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Horrors of mid-'90s in J&K: Mysterious beheading throws Hajin into disarray

Riyaz Wani | Updated on: 31 August 2017, 17:12 IST
Muzaffar Ahmad Parray

On Sunday morning, people at Gulshan Abad, Hajin saw a body floating down the Jhelum. It triggered panic in the area. The residents massed on the banks to witness the horrifying spectacle as the boatmen rushed to haul the body to the land. To their horror, the body was without a head.

It didn’t take the villagers long to identify the body though. As it lay sprawled on the river bank, the tall frame and the solid built gave it away to the onlookers.

He was Muzaffar Ahmad Parray of the adjacent Banger Mohalla who often led separatist protests and bands of stone-pelters in the area. Just three months ago, a picture in which he was seen flamboyantly holding two Kalashnikovs went viral on social media.

The body had no injuries and no signs of decay and it still retained the muscular youthful physique familiar to the people.

Only a month ago Parray had been set free by the police after a two-month long detention.

According to his family, he had been severely tortured in police custody and had to remain bed-ridden for days after his release.

Parray’s photographs show him as a tall, handsome young man. The family members say he would often get his pictures taken by friends in scenic settings. “He would choose a proper spot and strike a pose before asking a friend to click him,” said a friend, not willing to give his name.

Some of these pictures, often juxtaposed with his beheaded body, too have gone viral.

Who did it?

Who is behind Parray’s brutal murder? There is no answer to this question.

The dominant discourse in the area is that Parray was decapitated by security forces to send a chilling message to the youth aspiring to become militants. The objective, it is being said, is to arrest the drift towards militancy in an area which was once the Valley’s counter-insurgency capital. However, police on its part has initiated an enquiry into the killing.

And the militant organisations like Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Taiba have condemned the beheading in the strongest terms, and have even called it the result of the hardline Kashmir policy being pursued by the National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.

“Ajit Doval’s team and their doctrine is the culprit behind the martyrdom of Kashmiri youth, so as to sabotage the freedom struggle of Kashmir. They will not succeed in their plans,” Lashkar spokesman Abdullah Gaznavi said in a statement.

“They want to create fear among the local youths here who have been supportive of militants in the area. But they won’t succeed,” the statement added.

No arrests

However, like most of the mysterious killings in Kashmir, the perpetrators of Parray's beheading will never be identified, let alone punished, for their ghastly crime.

Over the past, some weeks, the bodies of several people have been recovered from several parts of the Valley. On Tuesday morning, two youth were found dead in an orchard in South Kashmir Shopian. They were identified as 17-year-old Umar Suhail and 20-year-old Mohammad Ather Mirza of Rajouri district in Jammu province. The youth had no injury marks on their bodies.

Earlier, a cable operator Hilal Ahmad Malik was killed after unidentified gunmen shot at him outside the district hospital in Shopian.

Nobody has claimed the responsibility for such killings. There is only street discourse about the possible perpetrators of such killings that address the public anxiety about this unaccounted mayhem which has long been a sign of the ongoing conflict in the state.

And this discourse has largely been impartial in blaming various actors on the scene depending on the circumstances attendant on the killings.

A similar discourse surrounds the perpetrators of Parray's beheading. However, the context here is much larger and more troubling than in other cases.

From early '90s to now

Hajin is the place where in the early-'90s an Army backed counter-insurgency campaign started against separatist militancy. The advent of Kuka Parray in 1993, the first major pro-India insurgent leader, dramatically altered the militancy scene in Valley. For three years, Kuka ruled Sonawari, a cluster of villages including Hajin and further beyond. Hundreds of militants and even civilians with alleged sympathy to militants were killed by Kuka’s men.

This increased the level of violence by several folds, triggering a massive internal displacement of people from rural to urban areas, with Srinagar being the preferential destination.

The horror played out in abandon for five years until the Kargil war in 1998 when the things again returned to square one, with militants aided by the fresh infiltration across LoC regaining the dominance. Now, it was their turn to kill Ikhwanis, as Kuka’s men were called. Kuka himself went on to become an MLA and was subsequently killed by militants in an ambush in 2003.

Muzaffar Parray’s beheading is thus a throwback to the horrors of Sonawari’s Ikhwan past.

But as irony would have it, Sonawari, once a counter-insurgent bastion has relapsed into separatist defiance and the lure of jihad. Much like in South Kashmir, the separatist protests and the stone throwing has become a regular feature of life.

As many as 10 militants have been killed since 2016 in encounters with security forces. According to a security estimate, currently, 11 militants, who owe their allegiance to Lashkar, are active in the area.

Local media reports, quoting police sources, say around seven militants shifted to Sonawari from the nearby Bandipora, including a four-member group headed by Abu Musaid, who is believed to be the nephew of Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, the Lashkar leader who is alleged to be the mastermind behind Mumbai attack.

How would Parray’s beheading by unknown men play out in this charged scene? Lashkar has said it won’t be daunted. But for now, Hajin is too shaken by the murder to give a sense of what future may have in store.

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

First published: 31 August 2017, 17:09 IST