Kashmir's lost boys: How an ardent Bollywood fan became an armed rebel
“I thought my son Abid had returned home,” says 46-year-old Abdul Hamid Mir, father of slain 19-year-old militant Abid alias Arhan, when asked about the news of dramatic homecoming of Majid Khan, a star-footballer from south Kashmir who had briefly joined Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a week or so ago.
Tears roll down Hamid Mir's face as he talks about his son. A resident of Hajin town some 32 kilometre north of Srinagar, he recounts fond memories of Abid as an “obedient, dazzling and polite boy”.
Mir, a reasonably successful businessman dealing in pharmaceuticals in Hajin, lost his son, a commerce student, in an encounter with government forces in August this year.
Abid was killed along with his two associates namely Javed Dar and Danish Dar in Amargarh Sopore, a town 50 km north of Srinagar.
Abid joined the ranks of LeT in May without his father getting a whiff of it. Between 12 May and 5 August, he remained active as a Lashkar militant for 86 days before being killed.
The tipping point
But how did a bright student like him end up joining ranks of the armed rebels?
“The rest of the Kashmir Valley has not witnessed the kind of brutalities that Hajin has,” Mir says, adding that “young and impressionable minds often discuss the past in their homes”.
Did his son also discuss Kashmir’s political question and present and past at home?
For Abid, according to his father, “the situation of being a slave in one’s own land was stifling”.
Life, says Hamid Mir, was going smoothly for Abid until early 2013, when he was in Class 9.
“He (Abid) was very fond of Bollywood. Then, Afzal Guru was hanged in February 2013. Everything changed,” Mir says.
After Guru’s hanging there was a visible change in his behaviour. Abid also attended the funeral of young and popular Hizb commander Burhan Wani In July 2016, his father says. “From a bubbly character, Abid suddenly became a quiet person,” Mir says.
Apart from Guru’s execution and Wani’s killing there was something more that drastically changed Abid’s personality.
Ironically, he received his primary education from Indian Army’s Goodwill School in Bandipore district and then studied at Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya in frontier town of Uri in north Kashmir’s Baramulla district.
Mir, Abid’s father, is himself an alumnus of Sainik School Manasbal while his younger son, Zakir, studies at the same school.
Mir recalled that once his son was selected for a tour to a Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya in Uttar Pradesh where he and his classmates were allegedly coerced to sing the Indian national anthem.
According to Mir, Abid had flatly refused doing so, thus inviting the wrath of his teachers. “The teachers beat my son ruthlessly. A bone in his leg was severely injured and it took almost a year to heal. That incident also changed him as a person,” the father says.
Only after a written apology, Mir says, his son was allowed to attend his school in Uri again.
Soon after, Abid stopped watching Indian news channels as he developed a strong dislike for what was being said. Instead, he began offering regular prayers at a mosque nearby.
“During his supplications, my son would cry a lot. He was also a regular with Tahajud (special midnight prayers),” Mir says.
The father further stated that after seeing a visible change in his son he would often talk to him to impress upon him that Kashmir’s problem would be resolved only through political means.
“My son would never argue with me. He was very polite,” he says, adding that he was totally unaware when he joined the Lashkar.
Prior to his joining the LeT, Abid had registered himself as a first-year B.Com student at Islamia College of Science and Commerce in Hawal, Srinagar.
“I believe my son could have contributed more to Kashmir because he was a genius,” Mir says.
He acknowledged that the local police did offer help to him to get his son back but nothing could be done because his son had taken a decision for himself.
Mir, an emotionally broken father, has a message for the youth of Kashmir: “you do not deserve to die young. Leave big decision to your elders!”
North Kashmir’s Hajin town was considered headquarters of the notorious government-sponsored renegades, known widely as Ikhwanis or Nawabadis in local parlance, in the mid-1990s.
“They (Ikhwanis) were looters. They looted our wealth and robbed us of our honour. Indian forces pull us out and search our houses against our will. We are never free in our own land,” Mir says.
Hajin is also a place from where eminent writers and poets like Mohi-ud-Din Hajini made a name for themselves in literary circles.
But today the town is in the news for being a “safe haven” for foreign militants of the LeT. The authorities believe that because of its topography, Hajin has become a transit route for the armed rebels from where they divide into splinter groups to launch attacks on government forces.
However, locals allege that government forces jointly launch cordon and search operations (CASOs) ala 1990’s-style crackdowns at least twice or thrice a week to harass villagers.