How A Photograph In Kashmir Led To Social Boycott Of A Village In Assam?

Srinagar

Residents of Udali, a predominantly Muslim village in Assam’s Hojai district, have excommunicated a family after their kin’s alleged role in Kashmir militancy.

The alleged militant Saidul Alom is one of eight people – all but one from Hojai – arrested by the Assam police since September 14, for their alleged links with the Kashmiri militant group Hizbul Mujahideen. These developments followed the arrest of Mohammad Kamruj Zaman, also from Hojai, by the Uttar Pradesh police on September 13. According to a first information report filed by the Assam police, Zaman was “making preparations to carry out subversive terrorist activity” during Ganesh Chaturthi festivities in Kanpur “as per the direction of Hizbul Mujahideen superior commanders”, a report by Scroll.in said.

Saiful Aslam, Image by Scroll.in

Alom belongs to Haji Nawab Ali’s family, who once had built the village’s first tin-roofed house, way back in 1946. “They were like the first family of the Mohalla having their permanent house. Following the arrest of Alom by Assam police the residents of Udali village have boycotted to remain in touch with Alom’s family.”

After his arrest, the police had said that Alom was a part of a group that was “preparing a plan” to “set up a base of Hizbul Mujahideen” in Assam, according to records of the Hojai judicial magistrate’s court accessed by the news website.

Shahnawaj Alom, image by Scroll.in

The heads of the village have also passed a unanimous resolution to excommunicate the Alom’s family. No one in Udali, is allowed to communicate with the family. They have been barred to even get inside the local mosque but in case there is a death in the family, the villagers will help them in the burial.

The website report said that in April, a photograph, apparently of Zaman brandishing an automatic rifle, had emerged on social media. The caption stated that Zaman, who had been living in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kishtwar since 2013, ostensibly selling clothes on the footpath, was now a member of the Hizbul Mujahideen and going by the name of Dr Hurairah.

Rayaj Uddin, image by Scroll.in

Soon after his picture with the rifle went viral on the social networking sites, Zaman left the village and went back to his hometown Jamunamukh, in Hojai. Police after arresting Zaman said that he had come back to Jamunamukh, to collect illegal arms, recruit new cadres and raise funds” to “carry out militant activities”.

Ankur Jain, Hojai’s superintendent of police earlier told media that after the UP police caught Zaman, within three days, Hojai police had arrested seven people before they could do anything.

Bahrul Islam Mizi, image by Scroll.in

According to the Assam police, the eight people arrested following Zaman’s arrest had provided himlogistical support, in varying measures, during his alleged visit. At least three of them, the police claimed, were part of a larger conspiracy to help the Hizbul Mujahideen establish a footprint in Assam.

The reason for Hizbul Mujahideen to enter into the Assam could be an “arms component” as well. “Dimapur is not very far,” the police officer told Scroll.in. “Dimapur in Nagaland is known to be a thriving center for illegal arms trade, catering to the many insurgencies of the North East. Reports suggest that Hizbul Mujahideen faces an arms shortage in the Kashmir Valley,” he added.

Mohammad Kamruj Zaman, image by Scroll.in

The investigating officer, Deputy Superintendent Jyoti Ranjan Nath, while talking to the website offered a different explanation. “Hojai is one of the biggest hubs of Agarwood oil extraction, more people go abroad from here than any other part of the state and a lot of money comes in the form of Zakat from the Middle East and other places to build mosques and madrassas,” he said. “This has probably led to people being influenced by more radical strains of Islam from other parts of the world. For example, when I was interrogating Saidul Alom, he said Kamruj [Zaman] told him only Kashmiri Muslims are pure Muslims and how they offer namaz is the only right way to do so.”

The police pointed out that the local Muslim community had no sympathy for any of those arrested. “In fact, here, Muslim organisations have taken out rallies condemning the actions of the accused,” the report quoted a police officer saying. “There is public support for the police investigation, proving that there is no wide-scale radicalisation,” he said.

On September 14, the Assam police first arrested Sahanawaj Alom, a technician at a medical diagnostics laboratory in Jamunamukh. Alom had been allegedly engaged by Zaman to spread the network in Assam.

Nikah Alom, Mother of Shahnawaj Alom, image by Scroll.in

Shahnawaj, according to the police had helped Zaman “conceal his identity” and “evade arrest” during his alleged visit in August and supplied him with a mobile phone and a SIM card. Police later also came to know that Shahnawaj used to provide secretly the information to Zaman. The police claimed that Sahanawaj Alom, fearing arrest, was trying to flee Hojai when they apprehended him.

On September 15, the police arrested Saidul Alom and Omar Faruque. Saidul Alom, an alleged “meritorious over ground worker”, according to the police, was the only one among the eight arrested men who had gone to Kashmir where he allegedly got in touch with the Hizbul.

