Ominous Trends?

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Between the three gun-battles that dominated Kashmir last week, there were interactions between two parents and their about-to-be-killed militant sons. The conversations offers an idea about how the crisis is playing with the basic human emotion, reports Masood Hussain

Encounter site at Kachdoora Shopian.

Near death experience (NDE) and life after death are part of the fascinating contemporary subjects which are, of late, getting huge attention globally. Hundreds of scholars, life investigators and filmmakers have contributed immensely in understanding the few moments that mark the death of a human body.

Tragically, after every encounter, or even during the gun battles, Kashmir is offering a lot of material that may, one day, find its use in understanding the mind of the people who see death and still talk. Last week, there were two instances.

In one case, the police facilitated parents of a young boy to meet him in a besiege house and make an effort to get him out of the harm’s way. In another case, a militant used somebody’s cell phone to talk to his parents, one last time, and seek forgiveness.

Audio records of the three phone-calls have taken the virtual Kashmir by a storm. These tapes are emerging as the new arsenals of the new narrative of the new militancy.

In Dehruna village, near Dialgam, lives a carpenter Bashir Ahmad Khanday. His son Rouf was arrested by police during 2016 unrest and held for three fortnights. Since then, he has been part of the police watch list and every time there was trouble he would get a call. Finally, on March 8, he disappeared and joined militancy.

Hajira told a group of visiting reporters that she was longing for her son and was keen to see him. The opportunity came last week when Rouf, along with a new entrant to the fold, skipped a siege in Kokernag and took refuge in Dialgam. Police, apparently chasing him, located him and dropped a phone into the house, enabling him to talk to his parents.

Police got the parents during the night to Dialgam to convince their son to surrender and save his life. “I did not pressurise him beyond a point. He had decided not to give up. There was no point. He chose an honourable death to listless life,” Khanday told journalist Mufti Islah. “No parent wants to carry the coffin of his son. It is very heavy. But I have no regrets. It was his wish.”

Hajira, his mother, had vowed to make an offering if her son lived. But she was content that she had the opportunity to meet her son. “So many boys with a gun have been killed, but I consider myself the luckiest mother because I was given a chance to meet him,” she was quoted saying. She had cried but her son had prevented her from the “sin” and insisted he was “satisfied” (with his fate).

“I saw him for 15 minutes inside the house, his resolve was unbreakable and there is nothing I could have said to him that would have changed his mind,” Hajira told the Indian Express. As she was talking to her son about the promises that police made, she told the newspaper that she saw how soldiers were managing his colleague who had surrendered. “..suddenly I agreed with my son.”

Rouf feared police might use him to get information about other militants and eventually “bump him off”, Islah wrote. “I will be jailed for life,” Rouf had told his parents on phone. “It is far better to die as a martyr.”

Police attempted Rouf’s surrender and failed. They knew the ammunition the young boy was carrying. Even his parents knew he was alone with a pistol and possibly a few grenades and a UBGL. “How a 21-days old militant can face a professional fighting force,” residents ask. “They could have saved one man’s life and another man’s earnings of the life, had they waiting for some time.” But the counter-insurgency grid had their deadline, the first light of the day. They strafed the home of Mohammad Abdullah Khan with explosives, blew it up and ensured “clean” operation.

Bashir and Hajira were waiting at the district police lines as their son was killed. They left home with the dead body soon after the first light of the day.

The second instance involves a fairly complex showdown between the counter-insurgency grid and a group of rebels at Kachdoora. Around 2 am on April 1, Eitmaad Hussain Dar – one of the five militants trapped in the home of Mohammad Maqbool Lone, somehow gets a cell phone and calls his brother, living in Amshipora village. He had disappeared and joined militancy in November 2017.

The 6-minute call, nobody knows who has recorded it, is a “heartbreaking conversation” between Dar and his father. Routine talk apart, the father is just seeking details from his son and asking him if he can escape. Understanding the siege is tight, the father tells him, he has nothing much to offer.

“If you can leave (read escape), then try. If not, then what can be done?.. See, I can’t tell you to surrender, can I?. I can’t,” the father tells his son, who feels terrified by the situation he was caught in. “You were God’s gift to me. Keep courage. Now I will return you to Him.”

