Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander
I was born in one of the localities of Shahre Khass (the main city) of Srinagar. It was not congested as compared to other parts of the the adjoining areas. My childhood was spent roaming the alleys of this area known as Rainawari. It still is one of the biggest areas of Srinagar hosting more than two hundred mohallas. It was also famous for inter religious solidarity because a good chunk of Hindu Pandits resided in the area. But when I was born they had already left the valley. In my childhood I would get scared even to look at their abandoned houses as only army and stray dogs inhabited them. These factors reinforced the scariness that accompanies abandonment.
The Shiraz cinema near our home according to Dad used to run houseful, a luxury that I never had the opportunity to relish. When I relate this fact to any Indian or Pakistani friend that I never watched a movie in a cinema, they are not just surprised but shocked. Some militant organizations had banned the cinemas but to their utter surprise people did not stop watching movies instead every home now has access to cable and satellite television and can watch movies whenever they desire. The abandoned Shiraz cinema was occupied by the military. It was time and again attacked by militants who certainly did not like their presence.
When I was in standard seven, I started observing the daily namaz (five time obligatory prayers that every adult Muslim is supposed to offer). During Ramdan, I used to visit the local mosque alongwith Dad particularly for special night prayers (Taraweeh). A higher secondary school boy who was just few years elder to me became a friend during the daily visit to the mosque. He even undertook the solitary meditation at the mosque during the last ten days of Ramdan known as Aatekaaf. It is a religious practice to remain confined to the mosque during last ten days. One person from the locality must offer himself voluntarily. Since decades none has observed Aatekaaf in the locality and then this boy broke the norm. He even motivated the Imam (the one who leads the prayers) to observe it that year. After the ramdan was over I got busy in school, with my visits to the mosque becoming more infrequent. I also lost touch with Aafaq Shah. Some months later as I was playing cricket with my cousins’ one uncle came and informed me that Aafaq Shah was killed as he blew himself up at Badamibagh army cantonment. I could not comprehend what this blowing up meant? When did he join the insurgent ranks and what motivated him? My mind was too young to analyze any such questions but what I could realize was that I had lost a contact, a friend whom I could never retrieve. That night I wept myself to sleep.
Later as I grew up, I became aware of the fact that he was the first Fidayi (suicide bomber) of Kashmir. Later we shifted from Rainawari and after some years I visited his family as a young reporter. I was earlier angry about Aafaq abandoning me for a suicide mission that too without informing me. His mother had the same ordeal as he had abandoned his family a month before he went on a suicide mission. His mother’s grievance was much bigger than mine so I had no option but to forgive my departed friend, whom I still remember fondly as a shy boy who had never shaved his beard.
Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) is a vibrant university. I have the privilege of visiting it time and again for academic purposes. My friends in different departments would host me for lunch, dinner and small refreshments would be arranged for me. It was during these visits that I came to know about a brilliant Kashmiri researcher Manaan Wani. We met again in August 2017 at Shamshad market over tea. Earlier we were friends over social media and used to keep an eye over each other’s activities. He had requested me to contribute for a blog that he and his friends were operating. I had agreed but never found an opportunity to contribute. I congratulated him over his success of grabbing the best paper award at a recently held conference. He was happy and elated, though our conversation revolved around current phase of resistance politics in Kashmir, student union elections, Indian Muslims and Islamic revivalist movements. He had been recently very active in the student elections at AMU campus. His campaign was instrumental in making a candidate be successful. We were in contact over social media till the fateful first week of January 2018 when the news splashed all over that he has joined the insurgent ranks. He left too without intimation to my utter shock. It was shocking for his family as well as close friends. I wrote about him earlier too and appealed to him to return as we needed him in research and academics where he would contribute better to research than in field with a gun slinging down his shoulders. He would offer better insights about resistance, politics and introspect the politics and resistance methodology better as compared to the field where he is devoting his energies.
At university I made friends across the divide that departments compartmentalize students with. I was enrolled as a student at Department of Political science, Kashmir university and had friends in other departments too. I made acquaintances across disciplines and sociology being a neighboring department had an added attraction for me. I completed my M.Phil in Political science. Rafi Muhammad Bhat of Sociology and me had a working relationship. We used to greet each other when we crossed paths. I left the university in 2014 but Rafi continued his doctoral studies after M.Phil. Earlier this year I met him at Lal chowk and he informed me that he has submitted his P.hd and now was working as contractual lecturer in the same department. I congratulated him for that and even invited him for coffee that he declined humbly. That was the last time I met him.
Till the time of his reportedly being missing we were in contact over social media where I used to get his regular updates. The two day protests at Kashmir university ultimately culminated with his killing alongwith four top militant commanders. When did Dr Rafi join? Who motivated him? Did university play a role in his radicalization? How was his environment driving him to the wall? When did he contact the militants? What did he hope to achieve after joining the militancy that a doctoral degree and brilliant career prospects did not offer him? If he already had inkling towards insurgency, then why did he undertook such a cumbersome journey of research and getting married too? Did the love for his wife too did not act as a deterrent? These all questions got buried alongwith Rafi. I lost another friend who too left without informing me leaving me behind with tears in eyes and unanswered questions.
I was just trying to come out of the Manaan Wani’s shock and death of Dr Rafi when the news again splashed that younger brother of my friend Syed Tajamul had joined the newly revived Al badr. Syed Rubaan is a young cricketer who has just completed his graduation. Earlier his cousin Syed Naveed had joined Hizbul Mujahideen after decamping with four rifles while working as a constable in J&K Police. I had never met Rubaan but called tajamul asking him about any options to bring Rubaan back. But he affirmed in negative as all doors for his return are closed.
With each passing day, more youth are joining the armed insurgency with families, friends and fellow students even not finding an opportunity to call for a farewell or say a proper Goodbye. Kashmir is a tinkering volcano and when it will erupt, its tremors will not only destroy Kashmir but have the potential to threaten the stability of whole Indian subcontinent.
No one is ready to tackle these burning questions that will stop the annihilation of our next generation. The perception of Kashmir being a God forsaken place is reinforced by the status quo of both India and Pakistan with whole world observing a complete lull.
M.H.A.Sikander is Writer-Activist based in Srinagar, Kashmir and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander