A small village that gave Kashmir’s counterinsurgency an alternative name wants to change its name now – hoping they would not be identified as Nawabadis. Ibrahim Wani and Farooq Ahmad report on the Nawabadi Mohalla and its haunting baggage.
Nawabadi Mohalla may pass off as just another small village in the Sonwari belt of north Kashmir, but for its street lights that make it stand apart. Those familiar with the village, don’t dare to take it for any other village, anyways.
Nawabadi has entered Kashmir’s lexicon as a word that strikes terror. There were many villages in Kashmir that became hotbeds of counterinsurgency in mid 1990’s but Nawabadi was one name that stuck.
A village of some three hundred people, two and a half kilometres from Safapora, Nawabadi residents now want to change its name to Mirabad. They no longer want to identify with its past.
A few kilomteres from father of counterinsurgency Kuka Parrey’s Hajin village, Nawabadi Mohalla gave Ikhwan some of its most dreaded men. Many remember the village as the birthplace of ruthless renegades, like Fayaz Mir alias Fayaz Nawabadi, notorious for extortion, rape, politically motivated killings. For the state security apparatus, that patronised them, these men were important to break the back of militancy in the Sonawari-Ganderbal belt and by extension whole of Kashmir. So they did. Hardly anyone was spared.
Perhaps because many of the first renegades came from Nawabadi village, the name in local parlance became a synonym for all the counterinsurgents or police informers. An alternative name for Ikhwan, the largest renegade group.
Nawbid was actually used in the area to refer to the residents of the Nawabadi Mohalla. So anyone from the area was a Nawbud. After the switching of Ikhwan to counter insurgency, apart from the ruthless renegades who emerged from Nawabadi Mohalla, the village provided a haven for all counter-insurgents. Even though only a few from the village carried out the dirty work, almost all residents were Ikhwan sympathisers.
Nawabdis trace their shift of allegiance to the killing of a JKLF militant from the village by Hizbul Mujahideen in inter faction rivalry in 1993.
Manzoor Ahmad was the first postgraduate from the village. He did his MA in Urdu from Kashmir University. Later he joined Jammu Kashmir Students Liberation Front and crossed the LoC for arms training. After this he joined Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front as Deputy District Commander. This was around the time when animosities between Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) and JKLF were building up.
While on his way back from Sopore Manzoor was picked up by Hizbul Mujahideen. “They accused him of being an Indian agent,” say the residents, “but at that time it was widely known that Manzoor was a man of character. It was actually that Ahsan Dar wanted him to join HM.”
When news of Manzoor’s abduction spread in the area, desperate attempts started to secure his release. “The negotiations were carried out at the highest level; almost all the known militants and separatist leaders were involved.
The residents were promised his release. “But he was not released. We kept on searching for him. We formed search parties and would search for him throughout the area,” says Kawaam Din. But the search yielded no result. At this time Fayaz, Manzoor’s cousin was in jail.
“Even Syed Ali Shah Geelani searched for him in his car. He told us that he had spent 13000 rupees searching for him,” he says, “Moulvi Abbas Ansari and Saleem Geelani also mediated but to no avail.”
Demands for Manzoor’s release were building up. People were protesting. The Hajin bazaar remained shut down for 25 days at a stretch.
Then, residents say, a HM rebel Shams-u-Din informed the villagers that Manzoor had been killed on the second day of his abduction, and lay buried in Hari-Taar, on the banks of Jehlum near Sopore.
“We rushed to the spot. Some militants from HM were guarding the spot, and they fired on the crowd. People from the surrounding areas like Shah-Gund joined in and we retrieved the body,” adds Kawaam. The eruption of emotions and sentiments was spontaneous.
“It was an angry crowd, which sees nothing in rage. On the way from Hari-Taar to Nawabadi Mohalla, around 14 houses belonging to Jamat-e-Islami (JeI) members or sympathisers were burned,” adds Kamaal. “It was a day which this region can not forget. It was a day of pain.”
