Here People Rush To Save-Militants And Are Ready To Die Doing So

KULGAM: A leafless resurgent Chinar tree with a large hole in its trunk stands unscathed at the site of February 13 encounter at Frisal, Kulgam which killed four militants, two soldiers and two civilians. The house that stood next to it and where the militants were holed up stands razed. The place is now frequented by curious onlookers, some of whom linger a while to talk to the villagers. The conversations are matter-of-fact, generally confined to getting a first-hand account of the gunfight. It is only when this exchange steers towards the politics of the incident that a new Kashmir discourse is drawn in sharp relief. And in this discourse, the militants are the unambiguous heroes, security forces an abomination and the jihadist path only sane response to prevailing “injustice”.

“Jihad is the only way to end oppression,” says Mudasir Ahmad, a gangling youth in his twenties. “You forgot how many were killed and blinded last year?”

The encounter at Frisal had begun in the middle of night and according to villagers by the time the dawn broke, two security personnel and a civilian had already been killed.  It was then that the villagers rose up in revolt. Soon, more youth came from the adjacent villages, appearing from behind the denuded nearby hillocks, shouting slogans and throwing stones.

What is more, they were pushing closer, trying to gherao the encounter site in their bid to help militants escape. Brought to bay, the security forces fired bullets and pellets at the advancing crowd, killing a civilian identified as 22-year-old Mushtaq Ahmad Itoo of the adjacent Hatigam village. Fifteen other protesters sustained bullet injuries and several others were wounded by pellets, two of them in the eyes.

The militants were killed in the afternoon and the house was dynamited, leaving no trace of it on the ground. Army sanitised the site and left. The old Chinar with a large hole in its trunk, however, stands, belying the violence that took place under its sprawling branches.

It was Frisal encounter followed by successive encounters in North Kashmir’s Hajin and Handwara in which Army lost four personnel which prompted Army chief General Bipin Rawat to warn the protesters disrupting encounter sites. At Hajin, the protesters had allegedly helped three of the four militants escape. And two days later at Urivan hamlet of Pulwama district, Army had to abandon an operation after facing stiff resistance from local people who in hundreds hit roads and pelted stones.

“Now, our nation will be freed,” says Ghulam Rasool, 70, at Frisal, recalling with pride the lack of fear among youth and the defiance of Army in their bid to reach the trapped militants.  “Now, our nation will be freed”.

He also praised “today’s militants” compared to their “nineties’ forerunners”, saying the latter were more into pursuing their ‘personal gain’ than Azadi. “When the nineties’ militants entered a home, they demanded meat and chicken for their food. Not today’s militants. They pay you for the food and eat frugal meals,” says Ghulam Rasool. “Today’s militants are into jihad to earn the blessings of Allah. Not to lord over the land and people. This is why people support them and are ready to die saving them”.

Ghulam Rasool’s simple rationale is a common refrain across the area, even among the families of the deceased or active militants. Sons are said to have taken up gun in response to ‘zulm’, ‘fulfilment of God’s wish’ and Azadi. For them, it seems unthinkable that there could be any other alternative to militancy. Jihad is a given, a way of life and only option if things have to change for the better. Biggest disillusionment is the loss of faith in the system.

“My brother was killed under torture by security forces,” says Mohammad Shafi, brother of Ishfaq Reshi another civilian who lost life during Frisal encounter. “We would have gone looking for justice. But has anybody before us got it.”

In the neighbouring villages, the opinion is little different. Youth know the names of the local militants by heart, hero-worship them and show every inclination to follow in their footsteps. The jihad graffiti is all over the place, across the walls and even the sides and facades of houses. There are ‘Burhan parks, Burhan markets and Burhan playgrounds’.

Families of militants talk of their sons disappearing for no reason and then surfacing in social media videos wielding Kalashnikovs. One of them was the blogger Abdul Basit, 22-year-old son of a banker – Ghulam Rasool Dar. On October 11 he left home for mosque to attend his evening prayers but didn’t return. After days of frantic search, Dar was informed by the police that Basit had joined Hizbul Mujahideen. He was killed 53 days later in an encounter at Marhama. Basit hadn’t called his family once in these days, not even his mother!

“I don’t understand what happened. He was a normal child. He never gave an indication of what was going on in his mind. Never discussed politics or Azadi which would have alerted me,” Dar told the Kashmir Observer as his eyes grow moist. “But what has happened to me and the other parents, I don’t want others to go through the same experience. It is painful to lose your child. Please do something about this problem over Kashmir.”

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