July 28, 2022 8:38 pm

Beyond Mugshot, Fallen Cop Firing ‘Panache’ in Kashmir’s Pendulum Shift

Mudasir aka Bindass.

Killing of two elite Kashmiri cops lately sent the state apparatus into a literal grieving. One’s killing at his doorsteps dreaded his homebound colleagues, while other’s passage during a brief firefight has created a “void” that his superiors are trying to fill by following his voguish legacy.

A star counterinsurgent officer of Jammu and Kashmir police makes no bones about the “narrative war” that the allied forces are waging in “Naya Kashmir” to achieve normalcy.

Among the targets and trajectories of this “peace project”, he says, is to create swag in an otherwise subdued or secretive security setup.

“After successfully silencing an anti-national shrill on social media, the focus has now shifted towards the branding of our uniformed heroes,” says the officer off the record.

“There’s an overwhelming feeling that unless you don’t honour your own heroes, nobody will—especially in the social media driven world. We saw how the online blitz created a larger-than-life image of militants in Kashmir in the recent past. But now the pendulum has shifted.”

The echo of that “pendulum shift” was lately heard in the parliament where the government thumped benches for the astronomical rise in Kashmir firefights since 2020.

“But the so-called Kashmir problem is no longer about fighting militants alone now,” another top officer this reporter contacted to understand ‘the shifting sands in state apparatus’ said. “It’s equally about checking a single-story narrative and hailing our unsung heroes bearing the brunt of militancy since 1990 now.”

To hail the “great sacrifices”, J&K police has been lately paying homage to the fallen cops on its social media handles. The tribute is seen as an exercise to create an ‘ecosystem of change’.

“But this whole exercise isn’t confined to the fallen heroes only,” the officer quoted above continued. “The aim is to celebrate the 100-thousand strong police force for its constructive role in the society.”

However, spearheading this ‘change’, literally from his grave, is a chic cop whose mugshot has now become a profile picture of its parent department.

Go-To Guy

A regular-height Sikh officer let out a deep sigh before speaking about his unswerving combatant. The secret cop of his stature leading a counterinsurgency unit isn’t trained in the art of speaking, but he’s making sure to spare words for his finest fighter, a new cult for the khaki brigade in Kashmir.

The fallen man from northern heights is being recalled as a modish man who brought swag to the otherwise guarded state ranks. The shift was seen polemic in the social media driven competing narratives.

But beyond brouhaha, officer Singh who commands his unit as Bajwa is despondent, so are his men — either basking under the afternoon sun or putting up glum faces while using cellphones in the lawn of an northern encampment.

Singh’s “go-to guy” is now resting in his grave—some miles away in his hilly hometown. From those rugged heights, he had descended as a “cop with a conviction” and left his mark during his passing policing period.

But ever since his fate was sealed, Bajwa has entered into a mournful state despite his department putting up the fallen cop’s mugshot as a new image of what’s being hailed as a “panache policing”.

The mugshot that Baramulla police has brandished on its social media shows a bearded cop—sporting twirled moustache and cap—holding AK-7 high in the air. The picture taken in a lush-green meadow has since then become a new symbol of the state swagger that mostly remained concealed in the blitz of “security reasons” till now.

“But Bindass was a league of his own who took the lead and broadcasted the powerful image of police on social media,” sentimental Singh recalls in between his intermittent silence.

In many of his images, the fallen cop stands out because of imposing physique and trendy looks. “He was an enterprising cop who always carried a tailor-made dagger at his hip,” Singh continues his musings inside his Baramulla office overlooking the river Jhelum.

“Besides style, Bindass was about his substance as well. He was part and parcel of the biggest operations that took place in and around Baramulla in the recent times, like the recent one.”

Bang on Power Street

It was a bolt out of the blue for the police rank and file when they faced a strategic grenade blast in one of their power streets in Kashmir. The attack which took place in Dewan Bagh area of North Kashmir’s Baramulla district on 17th May 2022 actually saw the active participation of a cop when a battery of sleuths were still trying to unearth the modus operandi.

It took gumshoes two hours to trace the identity of the mastermind behind the bang that consumed a life and left three others badly battered.

By the time furtive cops showed up at the hideout, the brain behind the blast had already left for his mother’s maternal home in the thick jungles of Sheeri, Baramulla.

Chasing him that night was Bindass forcing his way out to save his department’s reputation. He was being insistently looked for among the investigative parties but except only the six team members, his team leader and the district chief, none knew what was going on with him.

Perhaps, that’s why he was called Bindass—“the carefree, chic, and creative cop, who would investigate matters with his own wit”—in the police department.

This cop came from the convictional police family of North Kashmir’s Uri town. His family says that his passion for the uniform was something that persuaded him to leave aside his “safe and secure” job.

Hours after his solo-quest to Sheeri, a team in Baramulla town received the mastermind’s whereabouts which rested the case once and for all.

The guy whose thumping feat had traced the Lashkar-e-Taiba’s Falcon Squad militant, was a “daredevil cop” Mudasir Ahmad Sheikh alias Alfaaz alias Bindass, who days after bringing down curtains on the case lost his life in a ‘chance’ encounter.

Contemplative Chief

Inside Baramulla district police headquarters, Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Rayees Mohammed Bhat describes the episode of the firefight that claimed Mudasir’s life as a brisk and brief battle.

“This is where this guy was so good,” says SSP, with a long pause before pointing towards a picture of Mudasir in his chamber. “He made his presence felt everywhere.”

