Unending pain

The creation of counter-insurgency grid during 90s forced thousands of families into self-exile. But there were a few families who lost lot more than just home. Suhail A Shah reports about one such family 

Parents of Tariq Ahmad

A t 6 am on May 16, 2017, the residents of Okei village in Kulgam district woke up to announcements made by the army, ordering every male member above the age of ten to assemble in the nearby school ground.

For other residents the crackdown was just a grim reminder of the turbulent 90’s, with identity parades and house-to-house search making a comeback.

But for the Mir family, the crackdown opened deeper wounds, of loss and of exile.

An exile of years and loss of two young sons: one who fought and another who was shot and killed on fine sunny day.

A crisscross maze of narrow alleys, in the middle of Okei village, leads to a common compound housing four structures, cluttered haphazardly together.

A dirt path – vegetation, sprouting from both sides making it almost invisible – through the middle of the compound leads to a two storey decrepit house. The house is eerily devoid of signs of life, unlike the other houses in the compound.

After repeated knocks and inquiries from the neighbors an old, frail Ghulam Nabir Mir – his back bent and beard white with age and grief – opens the door.

“I am sorry, I just fell asleep,” Mir apologized for not opening the door quickly.

Eighty-year-old Mir is the head of three member family including his wife Hafeeza, 75, and daughter, Nahida, 20.

The family was not always small. Only some four years ago Mir had a son, Tariq Ahmad, 32, his wife Parmeena and their month old daughter, Sidrat-ul-Muntaha.

“Now it looks like I had a dream. A dream between two nightmares,” Mir, laments with a painful sigh.

The room, Mir sits in with his Hookah, smells of tobacco and mud. Few clothes hang on the otherwise barren walls, visibly painted crimson with an amateurish hand. On one wall, opposite to the one with two large windows, a Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) calendar hangs.

“I have paid a heavy price for being a Jamaat sympathizer. Not even a member I was of the organization,” Mir says.

However Mir, like most of the families in his village, was living a quiet life even during peak 90s. “I was a farmer who loved his family. My three sons and four daughters was all I cared about,” he says.

But after the formation of counter insurgency militia called Ikhwan, Mir’s life changed completely.

During those days Mir’s house was repeatedly raided and he was often picked up by the Ikhwanis and later released in lieu of money, denting his economic conditions badly.

“It was around 1999, when my wife had to sell all her jewelry and pay 31,000 rupees to Ikhwanis and buy my freedom,” says Mir, “It was soon after that the infamous Ikhwani, Ismail Gada, had publicly announced that he will finally be able to perform Hajj with all the “Halaal” money he has looted from the Jamaatis,”

Nobody knows what fate had in store for them and neither did Mir. A father of three sons, Mir, readily agreed when a marriage proposal for his eldest son, Gulzar Ahmad, had a rider that he will have to move to his in-laws place to live in.

“I did not know my two sons will get killed. Who knows for that matter what Allah has in store for us,” Mir says, occasionally using the hem of his pherun to wipe his moist eyes.

Soon after, even though he paid hefty sums to the renegades, his family became a target with regular raids, harassment and vandalizing property becoming a norm.

“I decided to leave with my sons, to India. I thought the women folk will live with the relatives and be safe there,” Mir says, “It was around late 2000,”

While Tariq, then 20, readily agreed to leave with his father, his elder brother Ijaz Ahmad, 23, decided not to despite insistence on behalf of his father.

Ijaz, instead, decided to fight back. He picked up arms and joined Hizb-ul-Mujahideen.

Mir and Tariq took shelter in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, where they traded cattle for a living.

Tariq Ahmad, second from the right, with his friends.

“Our house had become a haunted place with no member of the family present. My wife and daughters kept shifting from one relative to another,” says Mir.

Meanwhile, with Ijaz joining the militants, the hunt for the family had been intensified by the army and the Ikhwanis.

“Chances to return home looked bleak, until one day in 2002,” Mir recalls.

He received a message, from an acquaintance visiting Shimla.

The message was both terrifying and ironically a relief at the same time. Ijaz had been killed in an encounter with government forces, in the nearby Khandipora village and Mir was asked to return home now. But it had been months since Ijaz had been killed. Mir bewails the fact that he could not even shoulder his son.

“They say it’s a painful for a father to shoulder his son. But I was so unfortunate that I couldn’t even do that. All I was left with was a longing for my son, a lifelong wound of not being able to see my sons face one last time,” said Mir.

