The bylanes of Hajin in North Kashmir's Bandipora district are seething with anger after the death of two teenagers in an encounter with security forces.
The two teenagers -- Mudasir Rasheed Parray,14, and Saqib Bilal Sheikh, 15, were killed in an 18-hour long encounter on December 9 in Mujgund on the outskirts of Srinagar.
Both the boys had left their homes on August 13 and never returned. Their families are at a loss to understand why they joined militancy.
Bilal’s father Bilal Ahmad Sheikh said his son was interested in cricket and football and he was a meritorious student and the family had no clue that he would join militancy.
Bilal’s uncle Ejaz Ahmad Sheikh said that the teenager had an interest in acting and would participate in plays. He had also done a small role in Vishal Bharadwaj’s movie Haider.
“He was a wonderful artist. He had also performed in Haider. He had cameo in the Bollywood picture and it was filmed at the Amar Singh College Srinagar,” Sheikh said while showing pictures of his nephew.
Haider is a 2014 Bollywood film written, produced and directed by Vishal Bhardwaj, and co-written by Kashmir author Basharat Peer. Khawar, who was the line-producer of Haider, said he has no information about it. “I don’t remember now,” he said.
Bilal studied in Class 11 before joining militancy. Across his residence is the house of Kuka Parray. Parray was the face of counterinsurgency in the state, who headed one of dreaded counter-insurgency group Ikhwan. He later became an MLA and was killed in 2003 by the Jaish-e-Mohammed. Ikhwan were the members of the pro-independence Ikhwan-ul-Muslimoon group founded by Parrey after he surrendered to the security forces in 1995.
Bilal’s friend Rasheed, who too was killed in the encounter, studied in class 8thand also worked as a labourer to help his father, who has undergone surgery twice for a ruptured disc.
“One day he went to play football with Saqib and didn’t return. I searched for him everywhere. There is no place where I haven’t gone to search for him. I was madly looking for him,” said Mudasir Rasheed’s father Abdul Rasheed.
He said he gave up the search after he saw the photograph of his son carrying a gun on social media. “What could have I done. I had no contact with him. He did not even have his mobile phone,” his father said, adding no one forced his son to pick up the gun and “he went on his own will”.
Mudasir Rasheed’s relatives say he was detained by the police in 2017 on charges of stone throwing, but was released after being reprimanded since he was young.
He was an excellent goalkeeper, recall his friends. “Whenever he would come to Sopore, he would play and spend time with me. But I never thought he would join militancy someday,” says his friend Majid Parray, who studies in class 9 and had come to Hajin to participate in the funeral.
Police sources said Mudasir Rasheed was the youngest militant being killed in the three decades of armed insurgency in Kashmir.
The death of the two boys has triggered anger and grief in Kashmir. Thousands of people participated in the funeral procession of the teenagers at Hajin.
While the Hurriyat Conference described the taking up of arms by the teenagers, “a consequence of ultimate repression by state”, the mainstream political parties consider it as an “alarming signs.”
“The growing levels of alienation and isolation are alarming signs and there is need to address it politically,” says Tanveer Sadiq, National Conference leader.
“When a 14-year-old loses his life in combat, it is time for all stakeholders, the society at large as well as the State to ponder --- where did we go so wrong? There are two wrongs here - the arming and indoctrination a child soldier and the failure to prevent it from happening,” said Junaid Azim Mattu, Mayor of Srinagar city.
Peoples Conference chairman Sajad Gani Lone said, “The killing of a 14-year-old is sad and scary. The administration should exhaust all non-military options when a minor is involved. Calling off such an operation is a better option. And the involvement of minors in a non-state military activity merits thought from the society.”