When Rayees first stumbled into Baramulla as a new district police chief, it was Bindass who received him by straightforwardly staring into his new boss’s eyes and clearly asserting that he’d be the one who would lead the new chief’s party.

Bindass was the only gunman leading the escort that day while the new SSP toured the old town to make his presence felt.

Bindass escorting SSP Rayees Mohammad Bhat in Baramulla town.

With time, the dependency was such that the police chief would get awed with his personality. “Not only was he well-groomed but he was stylish and had a presence,” Rayees says.

“And this was something which made me realize that every cop should be like him. I’d proudly exemplify Bindass in front of other cops while asking them to become more like him which would exponentially enhance their presence as a cop.”

Perhaps, that’s why, all of a sudden, this bonhomie materialized so much that Bindass would report cases of drug menace, counter-insurgency tip-offs and other serious cases directly to the SSP and because of which he became quite close to his new boss.

“In the one lakh police force, such people only form a very small percentage,” Rayees recalls the fallen cop’s legacy. “That least percentage makes Mudasir’s death a catastrophic loss. There’re a lot of brave fighters in our force but he was the one who had everything….from passion to conviction to humanity. He was a part of major anti-insurgency operations, which saw top militants being killed over the period of time. Mudasir was the cop of rare breed.”

On street patrol.

Back on 25th May 2022, J&K police had received specific inputs of a militant activity in Baramulla district. Acting on the intelligence provided, several nakas with dozens of counterinsurgents guarding and looking for any suspicious movement were put in place across the district.

One such naka point, with Mudasir leading from the front, was established at Najibhat crossing in the Kreeri area. In a jiffy, three Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) militants showed up and went berserk—opening fire on Bindass’s party.

“He was hit at the jugular vein by a steel bullet that had created a small exit point,” says SSP Rayees. “The damage was grievous and subsequently, he succumbed to his injuries!”

After a long, blank pause, the district police chief continued, “He was one of those cops who actually made a dependency for themselves in the department, given his conviction and pro-activeness in the entire police force.”

Lost Command

Inside his office space, pensive Bajwa breaks his long pause with a smile and pride.

Detailing Bindass’s procedures and counterinsurgency feats, the leader of six battle-hardened combatants says: “I don’t think we’ll ever have another Bindass. He was the bravest man I have ever seen who would put his own life at stake to save his colleague’s life.”

One such moment came on 20th August 2019, when Kashmir was reeling under communication crisis following the abrogation of Article 370.

That day, Baramulla police was tipped off about the presence of a militant. The input came at the dusk hours and the secret house was located in Ganie Hamam area of old town.

Soon the allied forces chalked out an actionable plan keeping the mercurial mood of the town in mind. As soon as the first party tried to barge in, the hiding militant threw a grenade towards it—killing SPO Bilal Magray and grievously injuring SI Amardeep Parihar’s abdominal area.

“No one from the force was stepping forward to pull out SPO Bilal and SI Amardeep,” Bajwa recalls. “Only two men from my team stepped forward. One of them was Bindass. However, my other boy wasn’t wearing any BP [bulletproof] vest. Without even a second thought, Bindass offered him his vest, saying, ‘You’ll have to live another day for your family….I can manage.’ ”

This hardihood would ultimately save the injured SI—later awarded with the President’s Police Medal for Gallantry.

Such stout acts not only made Bindass a “ready for action” cop, but also a favorite of his superiors. “Even if we had required someone to scan forests, he would be the one who was good at disguises,” Bajwa says. “He would reasonably inform the headquarters about every situation.”

All this actually substantiates that the only “man-hunter” behind the strategic operation which took place in Kreeri in August 2020—where a militant outfit called People’s Anti-Fascist Force (PAFF) shot several videos of firing at the armed personnel—would’ve been Bindass leading the operations from the front.

After two-day firefight, three militants including Sajjad alias Haider and foreign militant Taimur Khan alias Abu Usman became Mudasir’s prized catch.

“Unlike other members of elite SOG group who usually maintain a tough appearance,” Bajwa says, “Bindass was an easygoing and people-friendly cop. His jolly character made him a friend of friends.”

Such an image, Singh says, comes handy for branding. “For creating cults or heroes,” he says, “the public connection is must. And this is where Bindass was too good.”

The image that became mugshot of Baramulla Police.

For years, as the conflict-confrontations created hostile image of police force, many say, the hunt for heroes from the other side became a compelling task.

The void was somehow capitalized by the likes of Basant Rath with his public-friendly street policing.

“But Mudasir was more fitting in that format because of his street-smartness, native-identity and elegant-personality,” Singh aka Bajwa said. “He was a no-nonsense cop who knew his job and responsibility towards his department. He was our real change-maker.”

Perhaps, that’s why, his demise created a massive mourning in the police, political and media circles. And for a change, even a district police chief was seen leading from the front to pay a glorious tribute to his fallen combatant.

“In most of the cases, cops leave their job to find some risk-free vocation but in Bindass’ case, it was completely opposite,” SSP Rayees says.

“He had left his stint as a health worker for a much riskier job. But, he was certainly built to become a cop. He had panache and presence. It’s an irreparable loss.”

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Zaid Bin Shabir

Zaid Bin Shabir is a special correspondent at Kashmir Observer. He tweets @Zaidbinshabir
Zaid Bin Shabir

Zaid Bin Shabir is a special correspondent at Kashmir Observer. He tweets @Zaidbinshabir