According to Police, Saidul Alom came in contact with the Zaman when he visited back home last year and both were in contact through BlackBerry’s instant messaging service.

Another accused Faruque, was allegedly recruited by Sahanawaj Alom with the lure of money, the police said.

Jasmine Begum, wife of Omar Faraque, image by Scroll.in

According to the police’s submissions in the magistrate’s court, apparently based on confessions of the arrested men, Faruque, Sahanawaj Alom, and Saidul Alom knew about the conspiracy to “carry out militant activities”, the report by website said.

As the case was going ahead, police on September 16, arrested Zaman’s older brother Shaiful Islam. Islam was allegedly accused of providing “safe shelter” to his brother and hiding the information from the police. Besides, he has been accused of providing food to “other Hizbul Mujahideen members” who had allegedly visited the Zamans’ home in Jamunamukh earlier.

In April, two cousins of Zaman told Scroll.in that three Kashmiri-speaking men accompanied him when he last visited home, in January 2017, before his pictures emerged on social media.

Police later arrested Riyaj Uddin, Jainal Uddin, Mohammad Bahrul Islam Mizi and Abhimanyu Chauhan. The police alleged that the homes of Riyaj Uddin and Jainal Uddin were used for providing Zaman “safe shelter” during his August visit.

One of the arrested men Mizi, had allegedly lent his motorbike for ferrying Zaman round. Police then arrested Chauhan on September 23. Chauhan, a businessman by profession, had alleged links to the illegal arms trade in Dimapur.

Intaz Ali, father of one of the arrested men, image by Scroll.in

As the police have arrested the eight men, but on the other hand, the arrests have literally devastated the eight families. The neighbours of Saidul Alom’s have boycotted his remain family. His father has been forced to shut his grocery shop because of the “humiliation.”

“I made sure he went to an Assamese-medium school and not a madrassa, and this is what he does,” Intaz Ali, Saidul Alom’s father, was quoted saying by the website. “The disgrace he has brought to this family, I cannot even begin to tell. All my self-respect is gone.”

Later when Saidul Alom refused to go school and joined Madressa, his son started disappearing for long spells, claiming he was going for Tabligh or religious expedition. “I told him Allah is at home, why to go out looking for him?” said Ali. “Sometimes he would listen but he would run away again. I gave up hope.”

This summer, Saidul Alom again left for around three months, telling his family he was headed to Delhi for Tabligh – a trip that security officials believe was actually undertaken to meet Hizbul Mujahideen operatives in Kashmir. “Now, if the police release him also, I will not let him even step in my yard,” said Ali. “I do not want a son who is an enemy of the country.”

After returning home in August, the police alleged, Saidul Alom hosted a Hizbul Mujahideen operative from Kashmir at a mosque in the neighbouring town of Lanka. A functionary at the mosque confirmed that Saidul Alom spent a night there with another man.

While as the wife of the Faruque, Jasmine Begum, at Solmari village had said she only knows that her husband was working at fairs across the region. However, she has insisted that he must face laws if he is guilty. The couple has two kids.

But the elder brother of Bahrul Islam Mizi, another accused, is not ready to accept that his brother had links with a militant outfit. MIzi’s brother Jahangir Alom said he is not able to understand how a patriot brother turned into an enemy of the country. Accusing the media of highlighting his brother as “Jihadi” or a linkman of the Hizbul,” he said  “Have they checked on the ground what kind of a boy he is? He doesn’t even know what Hizbul is. You should ask people in Jamunamukh, he is a patriot, he organises rallies on August 15, he can play the national anthem on the piano,” the website quoted him saying.

Jahangir Alom insisted his brother had lent his motorbike to Sahanawaj Alom in good faith. “How was he supposed to know he is a criminal?” he asked. “That Sahanawaj Alom used to be so honey-tongued. As a young boy, he [Mizi] should be let off with a warning.”

At Sahanawaj Alom’s home in Jamunamukh, his mother Nikah Alom is inconsolable. The wailing mother said that her son cannot do anything untoward. “What will I do now? My husband is a heart patient. Who will check his blood pressure now? The police have taken all our phones away, I cannot even call anyone now”, the report quoted Nikah Alom saying.

Nikah Alom said she had no idea about her son’s alleged activities or ideology. “He would be away at the laboratory tending to patients from 9 in the morning to 10 at night,” she said. “After that, he would come home and tuck his two children in bed.”

When she met her son in jail, the conversation was brief. “I have done no harm to anyone,” he supposedly told her. “Just pray to Allah for me.” Nikah Alom hoped her son would return home soon. “I only want Allah to bring him back,” she said. “What will happen to the kids otherwise?”

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