After this the rift between JKLF and HM-JeI deepened. A civil war sort of situation ensued where people from both sides were being assassinated. The Nawabadis became fiercely anti-HM and anti-Jamaat. “In all this all the militant organisations united against HM, and opened a united front against them,” he says.
Peer Ziya-ud-Din of Asham, a JKLF sympathiser and father of Nazir Ahmad Geelani of JKLF was also gunned down by HM. This added oil to the fire. Around 500-600 people would die in this infighting, many among them were civilians.
It was around this time that 28 militants surrendered, and under the leadership of Kuka Parray formed the renegade Ikhwan. Fayaz, now released, joined the Ikwan, and with the wounds of Manzoor’s loss still fresh, many Nawabadis followed him into the fold. “When we had seen the body of Manzoor, we could see nothing else. He had come out for the cause. We had followed in his footsteps, but Jamaat and Hizbul mujahideen ruined it. They targeted everyone who was not their supporter. We could tolerate it no further,” says an ex-counter insurgent.
Fayaz was merciless. He soon gained notoriety and was gifted the post of commander-in-chief of the Ikhwan. Kuka Parray reigned as the supremo. Thus started the reign of terror. After that it was “catch and kill,” accepts Kawaam.
Though the actual gun wielding Nawabdis did not number more than 10, all the counter insurgents in Valley – estimated to be between 1,000-1,200- came to be known by the name.
The shifting allegiances of Nawabadis created animosities with adjoining villages. Residents recall that after Manzoor’s death the adjoining villages in Safapora and Bandipora enforced a boycott of the village.
“The shopkeepers won’t provide us amenities. We were not given medicines even for around six months,” says a Nawabadi resident.
Mohammad Sidiq, father of Fayaz Nawabadi says the boycott forced them to loot any trucks that passed the village. “But we would pay them,” he said in the same breath.
In coming years, the response from the Nawabadis was often brutal. Fayaz Nawabadi walked the streets like a king. “Even policemen had to look down while walking past him,” says a resident of Ganderbal.
He was the most notorious export of Nawabadi Mohallah to the rest of Kashmir. The Commander-in-Chief of Kuka Parray’s Ikhwan, he is said to have killed hundreds of people. “If his eyes fell on something he liked, it had to be his,” the resident adds. One day his eyes fell on a new scooter parked in the Safapora market. The scooter belonged to Waseem, a 21 year old.
“Waseem would not just let go of his new scooter when the Nawabadis asked him to give it to them,” says the resident. Fayaz then walked up to him, and held him by his throat. He then pumped bullets into him. Waseem fell to ground. When a shopkeeper raised his voice, he too met the same fate. One more onlooker also fell to the ground. “Three innocent people died that day,” adds the resident. With three dead bodies on the streets Fayaz issued his threat, “People of Safapora, whosever goes against us will meet a similar fate,” he says.
Fayaz would be accompanied by his trusted lieutenants, Abdul Hamid Mir alias Nikka Bhai, Mohammad Afzal Mir alias Commander Adil, Ghulam Nabi Mir alias Kaka among others, all Nawabadis. They reign of terror engulfed Sonawari, Safapora, Ganderbal areas. Hardly anyone was spared, but the families of militants and Jamat-e-Islami supporters were especially targeted. It started a wave of migration from the area to the urban areas. Many people even left the state. “No one was safe,” says the resident. The killings continued.
Saif-u-Din Bhat, a 60-years-old teacher from Safapora was killed because his brother was associated with HM. Another teacher Abdul Karim Bhat was killed because of links with Jamat-e-Islami. A bank employee, Mohammad Afzal of Yongoora Chak also fell to bullets, for unknown reasons. The number is estimated to be above 300. Some locals say the number of the people killed was much higher than 300. “Many deaths were never reported. Many of these will never be known,” the resident adds.
Nawabadis once went to the house of a Jamaat-e-Islami sympathiser in Banyari village. The man was not there. “The routine would have been to harass the family and leave,” says Yasir, a resident of the area.
