Reluctant Rebels

That was 2012 when three friends had come home after evening prayers that there was a killing in neighbourhood. Next morning, they were in police custody and soon in jail for more than four years. In less than a year after they walked out early 2016, one is buried within less than 40 days of picking up a gun and another is on top of the list. Aakash Hassan met the third one, at his friends funeral, to get the story about how militants are manufactured in Kashmir

Chilai Kalan, the worst phase of winter, is over. The stream passing nearby has not frozen this night.  But staying warm is still a priority. Dawood shrouds himself in a feather blanket and intends to get into dreams. Then a bang pierces into the deafening silence of the village night: it is gunfire, he is sure.

Suddenly, he starts sweating. Then, he falls asleep amid gun rattling. By the time, his room’s polythene laced windows paved way for weak run rays, the guns had fallen silent and everybody knew that four militants and a civilian stabnd killed, in nearby Frisal village. By next hour he breaks down as he learnt that of the five, one was his friend.

Slain militants were Mudasir Ahmad Tantray ,Wakeel Ahmad Thokar , Farooq Ahmad Bhat and Younus Lone and  civilian, son of the house owner whose home was raised to rubble. He was daily-waging for the government. Within minutes, mourning protests took over. In the ding-dong battles between cops and youth, 25 civilians were injured, of whom Mustaq Ahmad, a Sirgufwara resident, died in the hospital.

As thousands participated in the slain militants funerals, Dawood was in attendance in the funeral of Younus Lone. He stood firm and bid his pal adieu, kissing his forehead.

Next day, as people poured into the under construction, single-story house of Lones’s, Dawood sat on the open terrace, head slung.  He recalled the same February days five years back—that shattered lives of three friends and changed them for ever.

On the chilling nightfall of February 8, 2012, three friends parted ways while returning from Isha prayers, with promises to join Fajar prayers, next morning. Post-dinner, around midnight, gunshots disturbed the village. As residents came out, they saw their Sarpanch Ghulam Muhammad Dar lying in the pool of blood. He had been shot in chest by “unidentified gunmen.” He was the first Sarpanch from Hawoora belt in Kulgam to be assassinated.

Within an hour or so, residents remember, the village being cordoned off and the police rounding up fifteen youth, including the three nimazi friends. They all were driven to Amnu Kulgam garrison. In coming days, all were set free excepting the trio – Younus Ahmad Lone, Rameez Ahmad Dar and Dawood Ahmad Allai.

“For next 58 days we were interrogated at Amnu Camp,” recalls Dawood. “We were beaten to pulp everyday and same question was being repeated: Who killed Sarpanch?”

A picture of encounter between militants and government forces in Frisal Kulgam( KL Images)

On May 11, 2012, Kulgam police invited the media and announced that Sarpanch killing case stands solved. The trio, police said, were found involved in hatching a conspiracy to eliminate the Sarpanch with the help of Lashkar-I-Toiba (Let). Besides, they were accused of launching “an election boycott campaign during the Panchayat elections held in  2011” during which, they were “intimidating the contesting candidates by pasting  threatening posters, distribution of letters and resorting to stone pelting on their houses.”

“When we were produced before District Magistrate, officer accompanying us conveyed judge that we have been arrested only two days before,” Dawood, then 18, remembers. He had barely passed his twelfth class examination. “We didn’t utter a word, as our bodies were still aching with interrogation injuries.” Soon, they were being driven to Central Jail in Srinagar, on Magistrate’s orders.

Then, Younus was waiting for his for results of his MA (Islamic Studies) while he was pursuing studied through IGNOU. Rameez had dropped studies in tenth class and was looking for some business, says Dawood.

“We were good friends and Younus was like our elder brother,” Dawood says in nostalgic tone with a smile on his face. “He used to teach us religious lessons and we were devoted to five time prayers by his muse.”

The trio remained in Central jail Srinagar for more than four years. Court granted them bail only in February 2016.

Held in separate barracks, they did not meet quite often in the jail. But they came out as same friends but had changed. They never accepted their involvement in the Sarpanch killing but felt condemned, inside out.

