Whose Martyr Is This Sarpanch?

From his hit and run affair with paramilitary to his eventful date with militancy, Shahbad’s Sajad did it all before embracing Congress, the party he quit in post-Burhan Kashmir, only to return to his old rage. Aakash Hassan traces the journey of the slain Sarpanch who became the latest casualty in Kashmir’s amphitheatre of oblivion

Wife of Sajad Malik along with children. (Photos: Shah Hilal/ KL)
Wife of Sajad Malik along with children. (Photos: Shah Hilal/ KL)

Before the dusk on December 1, Army broke news of eliminating a “terrorist” in an “encounter” in Shahbad belt of south Kashmir’s Islamabad. They added to have recovered a weapon. But the cops were reluctant to share any details for the next hour. For scribes, it was perplexing situation. “None in Police would receive my call,” a scribe told anxious locals. As nobody could connect the dots of the “operation”, the suspense continued to shroud it.

The haze over the killing got cleared after Congress state president, G A Mir issued a statement, claiming that the person killed was his close associate and worker. For the PCC chief, it was a plain “cold-blooded, politically motivated” murder. In a while, TV flashes about the killing of an ‘unknown’ person gunned down in an encounter started.

That ‘unknown’ person was Sajad Ahmed Malik from Batgund, Verinag — the man in his early forties. What happened to Sajad is still blurry, but his life sequences aren’t leaving anything unsaid about him.

Sajad's wife, Shabeena.
Sajad’s wife, Shabeena.

It was a summer day in 1997, when two cousins and their mutual friend bunked their school. The 8th graders unwilling to carry on their studies wanted to move out of their village and do something meaningful. The plan was to come to Khanabal and participate in CRPF recruitment rally.

After participation, the trio was told to go home, round their mattress and come to Jammu for training. But back home, they faced irate parents.

“Our parents didn’t let us stay in home even for a night and forced us to leave,” says Nazir Ahmad Malik, slain Sajad’s cousin and one among the trio. The Malik cousins went to attend the paramilitary training at Bantalab Jammu but ran from the camp in their final phase of training, four months later.

For Sajad, recalls Nazir, even the due salary of one month was no big deal.

“Being the only son of his parents,” says Nazir in a backdrop of loud mourning, “Sajad was not used to hardships of life. It was he who motivated me to leave that job.”

Once back, Sajad began looking after his family’s paddy fields and walnut crop. Just then, he picked up waning thread of militancy and became an over-ground worker of an outfit known for hurling grenades at military installations.

For his link, Sajad alias Bitta became popular as Bitta Garnade.

“He was named in several actions in the Verinag vicinity,” Nazir recalls. During the same time, his parents married him off thinking their lone son might return to routine.

It apparently worked. He soon surrendered before army and was taken to jail. He became father when he was languished in a Jammu jail.

“He was a gun-peddler working with the militants,” says one police officer who knew Sajad personally. “He had access to lot of RDX and we convinced him of futility of the situation he lived in, he got convinced.”

Sajad's sister.
Sajad’s sister.

A year later, Sajad walked out of prison and joined Congress party under the leadership of the then young Congress face and now its state chief, G A Mir.

In his village, people recall how Sajad was behind Mir’s twin victories from Dooru Shahbad.

“It was he who promoted Mir here,” says Nazir. “Since then he was Mir’s loyal party man.”

His pro-active unionist activities fetched him a top Congress position in his village. He was no less than an MLA, the locals recall. “We used to approach him whenever we need to meet our legislator. He never disappointed us.”

In his village, he was a people’s worker. When he won the Panchayat election with margin of thousands of votes in 2011, his popularly got only reaffirmed.

After becoming a village Sarpanch, he started taking keen interests in the village welfare, the locals turning up for his mourning, say. Sajad was their man with a magic wand who could solve their problems at will.

“From small village affairs to the big deals in Secretariat, it was Sajad’s door that villagers would frequently knock,” says Shabir, a local who saw Sajad’s rise in the village ranks. “It is unbelievable that such a person is no more with us.”

While recalling his good works, the locals underline an incident when Sajad sold off his walnut crop in advance and gave money to the ration distributer who was reluctant to provide grains to the locals till his liabilities were not cleared by officials.

Sajad Malik.
Sajad Malik.

But the good Samaritan confined himself indoors post-Burhan Wani killing. The locals say that Sajad was mindful of the fact how unionists had become foes despite some of them being friends—like him.

Initially he remained inert to the change. But as south Kashmir continued to seethe in unabated rage and rebellion, Sajad changed his mind.