But on this day death was in the air. “One of the Nawabadi commanders caught hold of a six month old son of the man,” he says. Then hell broke loose. “He flung the child into the air, and the Nawabadi party started firing.” The infant came down in smithereens. “I can not forget that day,” says Yasir, “there are no words to express this cruelty.”
Tales of the atrocities abound. “One more case still resonates in the minds and hearts of people. It always gives me pain,” says Yasir as he recalls. “There was a girl in Asham, a beautiful girl, Nazima, the daughter of one Ghulam Mohammad Lone. And then their eyes fell on her,” he says.
Nazima was kidnapped and raped. “For days together no one knew of her,” he recalls. Then details related to her emerged. It was Fayaz actually who had sought her. When she had resisted she was raped, by many Nawabadis, says Yasir. They raped her for days. She became pregnant. After a few months she was let go.
In the meantime, Ashraf Nawabidi, Fayaz’s brother started pursuing Nazima’s sister. She too was kidnapped. “The family would not have protested if they would have known what was to come next,” says Yasir. The Nawabadis converged on the Asham market. Nazima was dragged out on the street. Fayaz oversaw everything. “What transpired next is engraved in the psyche of the people there forever,” says Yasir.
The eight month pregnant woman was held forcibly. Then her clothes were torn. After this she was paraded naked. “Fayaz pulled the trigger, and shot her in the abdomen first. He kept on shooting and shouting – see the result,” recalls Yasir. Nazima died on the spot. Her sister is still with Ashraf.
Even after an incident of this sort, no one raised a voice. That was the peak of Nawabadi terror. “But nothing is permanent. Whatever goes up, has to come down,” says Yasir. Most of the Nawabadis met cruel deaths. Kaka was shot dead in 1994, Nikka Bhai was killed in 1995, Afzal in 1996. The kingpin, Fayaz after surviving 18 attempts on life finally met his fate on Feb 17, 2000. He was blown up in an IED blast in Sumbal, just a few kilometres away from where he had shot Nazima. According to locals the intensity of the blast was such that his body parts could be seen hanging from the power supply wires. Many people believe that he was killed by his own people – the Ikhwanis.
Fayaz Nawabadi is considered a martyr and a hero in his village. So are the other Nawabadis killed in these years. Their graveyard reads Mazar-e-Shohada. Fayaz’s grave is decorated and fenced. It lies on way to the shrine of a saint in the mohalla, called Sayeed Sahib. A stone throw’s distance from the graveyard is a model school. His house has a 12 foot high wall topped by barbed wire. He is survived by two wives and four children.
“Similar is the case for many others too,” says Afzal, a government employee who was assigned a task in the area. For him too the visit was painful. His best friend had been killed by Fayaz. “I tried to skip the area, but I had to do my job,” he says.
While walking through the village he saw a man walking behind him. Initially he became suspicious. Then when he finally gathered the courage to ask the person as to why he was following him, he came to know that he had no job or work to do. The reply startled him. The man had identified himself as an ex-counter insurgent, some of the few who had survived. He did not venture out of the village, out the fear.
“Even though almost all the notorious Nawabadis were killed, the people of the surrounding areas can not forget the mayhem inflicted by them,” says Afzal, who happened to meet a relative of Waseem on return from the mohalla. Their response was, “There is no question of forgiveness. Even if they repent it, nothing is going to change. There can be no forgiveness.”
Ejaz from Safapora echoes similar sentiments. “We cannot forget what Nawabadis have done to us. They are traitors. There is no question of having any sort of relation with them. They are still like that only,” he says.
However, the residents of the Nawabdi Mohallah insist they want to stay aloof of politics.
“We want to be away from politics,” says Mohammad Kamaal Mir, a resident of Nawabadi Mohalla, “We have already suffered a lot. Now we want to be away from all this. We also have same aspirations like all other Kashmiris, and our children like others too also cheer for the Pakistani cricket team. But we are silent spectators. We will not repeat our mistakes again now.”
