By: Khursheed Wani
The killing of an off-duty army officer Ummer Fayaz Parray in South Kashmir’s Shopian district is indicative of the explosive situation in South Kashmir. The killing took place close to the heels of a massive crackdown of around 20 villages in the district, which was till recently a bankable bastion of ruling People’s Democratic Party. Parray is the second army man from south Kashmir killed in the past three months. On February 23, lance-naik Mohiuddin Rather, a resident of Bijbehara was killed among three soldiers and a local lady in an ambush by Hizbul Mujahideen militants at Muluchitragam.
Each time an Indian army soldier belonging to Kashmir dies in combat or otherwise, it triggers a debate. Ummer’s killing is shocking. He was a promising young man, perhaps oblivious to the explosive situation in the area. His long time absence from Kashmir due to training and duty had perhaps misled him. He didn’t know during this period, the political and security coordinates of the area, where his maternal home is located, had drastically changed.
The unresolved political conflict of Kashmir is the mother of all smaller conflicts and dichotomies within the society, one of them being the social response to the killing of a native policeman or an army soldier. During the Kargil war, a soldier from Srigufwara Muhammad Akbar’s coffin came to his village. He was buried without any media glare. Nobody celebrated his ‘bravery’ as was done everywhere outside Kashmir. I visited his home once. His parents lived in penury.
Unlike Akbar’s hamlet, there is village called Dab in Ganderbal district. A soldier from this village died in an operation in Kupwara few years ago. He was given a heroic farewell as his coffin wrapped in Indian Tricolour arrived in the village. Many village boys called him their role-model.
And, most curious case was Rather’s funeral at a village near Kanelwan in Bijbehara on February 23, this year. No sooner did his coffin arrive in a chopper directly from XV corps headquarters after a wreath laying ceremony, the villagers took custody of the body from the army. The soldiers, who had arrived to offer military honours to their colleague, were asked to stay away. The body was washed afresh and put in a wooden coffin reserved in local mosques. The army coffin was thrown away and the new coffin was covered with a green chadar. The local villagers offered his funeral prayers. One of them poignantly said, “He was a soldier of the Indian army but he was also our village boy, our neighbour. We have grown up together. How can we abandon him and dissociate with him.”
A Rashtriya Rifles soldier who died in a boat capsize incident during 2014 floods was buried in ‘martyr’s graveyard’ at Dadsara in Tral close to the grave of his friend who died as a militant. The villagers say they were fast friends and had chosen different ways in their life without impacting their friendship. Incidentally, Dadsara has always been a bastion of pro-freedom militancy. This village also has the dubious distinction of being the home of Muhammad Amin Naik, who became the first Kashmiri Muslim general of the Indian army and retired as lieutenant general a few years ago.
In early 1990s, there were only a few serving Kashmiri soldiers in the Indian army, mostly with the Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry. A dominant majority of these soldiers belonged to border areas. Over the years, their number has swelled, thanks to massive recruitment rallies and shrinking of alternate employment opportunities. Presently, in south Kashmir region alone, around 30 commissioned officers and more than 3,000 soldiers are with the Indian army. Many soldier take early retirement and avail special quota in recruitment of bank guards and public security.
It is difficult to draw conclusions but the ground situation reflects quite varied responses from Kashmiri youngsters. On one occasion, we see them confronting armoured vehicles with stones and showing bare chests to soldiers with no fear of getting killed. On another occasion, we see these youngsters jostling at an army recruitment rally, elbowing out others to steal a chance to wear the olive greens. This is true with the recruitment in the state police as well. Notwithstanding the recent unprecedented advisory to policemen to avoid visiting their homes in south Kashmir, there are hundreds of policemen serving in the constabulary to eke out their livelihood. The conflict in police rank and file is more seminal. There is a policeman who chased away stone-pelters in old Srinagar and fired teargas shells on them. Back home in Tral, he attended funeral prayers of Burhan Wani and served food in a community langar meant for mourners who thronged his area from every nook and cranny of the valley in July last year. Since the last year’s uprising when mobs turned against police, the policemen have begun concealing their identity. They have forged identity cards with them. This is a fact but on the other hand a mere mention of police recruitment mouth-waters many a young men and they begin to submit their documents. A senior police officer recently commented that bachelor policemen are the most sought after. Even the recent initiative of recruitment to lady police is gaining huge currency.
The debate on this conflict will continue as long as the political conflict remains. We have not seen morality in armed conflicts. One scholar aptly said that soldier is always in uniform as a militant is always in combat, whether armed or not. Many people regretted Fayaz’s killing exactly as once Mehbooba Mufti regretted Mujahid Masood’s custodial killing when he was picked up from Pampore, unarmed, and killed in a fake encounter. His body was found in the same manner as Fayaz’s. Masood, one of the Hizbul Mujahideen commanders who engaged in dialogue with Indian home ministry officials in 2000, had shunned violence, was a scholar of high caliber and wrote poignant articles in Urdu. He too was incidentally from Kulgam and became one of the first victims of custodial killings in Mufti Muhammad Sayeed’s first tenure as chief minister.
Fayaz belonged to Rajputana Rifles, which is not known in Kashmir for its battle history but for Kunan Poshpora mass rape. His death in youthful days brings tears to eyes. He deserved a bright career but his association was not most likeable to all Kashmiris. How long this conflict continues, no one knows. Or will it ever end?