One fine day in September, he was seen leading a pro-freedom procession in the Verinag Chowk where he announced his resignation from the unionist politics. “I have severed all ties with the mainstream politics and apologize for my past mistakes,” the locals recall part of Sajad’s address to the rally.

His resignation was appreciated by the Tahreeq-e-Hurriyat Islamabad chief. Since then he was proactive in organizing and participating in the pro-freedom rallies.

Mourners at Sajad's home.
Mourners at Sajad’s home.

Today, the entire Shahbad belt including Sajad’s native Batgund is in deep shock over the sudden “encounter” and shocking killing of their Samaritan Sarpanch.

Inside a kilometer in Batgund crisscrossing lanes stand a two-storey mud house. A big canopy for the mourners has been pitched in a courtyard.

On a porch of the house, Sajad’s aunt is wailing: Sayasatan moar Sajad (Politics killed Sajad.)

Besides her is Gulzar Ahmad, Sajad’s neighbour and friend. He is unable to hold his tears, “See, he was unable to build even a house. Such was our head man!”

Inside the makeshift tent, the mourners recall something very intriguing. On September 12, they say, Malik went to meet a supposed Hurriyat leader who telephoned him and asked him for a meeting at Dooru.

“It was a trap,” recalls his neighbour. “He was actually called by a cop who arrested him at Dooru.”

Since then, Sajad was lying in the custody at Dooru police station. But he was not beaten there, the family members reveal.

“He even asked for a TV from home to the police station,” his friend says. “He was put in a separate room and was living in a good condition there.”

Sajad was booked under different sections including, 147, 148, 149, 353, 307 of RPC. However, on November 2, he was granted bail on furnishing bond of Rs 35,000 by judicial magistrate Dooru.

But he was not released by police.

“We had to visit every day, either to police station or SSP office or somewhere else but we returned hopeless,” says Kashif, 16, elder son of Sajad, who left behind seven children—six sons and a daughter.“When I asked police officials why my father is not being released, they told me he would be released next day. Almost every day, they repeated the same line. When I approached Munshi, he showed me a recording on his phone in which a person was telling him: Ensure Sajad remains in lockup.”

Mourners at Sajad's home.
Mourners at Sajad’s home.

A day before his killing, on Wednesday, Shabeena, Sajad’s wife and son Kasif went to SSP office for securing his release.

“Earlier SSP had told me: ‘We will release him if you ensure that your MLA calls me once,” says inconsolable Shabeena. “But on Wednesday, he told me, ‘wait till Sunday’.”

After that assurance, the mother-son duo visited the police station to meet Sajad.

“He was sitting in the lawn of the police station and we told him about our meeting with SSP,” says Kashif. “He was hopeful that maybe he would be released now.”

Kashif recalls his father was not in a good health as he had complained about some heart pain. “Abu ji told me that he was fine and didn’t need to visit hospital.”

Hours after that visit, Sajad’s family received a call from the police station, asking them to report at the station immediately.

“We thought, maybe, it was his release call,” says Ghulam Hassan Malik, Sajad’s brother-in-law. “But we were shocked when cops told us that Sajad escaped in a jailbreak bid and was killed in an encounter. It was unbelievable.”

Sajad’s wailing family was shortly shown his bullet-ridden body. He was killed in Agnoo village, three kilometers short of Batgund.

“Two men were coming on a motorcycle and there was a Sumo halted already on the way. The bike came to halt near the Sumo before firing started,” says Waseem Ahmad, an eyewitness who saw the incident from a window of his house. “One of the men tried to run after being hit by bullets, but he could only cover a short distance.”

Immediately the army and the motorcyclist left from the scene in a huff. The motorcyclist was identified as SPO Mashooq by an officer, who according to him was driving Sajad to hospital after his blood pressure shot up.

By Friday morning, police issued a statement saying Sajad Malik alias Bita Malik decamped with an AK rifle along with one magazine from Police Station Dooru. “After firing some shots near the market, and taking advantage of the darkness he managed to escape towards Zamalgam,” the statement said. “On way near Cherikari he fired towards an army patrol. The fire was retaliated. In the exchange of fire Shabir Malik got killed. The deceased was a released militant.”

But by then, both separatists and unionists had seriously questioned the state version of the episode.

Sajad's father.
Sajad’s father.

Back in his home, Sajad’s seven children are crying a river over their irreparable loss. His old parents are equally woebegone.

Amid the heart-wrenching cries and scenes, the loud cry—Sajad marnov Sayasatan—continue to resound his rundown house.

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