.
One evening, almost a month after Adil Sheikh joined Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, a young boy from the neighbourhood, came looking for his parents. “You must come with me at once,” the boy told Fayaz and Shameema.
The boy then led them through narrow alleys to a nearby empty plot. “There were half-a-dozen armed men in military uniforms,” recalls Fayaz.
Then a familiar face stepped forward and hugged them one after another. He was their son.
“Would you forgive me for leaving you like this,” Adil Sheikh asked his mother. Then after a brief pause he spoke again and said: “I have chosen my path.”
Before Shameema could say anything Adil Sheikh put his brand new AK47 in her lap and asked, “Now you decide.”
The scene still plays in Shameema’s mind. She wanted to say a lot; ask him to come back, tell him about her pain, about his siblings, about regular harassments and raids, but nothing came to her mind. She recalls how she sat on the bare earth, face-to-face with her son, like they were two lost souls, while half-a-dozen teenage boys with guns stood guard.
The brief mulakaat (meeting) ended abruptly when the sound of an armoured vehicle in the distance alerted the group. Before Adil Sheikh left, he pressed two Rs 500 notes in his mother’s hand and told her to buy some fruits and milk. “You look frail mother,” he told her before slipping into the darkness. “These were his last words.”
Along with his laminated colour photograph, Shameema has kept these now de-monitised notes as relics.
After that meeting there was complete communication blackout between Adil Sheikh and his parents. Then one day Shameema received an envelope with Rs 4000 inside.
“It was donation for still under construction Sheikh Masjid,” said Shameema. “He was emotionally connected to that mosque.”
For Shameema the envelope carried more than just money, it carried news of her son’s well-being as well, she thought.
But this form of communication between mother-son didn’t last long.
On November 23, 2015, roughly six-months after Adil Sheikh joined militant ranks, the news of an encounter in Silgam village of Islamabad district, some 12 kilometre from his house, reached Shameema. “I instantly knew what it meant,” she recalls.
As hours passed in anticipation and prayers, Shameema’s husband received a call confirming the worst. Along with Adil Sheikh, two other local boys, Sartaj Ahmad Lone and Tanvir Ahmad Bhat, were killed in the encounter.
At 7:30 pm, thousands of mourners carried Adil Sheikh home and kept his body at his favourite Sheikh Masjid for the night. The next morning he was buried amid sloganeering, teargas smoke, broken hearts and tears.
“He attained what he wished for,” said Shameema as she breaks down. “But still a mother craves for her son.”
After Adil Sheikh’s killing nobody heard about his friend Adil Reshi, now an important militant face in south Kashmir, who was known for his networking skills.
“We knew he was in pain. But there was no way to reach him,” said Bilal, his elder brother.
Once known as flamboyant millionaire who loved fast bikes and SUV’s, and would smile always, often renounced wealth in his conversations. “Even before joining militants he would carry a sense of guilt because of his status and money,” said a close friend who wished to stay anonymous.
Probably the same guilt forced Adil Reshi to stay away from his family and friends after picking up the gun.
The only news Reshi family would get about their son was whenever somebody would spot him in the area. But that too was rare, as he would move with utmost caution, especially after Adil Sheikh’s killing.
However, after Burhan Wani’s killing situation on ground changed for a while and militants started appearing in crowded places once again. At two occasions Adil Reshi was spotted in the town: once outside a local PDP leader’s house, and once in the New Colony area where he gave a brief speech to a jubilant crowd.
Then, at 8:30 pm, almost fifteen days after Burhan’s killing, a soft but familiar knock at Reshi’s sprawling house alerted everyone inside. It was Aadil Reshi.
Once known for his good looks and distinctive smile Adil Reshi walked in quietly, slamming the door shut behind him. This day, he sported unkempt beard and hair, and wore civilian clothes, something he had not done in a long time.
“He had no gun either,” recalls his brother Bilal.
As he walked in, there was visible commotion inside the house. Between hugs and kisses, someone rushed to draw the curtains, someone locked the door from inside, while others just stared in admiration.
As Adil Reshi sat in one of the spacious rooms located at the backside, women folk in the house struggled to decide what to cook. The sound of wooden kitchen cabinets opening and shutting disturbed Adil Reshi, who sat in one of the dark corners like a lost soul.
After five minutes he finally spoke: “I just need tea and biscuits.”
His father, who sat across him in part reverence, part admiration, part concern, part love, said, “Why don’t you leave it all and come back.”
Adil Reshi took a deep breath, looked into his father’s moist eyes, and replied, “I have come to meet you. But if you want me to leave, then say so.”
He said it so calmly and in such an authoritative tone that nobody dared to suggest it again.
After spending thirty-five minutes with his family, as he got up to leave, there were moist eyes all around. “He was so calm and resolute that I thought it is someone else, not the Adil I know,” recalls his father.
Then before he stepped out of the door, he turned around and asked his mother to pray for him. “I am on Allah’s path. Pray that I achieve martyrdom,” said Adil Reshi, trying to stay calm. “I don’t seek worldly pleasures anymore. Hope you will pray for what I ask.”
And then without saying another word he walked into the darkness…
On January 15, 2017, when Mushtaq’s phone rang at 4 pm, flashing an unknown number, he felt a lump in his throat before answering. It was his youngest son Adil Reshi.
Adil told his father that they were coming back from jungle when army and SOG intercepted them in Awoora village. In the rush Adil and his two associates, Abid Ahmad Sheikh and Maqsood Ahmad Shah, took shelter in a nearby house. “He was calling from inside the house,” recalls Mushtaq.
As Adil talked calmly about his chances of survival, Mushtaq could hear Abid and Maqsood’s voices in the background. “They were raising slogans and reciting verses from the Quran,” said Mushtaq.
Suddenly the sound of gunshots, fired in tandem, almost sank Mushtaq’s heart and he began to cry like a child.
For a very long time there was complete silence from the Adil’s end. The only sound Mushtaq could hear was of guns. “I thought it is all over,” said Mushtaq.
But, suddenly, Adil’s voice blazed through phone’s speaker again and he asked for his mother. “Will you keep your promise and pray for what I asked,” he asked his mother.
“I will, I will, I will, my son,” she said and then fainted.
Twenty minute call ended abruptly after Mushtaq heard three loud bangs in the background. “I instantly knew what it meant,” said Mushtaq.
The overnight encounter ended after forces blasted the house repeatedly to kill the holed up trio. Next morning, braving snow and cold, thousands filled Adil Reshi’s vast courtyard as his body reached home. Multiple funerals were held to accommodate the mourners who had come from as far as Kupwara, Baramulla, Shopian, Tral, Banihal.
“I have no idea who these people were,” said Mushtaq. “But once he (Adil) picked up the gun, he ceased to be just my son.”
Mushtaq still fails to point out a single reason why his son Adil picked up the gun. “He had everything that a youngster can dream off,” said Mushtaq. “But, maybe he sought something beyond worldly pleasures.”
Perhaps that is why Mushtaq had asked his son to vouch for him on the Day of Judgement!