The militant has a different priority. He is seeking forgiveness: “I am trapped. If I made any mistake, please forgive me.” In response, the father tells him to pray for being steadfast and seek “righteous path” in death. The father asks him if he had any unfulfilled desire, the son says no. “If you are unhappy with me, God will be unhappy with me,” the son says. The father and son seek each other’s blessings and forgiveness and the intense conversation concludes and the line drops.

There have been various such last-minute conversations in circulation for the last few years. But this conversation has massively impacted Kashmir. In low voices, the people have started talking about it.

“Commitment and loyalty to an objective—in youth—is unadulterated even if, for some, its wisdom might be debatable,” journalist Mohammad Sayeed Malik, commented to the audio. “In this case, the sentiment deserves to be respected. The moment and the occasion warrant it so. Honest differences apart, for the moment.”

That is the basic pure human response. But what are the costs and where has the situation taken Kashmir to.

“When I hear the audio of last moment conversation between a father and son, I wonder whether we are becoming incredibly brave?” Professor MM Akram wrote of his wall. “I ask repeatedly (to) myself, what kind of fuel is injected in the blood vessels and nerves of these people? Are we adding new meaning to the word “courage” or it reflects our deep sense of despondency? Whatever the answer be, I fear we are on the brink of losing one more generation though not physically but yes emotionally and psychologically.”

“I deleted the clip within seconds of hearing it,” one senior police officer, who retired a few years back, said. “This has the potential of dragging even the fence-sitters to the middle.”

The officer, who spoke anonymously said that the clip took him to 1990s when people were applying henna to their wards and applying kohl to their eyes and giving them a send-off to cross the LoC. “Now, this is more dangerous, a father lacks an emotion, is not perturbed by the situation in which his son is and is talking as a matter-of-the-factly,” the officer said. “These are ominous trends and the government must take the situation very seriously.” He said it pains because “we have seen the 1990s disaster”.

“A few years back when I was talking about the situation emerging in Kashmir, I was being ridiculed,” one police officer, who is in the thick and thin of counter-insurgency, said. “Unlike the 1990s, it is quality militancy with massive ideological commitments and radicalisation. They know that they are being blown up within minutes but they do not listen to anybody and why do not you see the parental support?”

Father of slain militant Eitimaad Hussain Dar.

The officer said the situation also offers a clear idea of frustration, hopelessness and a visible political vacuum. “It is the failure of the political system,” he said. “But it fits in the contemporary politics that exists in the country.”

For the separatist camp, these incidents are acts of desperation forced on the new generation that sees no exits in the long dark tunnel. But how do the unionists see it?

National Conference, state’s principal opposition is disturbed. “It indicates towards the uncertainty about future and present insecurity of the youth,” Ali Mohammad Sagar, the party Secretary-General said. “Youth are completely insecure from all angles of life and this has landed the state in an unfortunate situation.”

Sagar said the state and the central governments see the military power as the only option to all problems that Kashmir faces. “And this is the outcome of that dangerous trend,” he insisted. “Military option is no option at all. Why do not they see Kashmir through political and the human prism?”

“When the new generation stars loving death and not life, it is a very worrying situation.” Naeem Akhter, minister and the ruling party spokesman said. “The most worrying are the people who persuade these young men to take up the gun against one of the most powerful armies of the world despite knowing the outcome.”

Akhter sees it “degenerative thought process” that will impact the vitals of a society that has historically resisted diktats and aberrations. “Dying and killing is not leading us anywhere and it is known well across the Muslim world,” he said. “This trend will lead to a situation in which you have nothing to defend for.”

But is not it the failure of politics? “It is a challenge for us and, more so, for the political leadership of the country,” Akhter said. “The political mainstream has not been taken seriously by the leadership of the country and it has already consumed National Conference and now we are facing that threat. But our consuming will not help anybody.” He says his party reoriented the politics in the state, started becoming “part of the solution and not the problem” and restored the respect to the mainstream that the Indian TV is demolishing on daily basis. “The political leadership must take the situation very seriously,” he said.

What is the way out? “We must have to act and act quickly-act responsibly. As I sense, time is not on our side – definitely not,” insists Akram.

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