Occasionally, some of the young men recruited by various uniformed services in Kashmir desert and join the rebels. Though a proper investigation by their employers about the switchover might be a secret, officially it is attributed to glamour and money. When Saqib Mir met the families of some of them, they had different stories to share
In unpredictable Kashmir, October 28, 2017, was slightly different. It was a photograph that went viral on the social networking websites. It was a photograph of a missing cop Ishfaq Ahmad Dar, 27. Within days after he was reported missing from his duty, he was seen flaunting anAK-47 rifle.
Newspapers quoted police sources and declared Dar has joined Laskar-e-Toiba (LeT), the militant outfit that is controlled byHafiz Sayed, the man who is perhaps one of Pakistan’s most newsy Jehadi’s, dominating the TV screens on this side of the Redcliff divide.Dar, according to police was posted at Police Training Centre in Kathua (Jammu). He failed to report on his duties and instead was traced online.
“The factors which make a cop join militancy are related to his family profile and (attraction for) glamour,” a Srinagar newspaper quoted Kashmir Police Chief Munir Khan saying. “Another factor is money. We have arrested two cops for supplying ammunition to militants. So there are different reasons for different people.” He said the police have put in place a system that helps Kashmir’s most populous government organisation to know what happens in its rank and file.
But Dar’s family rejects the police officers analysis. Instead, they accuse the higher-ups of converting their cop-son into a fugitive, literally.
Dar belongs to Shopian’s Heff village. He actually belongs to a police family. His brother; five uncles and his brother in law, all serve the J&K Police. Dar also followed the family tradition and joined the police in 2012.
His family has a completely different story about Dar. After the training was over, Dar’s first posting was in Budgam, where he served for three years.
Ishfaq’s second place of posting was Pakharpura, Pulwama. It was here, the family alleged that they came to know that his rifle was withdrawn. The reason for deploying him n duty without arms, the family said was that police claimed they traced a phone call that connected him with the militants. The first halt in cop’s rise happened over Pakherpora peaks.
Dar’s mother Gulshan Akhter insists her son was a simple policeman who lacked any ideological affinity with militancy or separatism. “If his seniors suspected that my son had got connections with the militants, why do not they inform us quickly?” she asked. “We could have counselled him against the dangerous path or simply married him.”
One day, his mother said, Ishfaq was summoned by a senior officer to Shopian on the basis of the phone call that had been traced to him. “There, he was tortured and given two options: either to stay at home or leave his home,” Gulshan alleged. “During two days of custody, he was tortured to such an extent that his father carried him on his backup to the main road after he was released after we paid Rs 30,000.” Drive home, he was bedridden for three months.
Once Ishfaq stabilised, he resumed his duties. After spending two years in Pakharpura, he was transferred to Kargil where he served for nine months. Then he was transferred to Drass, world’s coldest place outside Siberia. There he remained for two months and was again transferred, this time to Kathua.
The family alleges that in his six years of service, Ishfaq was posted at five places. Barring a few initial years with a rifle, he performed his duty with a cane in his hand. The family, with a strong police background, sees the withdrawal of the weapon from their constable son as extraordinary, a deliberate disempowerment that he was subjected to. Occasionally, during the six years of his service, the family said, he would tell his family about “hard circumstances” but rarely explained or disclosed it.
After he came on leave from Kathua, his family said, he bitterly wept. “When my brother reached home, he wept for two consecutive days before his father and told him that he is feeling unsafe in Kathua as he was not having the service rifle. He was feeling as if he would be killed there,” Dar’s sister Moiser Rasheed said. “My brother requested his parents that either they should help him to come out of the situation or else he would commit suicide.” Seeing their ward in an overwhelming situation, they assured him of all help and promise him that they will get him transferred.
There was a long pause and Ishfaq would make calls to his family from Kathua. There was nothing hugely disturbing. Then he came home on leave. After spending some days at his home, Dar started preparing to resume his duties. His mother suggested him to take an apple box with him but Dar refused to take it. Instead, Dar wanted to take his motorcycle with him but his mother refused. Finally, Dar left his home on October 23, 2017, in the afternoon but did not reach Kathua. Instead, he was traced online, carrying a LeT gun.
“Our son joined militant ranks because he was compelled by the higher officials in his department,” his sister said, almost shouting. “Sometimes they withdrew his weapon and sometimes they tortured him.” She said her family has enough and cannot sacrifice a member for money. “We have apple orchards and Ishfaq’s brother, Arif, is also earning from police.”
Ishfaq is not alone in the mess. In Nazimpora, also in Shopian, lives Syed Naveed Mushtaq. The 27-year-old was a police constable posted in Budgam and has masters in Sociology, a degree he pursued through distance mode from Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU).
“It was on January 26, 2017, when my son was detained by the police on the grounds that he had links with militants,” Naveed’s mother Shafiqa Akhter said. “He was taken to Cargo and kept there for 10 days and was tortured.” Cargo, now re-designated as Cyber Police Station, has remained the epicentre of police’s counter-insurgency apparatus.
