A bookish man who stayed away from tensions, was frightened by tear-smoke shells, spent eight years in studying; far away from his picturesque home in south Kashmir, abruptly went missing in wake of Burhan Wani killing. Even his parents don’t know yet why Sabzar became a militant, reports Muhammad Younis
Ahead of 2008 unrest, Sabzar Ahmad Sofi had left Kashmir for higher studies. On his infrequent visits home, whenever there were protests in his native Naina village in South Kashmir, Sabzar would move out of his spacious concrete two-storey home, move a kilometre downstream on the bank of Vaishov river that splits the place into two, to a secluded spot. In the company of the roaring river there, he would wait until the protests subside. “He never took part in the protests, the sound of shells would usually terrify him,” his father, Bashir Ahmad Sofi, said.
In 2014, when Sabzar returned home, he had spent eight years outside Kashmir, “and this time, away from the conflict, was probably the reason behind his calm temperament.”
But only two years past his return, in October 2016, when the family learnt that their son had picked up the arms, it was like a bolt from the blue. “I can’t tell you what happened to him, I can’t, because I don’t know myself,” said the puzzled Bashir. Sitting close, Sabzar’s mother Hajira shouted that she knew the reason. “It is all that we are witness to on daily basis, a person from some far off place catches hold of your collar,” she alluded towards the armed forces, “beats you up for no apparent reason, kills your little ones.”
“Sometimes, in the middle of a night, I find her shedding tears in the longing of her son, she is very upset,” Bashir said about his wife, when she, wiping her tears out, left the room. The room used to be home for a melange of books belonged to their son, they said. They have preserved the books in a trunk upstairs.
On July 8, 2016, morning, Sabzar, 29 then, left his home apparently to join some coaching centre at Delhi for the upcoming Indian Administrative Service (IAS) exams that he had intended to apply for. For a month before, he had already been taking classes at Initiative for Competition and Promotion (ICP) Nowgam Srinagar. “That day he told us that he along with his another friend has decided to go to Delhi for preparation, and we gladly saw him off.”
Later that day, as the news about the killing of Burhan Wani went viral, mobile connectivity was snapped by the government. Subsequently, the situation turned hostile. Though the family lost contact with their son for months together, they were hopeful about his safety in Delhi. In October 2016, the optimism eventually broke down when a cop from the neighbouring police station informed the family that their son has joined the militant ranks. “I didn’t believe him, because I never knew my son as someone who could pick up a gun,” said Bashir.
The family launched a looking out for Sabzar. They went to every place they thought their son could go to. “He was a very friendly person, he had friends from every nook and corner of the valley. And there wouldn’t be a single place of any of his friends which we didn’t visit.” But nothing helped. It was only when a video of Sabzar in militant fatigues surfaced on the internet that the family stopped their search. “We were finally convinced when one day a group of army personnel knocked at our door and showed us a video in which Sabzar could be seen along with a group of militants with a gun in his hand.”
One of his relatives, who also is unable to make out the transformation of Sabzar, said that he would barely talk about the militancy or the situation in Kashmir. “All his focus was on the studies and he wanted to achieve something big in his life to help his family and the society at large,” the relative said.
In 2007, after graduating from Degree College Islamabad, Sabzar joined Barkatullah University in Bhopal, for his Masters of Science (MSc) in Botany. Then he did his M Phil from the Jiwaji University of Gwalior. In between the two degrees, he also passed the National Eligibility Test (NET), mandatory for the eligibility of becoming an Assistant Professor. Before returning home in 2014, Sabzar had applied for PhD at the Jamia Milia Islamia.
“He had qualified the interview, and had been told to join after six months, which he wasn’t interested in thereafter,” Bashir, a retired government employee, said. Besides, Sabzar had also done his Bachelors in Education (BeE), a basic for becoming a school teacher. “He was always good in studies, and from his apparent interests, education was his only pursuit and nothing else.”
Sabzar’s friends said he was a very helpful person who always took a keen interest in helping the students of the locality. They give him credit for setting up Ascent, a coaching centre at Sangam Chowk, where the upper higher secondary level students of the locality were taught different subjects of science free of cost. If he would find out that his colleagues had asked any of the students of the coaching centre for a fee, he would turn angry. “These days, when teachers earn hefty amounts of money from the tuition centres, Sabzar was an exception,” said one of his colleagues who used to teach at Ascent.
Interestingly, Sabzar taught for two months at High School Naina free.
Besides Sabzar, Bashir has three sons and a daughter who too are highly qualified. “Among all my children Sabzar’s education was most cost-effective… but I wasn’t concerned about that because I knew he was going to do something big,” said Bashir.