Srinagar, April 07: Paddarpora, a small village nestled in hilly orchards of Shopian is mourning three young men, all cousins killed last Sunday not far from their homes in two gun battles with government forces.
A narrow alley leads to a row of houses belonging to Thokroo’s, homes of the three slain cousins – Ishfaq Ahmad, 24, Gayas-ul Islam, 19 and Rayees Ahmad, 18.
The village is a picture of mourning wails, heartbreak and stoicism.
People here are slowly coming to terms with their loss after receiving three bodies of the cousins, one after another within a few hours on the day when 13 militants and four civilians from the area were killed.
“On Sunday afternoon we received body of Rayees first and buried him. Late in the evening we were handed over the body of his cousin Gayas, charred beyond recognition. A few hours later another body, that of Ishfaq,” said an old neighbor, Ghulam Muhamad, busy making sure the bereaved families are fed.
“It was no less than a doomsday for us.”
The three slain cousins were all the youngest among their siblings in their respective middleclass families of orchardists.
The villagers are abuzz with stories of ‘martyrs’ they have counted since three-decade long and ongoing conflict. The main alleys are decorated with buntings and banners, with photographs of its young, killed fighting soldiers in earlier years, besides Pakistani flags. Photos of the three slain cousins are the fresh additions.
Gayas and Rayees, the two teenagers were first cousins. Ishfaq was their distant cousin.
Ishfaq used the nom de guerre Adnan after joining Hizb-ul-Muajideen some four years back. According to security agencies he is believed to have renewed militancy in Shopian along with Wasim Malla who died fighting government forces in early 2016.
Ishfaq and Gayas were killed in Kachdoora village, barely eight kilometers away from their home during a fierce gunfight with soldiers that lasted eighteen hours.
Gayas had just completed his higher secondary education when he picked up arms some 18 months back to join Hizb, following his cousin Rayees nine months after he had joined the rebel ranks.
Rayees fell to the bullets of government forces in an earlier encounter that barely lasted three hours in Dragad-Sugan, 17 kilometers away from his home in Shopian district.
“We are proud of all the three boys of our village, but the day will go down in history of Kashmir as a black day,” said a youth from among a group outside Gayas’ house.
“Everything happens with God’s will and we take it like that. Have no complaints whatsoever,” says Sameer Ahmad, elder brother of Gayas, a student of Jamiat-ul-Falah seminary in Azamgarh of Uttar Pradesh.
Rayees’ brother, Muzamil, also a student of the same seminary nodded in agreement.
A group of women gather around to look at the collage of photos of young men on a wall, trying to recall their names.
One of them recognised Rayees Thokroo, who had gone with Hizb and was killed in 2003.
“See this is Rayees’s brother. I never saw him after he left home to join Hizb in late nineties,” said a middle-aged woman pointing towards the photograph.
The scenes were no different in another village Amshipora, some 15 Kilometres away, home to another militant, Aitmiad Hussain, killed the same day. Hussain was an MPhil scholar and had qualified NET.
His father, Fayaz Ahmed Malik, a leading orchardist of the area put up a brave self receiving hundreds of mourners thronging his residence from all parts of the valley to offer solidarity with him.
Last November Hussain left home for the family’s other home in Srinagar. Three hours later his photograph brandishing an automatic assault rifle went viral on social media.
“When I met my son after that I tried to convince him to return. But his response left me speechless,” said Hussain’s father.
“He (Hussain) told me ‘if I give up arms and come back would you guarantee me I won’t die ever?’,” Malik said. “This was the first and last time I told him to come back.”
Call to father
When Hussain was trapped inside a military cordon on Sunday he made an emotional phone called to his father, the recording of which went viral on social media.
“Father, I have been trapped and won’t be able to escape. Please forgive me,” Hussain was heard saying to Malik, who kept on telling his son to remain steadfast.
“I cannot ask you to surrender,” Malik told his son showing absolute affection at the same time.
Malik was also heard talking to son’s associate Ishfaq who had received a bullet injury in his head and wanted to speak to his family, but before his father’s phone number could be found he died.
“After that call he made another call for about an hour. He talked to his mother, sisters and brothers,” says Malik, adding he kept on encouraging him to take a bullet on his chest.
“My son lived up to the promise… I feel contented with what my son has achieved,” said Malik defiantly.
As he was talking to this reporter some of the women mourners sitting in the adjacent makeshift tent started wailing, but Malik admonished them.
“It was Aitimad’s last wish that none among his family should wail over his death,” he said.
Hussain, the eldest son of Malik had completed MPhil from Hyderabad Central University and had applied for Phd in Pondichery University before taking to arms.
“Though he never showed any inclination towards militancy but he had a big library and was used to read lot. He was inspired by Syed Qutub, Hassan ul Bana and Maulana Maududi’s writings,” Malik said.