After he was released, Naveed resumed his duty. In May 2017, Naveed was at his home. “For three consecutive days before he left for duty, my son ate nothing. He complained of feeling mentally depressed and his heart is palpitating,” Shafiqa recollects. He returned to his duties and then the news broke on May 19, 2017, that he had fled with four INSAS rifles from the guard post at Food Corporation of India go-down in Chandpora. A few days later, police confirmed that Naveed has actually joined Hizb-ul-Mujahideen outfit.
“I was shocked over the development,” Shafiqa said. “What compelled my son to join militants. He never talked about militancy home but still joined them.”
After his desertion, the Police would often come to Naveed’s home and inquire about his location. They do not have many complaints against the raids. They regret they could not pick up inkling from their son. Son of a government employee, his father Syed Mushtaq Ahmad is in such a shock that his legs are shivering continuously and no medicine is helpful. Shafiqa said that had the family knew their son’s intention to rebel, they would have sent him to police custody, voluntarily.
In the neighbouring district, Pulwama lives Zahoor Ahmad Thokar, 25, in Sirnoo village. He was posted with 173 Territorial Army engineering regiment at Gantmulla (Baramulla). During the intervening night of July 5, and July 6, 2017, Zahoor deserted his unit and fled with his service rifle and some magazines. Later, he joined militant ranks.
Interestingly, Zahoor has been desperate to become a soldier in Indian army. One of his brothers Shabir Ahmad Thokar is also an army man.
“Whenever Shabir would come home on leave, Zahoor would always ask him why he did not bring his uniform to home as Zahoor wanted to put on the uniform,” Zahoor’s second brother Adil said. “He was so infatuated by the uniform that one day he gave his umbrella to a security man when it was heavily raining and he had no shelter on duty.”
Zahoor would routinely run kilometres to improve his capacity so that he could qualify physical test and join the army. Whenever Zahoor would hear about a recruitment rally, he would rush to be in the queue. But in various rallies, he was disqualified in the physical test itself because he was suffering from Deviated Septum. His relative Irfan said that Zahoor was so desperate to join the army that the locality had nick-named him ‘Major’. When Zahoor realised that only constraint which stops him from joining the army is the problem in his nose, he went to a hospital and underwent a surgical procedure. When he recovered fully, then he qualified his physical test in the army and finally, his dream of becoming a soldier came true.
After two years and some months in active service, Zahoor deserted with his service rifle and joined militants. When his family came to know about his desertion, they were in complete shock.
“When I saw my son’s photo first time on social media in which he was holding a rifle in his hand, I started laughing and singing out of shock” Fatima Begum, Zahoor’s mother, said. “My son was never ideologically inclined towards militancy. His only aim was to become a soldier in the Indian army and he had achieved that goal but I am confused what compelled him to join militant ranks.”
Fatima says that if he had to join militancy, he would have joined when he was working as a labourer. “I do not know the reasons. The unit where he was posted, his seniors may know why my son joined militants”, she insisted.
Amid a number of cops who simply deserted and joined militants, there was one curious case in which a cop simply announced his resignation, using the social media.
Rayees Ahmad Mir was a constable and is a resident of Nishat in Srinagar outskirts. On September 4, 2017, Rayees posted his video on Facebook announcing his resignation from the police.
“My conscience would always question me if it is right for me to see the streams of blood that are flowing here. I had no answer to this question then, nor do I have now. But this question has continued to pinch me inside. I have now found a solution to my problem. I have decided to leave police so that my conscience does not question me again” was the crux of his message in the video, which went viral on social websites.
“My son resigned because his leave was not sanctioned by his seniors when he needed that most,” Mir’s mother Raja Begum, said. “I had recently met with an accident, therefore, my lone son wanted to take care of me at home and wanted to take me to some good doctor but his leave was not sanctioned. He was compelled to resign from his job”.
Efforts to access the investigations, if any, in these cases were not successful. But the police officers managing the constabulary had their own assessments.
“There could be multiple factors and not one,” a senior KPS officer said. “We had cases in which an officer’s son joined militants and was killed and it could have been the fear (of militants) factor for the son to protect his father.” The officer said in certain cases, the deserters might be seeing a lot of empowerment by taking up a gun and “wishing to do things that a disciplined force may not permit”. The “heroism”, he said, has been part of militancy, for a long time now, and the “peer pressure” can also be not ruled out.
An IPS officer, also speaking off the record, said part of the crisis is in the shifting of priorities that the state police force underwent in last thirty years that also saw its size almost tripling. “There are harsh working hours and for various people having access to power, it is so smooth that they hardly are deployed on the streets,” the officer said. “This dichotomy sometimes triggers a crisis and it could be a spur of the moment that a cop can take a wrong decision”.
Ruling out the possibility of money and ideology playing any role in the crossover, the IPS officer said police is perhaps the only organisation that takes care of the families of its recruits even in the worst circumstances. “The political interventions in policing at the constabulary level have created haves’ and have-not and it is a crisis,” the officer said. In any district, there could as huge as forty percent of the cops securing the political class instead of manning the police stations.
The Nishat cop, another officer said, was “habitual absentee” who did not show up to his duties in 2016. He has been investigated and deputed to his unit for a final decision.