The residents of the area are self confessed supporters of National Conference. “It is we who made (Mohammed) Akbar Lone successful in Sumbal,” says Kawaam Din. He further adds, “(Mohammed) Akbar Lone is the most honest politician in all of Kashmir, and he is an ideal for all the politicians.” They credit him for most of the development work in the village, including the street lights and the tube wells.
“We were even approached by the opposition parties with an offer of 40,000 rupees to vote for them, which we out rightly rejected,” say Kawaam. According to him recently when they had gone to meet Lone, he gave their issues precedence over all the other works on hand. “He even sent prayers on Fayaz and recalled how he had saved him when once Kuka Parray had grabbed his collar to beat him.”
“It is us who voted against Kuka Parray. We made him fall. He did no development work here,” says Sidiq Mir, father of Fayaz. He describes Kuka Parray as a fool who was made the king. “If he would have been in Srinagar he would have been taken to a mental hospital,” he remarks.
Narrating an incident when he had rebuked Kuka Parray for letting his brother go on a looting spree all over the area, Sidiq says, “I told him that his brother was like a wild bull that was going wild throughout the area and causing damage and action should be taken against him.” Later Kuka Parray according to him called him privately and told him that he should not have said this in front of everyone.
When Fayaz’s father, an employee of the cattle farm operated by SKAUST in the vicinity was about to retire, he was put under suspension. So his pension was automatically stopped. He attributes the development to Kuka Parray. At this time, Fayaz was among his main men. The issue was finally resolved when some politicians close to both the sides intervened.
Mehraj, a resident of Ganderbal was a child when the Nawabadis were at the peak of their power. He remembers a day when Nawabadis converged on his village, and cut down all the willow and poplar trees on the government land. “They sold it to their own friends at the cheapest possible rates,” he says adding that the fear was such that no government official either resisted or complained of the incident. Such was the case with all of the area. “They even cut trees in the Jarokha Bagh,” says Yasin another resident of the area, “Loot was a common thing with Nawabadis those days.”
Yasir says, “Any vehicle which plied from the area was looted. People would think twice before passing through the area dominated by renegades.” Sidiq accepts. “The people from the surrounding areas on the directives of militants had imposed a blockade on us. So we had no option left but to loot for survival.” But according to Gulzar from Sumbal, “Nawabadis have always had a bad image in the area. They were involved in thefts and robberies before they became associated with counter-insurgency. After that they would carry out their activities openly. Extortion became their main business.”
With Fayaz’s death, Nawabadi mohalla’s power waned. The village elders approached other surrounding areas, with a message of reconciliation. But they have met little success. The scars ran deep.
When the Northern Command chief visited the area, post counter-insurgency, Nawabadis too were invited. “I stood up and asked them that what had the Government of India done for us,” says Kawaam. “I asked them what had they paid the families of the soldiers who had been martyred in Kargil, and in relation to them we were paid nothing. I told them that India has not paid us a penny.”
Despite fighting a bloody war for the state, Nawbadis say they were neglected. Many of them, say, all they got from their haunting past were dead bodies. “If I had been in some position then, and could think the way I do today, I would not have let these things to happen,” says Kamaal.
However, Kamaal maintains they do not face any social ostracism today, and are well heard in corridors of power. “We have good relations with people of other village, even among from people of Jamaat. We are invited in their functions,” says Kamaal.
But still the villagers want to get rid of the baggage their village name carries. They expect Mirabad to conceal their identity, and bring them back into the fold of the society. Travelling around with a identity card bearing the name of the village may not be wise option always, they admit.
“Nawabadi has now become associated with us. It is a sort of stigma. Wherever we go, people see us in a particular image. With the name change we hope things may get better,” say the Nawabadis.
The story of Nawabadi Mohalla is the story of a village which switched sides en-masse. It tasted power, and wealth, until the downfall started. Now it is trying hard to merge back with the society it stood against. But neither the society, nor the village seems to have made its mind fully.
Some names have been changed on request.