Things began to change after Ijaz’s killing. The Ikhwanis were turned into a regular force and named the Special Operations Group (SOG) of the police.

Militancy was on a decline and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) came into power with a “Healing Touch”, at least allowing the Jamaat cadre to return home.

Mir family too began to pick up the loose threads and started building a family again. Daughters were married off while family and farming took centre stage again.

Tariq began to trade walnuts, supporting the family in a small way. “It took us a decade to get back to a so-called normal life. At least it was so for the kids, because how could have Hafeeza and me even thought to be normal. Killing of Ijaz was the gashing wound that still bled,” says Mir.

In 2013, Tariq got married and was soon blessed with a baby girl, he lovingly named Sidrat-ul-Muntaha. But fate had another nightmare in store for Mir and Hafeeza. Tariq was killed, in cold blood.

Gagren and the ‘Ehsaas-e-Kashmir’:

Eyes closed, head swaying, hands moving in rhythm to the ‘beats and tunes’ of the fusion created by Abhay Sopori and Zubin Mehta at Shalimar garden, Farooq Abdullah, 75, was having a ball on the evening on September 7, 2013.

The patron of then ruling National Conference (NC) had no clue, and perhaps still has none, how bullets fired by a CRPF personal commanded by his then Chief Minister son, Omar Abdullah, devastated the life of another man precisely his age down south in Kulgam.

While the Shalimar garden reverberated with Bavarian orchestra’s rendezvous, called ‘Ehsaas-e-Kashmir’ Tariq was shot dead outside CRPF’s Gagren camp in Shopian, along with three other people, two of them business men like Tariq.

The fourth slain was buried unidentified, conflicting versions about his identity unascertained.

According to media reports CRPF men fired without any provocation. A one man commission of Justice Kaul was appointed to probe the killings.

However, the findings of the commission are yet to find the light of the day, despite the fact that Justice Kaul is believed to have submitted his report.

Efforts by the families of the slain to acquire a copy of the report have been turned down by the home department.

For Mir and Hafeeza life came to a virtual end that day. Mir and Tariq had been working in their farm land that day, at least till noon before Tariq left.

“He got a call to pick some walnuts from Gagren and even though I advised him not to, given that a shutdown was being observed, he still went and never came back,” says Mir.

The family had no idea what had befallen them till a knock on the door, a couple of hours before midnight.

“I thought Tariq had come back. I started scolding him soon as I heard that knock on the door,” Mir recalls, “But it was somebody else. I don’t know who. Allah had decided to test me again.”

Life After

As Mir talked about his son, Hafeeza, entered into the room  quietly, sat in a corner and stared at something out of the window, a distant spec may be. It looked like the houses blocking her line of sight are troubling her and she wanted to see something beyond those melancholic structures.  “She rarely talks now,” Mir said, “She is almost emotionless as if she has turned into a stone,”

The only time Hafeeza shows emotions, says Mir, is when she sees men in uniform and that is exactly what happened on the morning of May 16.

Soon as she lays her eyes on men in uniform Hafeeza loses consciousness and her blood pressure shoots up dangerously putting her into a life threatening condition, given the heart ailment she is nursing.

“We have to hospitalize her every time making a huge hole in my already non-existent finances,” laments Mir.

The family of three, with two ailing elderly people, is living in penury and absolute dependence.

They have no source of income barring a small piece of land which barely suffices to keep the family fed.

Mir, at this point, brings down his rather large packet of medicines as he says, “I am completely dependent on charities now.”

After a while he adds, “Yes, the help comes from relatives, mostly my daughters but it is charity nevertheless.”

What further weighs the elderly couple down is the fact that they have still an unmarried daughter.

But even more painful is the fact that they have not seen their granddaughter in all these four years, “not even once.”

Tariq’s wife left for her parent’s house in Nehama area of Kulgam. Parmeena and her parents have remained adamant that they would allow the ailing couple to see their granddaughter only if they register some property in her name.

“My eyes long to see her and my heart wrenches at the fact that there is a piece of Tariq in this world and I cannot see her,” Mir says.

But the old man has no property to spare in Muntaha’s name, “I would give my life to see her once. But I have a daughter to marry off and I do not have much.”

He just has a piece of land the family is fed on. Mir fears that he is going to die without seeing Muntaha.

As Mir and Hafeeza are lost in their thoughts, this reporter requests them for a picture. Hafeeza sits mechanically besides her husband, that look of ache in her eyes intact.

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