“We were not involved in any case,” Dawood claims, “The only reason police framed us was due to our religious inclinations. I and Rameez used to have long hair.” Prior to the Sarpanch killing, police had once arrested them in January 2012, and set them free.

Hawoora residents also believe that “they were framed” because there was political pressure to solve the case. Their families say their wards were made “scapegoats.”

“My brother was in his room when the killing took place,” Mateen Ahmad Lone, Younis’s elder brother, said.

But the jail became the trio’s “new world”. Dawood graduated. Younus did another PG, this time in Sociology.

The remains of the house in which militants were hiding in Frisal Kulgam (KL Image)

But on February 7, when they were bailed-out, they were not “free men.” Family of the trio alleged the counter-insurgency grid starting raiding their homes and begun calling them to their camps.

“There was already a case against us in which we were not involved and then coming out of jail on bail after more than four years now forces were chasing us again,” says Dawood. “This was a perpetual pain.”

After coming out of jail, Dawood remembers, he was with his friendwhen he got a call from home that army was searching for him. “It was the day that I realized that I am again in net,” Dawood said. Since then he stays away from home at night and his address is known to him only. It was the same story of his two friends. Unlike him, he said, they were pushed to extreme.

Both Younus and Rameez joined militancy after ten months of their release. Their families insist that police and army were always looking for them after they moved out of jail.

“Army would come to home and ask for him, he was asked to report in the camp,” says Mateen, Lone’s elder brother, said. “He was very bright student and after he completed his MA, we thought our house would prosper and change,” says Mateen, 35, who works as a labourer in a brick-kiln in the village.

“After his release we were hopeful that they will be acquitted from the case soon” he says, “But as the Army raids continued his life turned hell.”

On January 3, 2017, Mateen said, Younus came home hurriedly. “He returned tired but in haste as soldiers had chased him in Redwani.

“While giving slip to Army he had lost his mobile phone and came barefooted,” says his brother, “He changed clothes and left in hurry without saying anything.”

Earlier, December 30, Rameez had also disappeared suddenly.

Both had picked up guns and joined Hizb ul Mujhaideen, taking the extreme step. There is no record suggesting they crossed the LoC. Less than forty days later, Younus returned numb and with eyes closed on a charpoy, draped in a green cloth. People hailed the “martyr” and put him to eternal rest.

People in large number attended the funeral of militants (KL Image)

Rameez, police say, is still active with HM and has been categorized as listed militant. He is 20.

In between his two friends, one slain and another fugitive from the law, Dawood is left nowhere. Counter-insurgency grid is chasing the “suspect” and he has survived numerous raids.

After Younu’s killing in encounter, Dawood came to visit his house.

Wearing black Feran, he was a metaphoric mourner, blackened pale and fed up. Running his fingers through his long beard he recalls the times spend with his friends, one lost forever and other delaying his death.

“Our life was changed by jail,” Dawood said, “When we were jailed we were full of dreams and aspirations. But when we came out, we had changed, we were condemned and lifeless.” His jail tenure was “life changing”.

“Younus completed his Post Graduation,” Dawood said. “Do you think he did it for taking up gun? As we came out, we were chased and all of a sudden there was no space to breathe.”

women in large number witnessing the funeral procession and prayers of militants in Frisal Kulgam (KL Image)

“In 2012. I was about to take admission in college for BA but police arrested me for something I never did,” he said. “Still I completed my graduation in jail.” Almost crying, he recalled the days of his interrogation, when “I was not able to even stand properly”. Till his killing, Younus, he said, was suffering from multiple problems.

Terming his life as puzzle he says, he future is caught in between his “manufactured past” and “real present” when he is being chased, for no reason.

“It is the stage of my life when I should have been settled and cherishing my formative years,” Dawood said. “But, somehow, that does not soothe all the eyes around me.,” He insisted he has not joined militancy.

Police officials in Kulgam confirmed to this correspondent that Rameez is a listed militant. When asked about Dawood, Superintendent of Police said his case is under investigation. “Thief never says he is a thief,” he said before the phone hung.

Read Also: A Militant for 53 days

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