Ever since Burhan Wani’s killing in July 2016 and subsequent Operation All Out in June 2017, the rebel ranks in Kashmir have been surging. One of the latest additions is Islamabad’s M Phil scholar, whose decision has once again shifted focus on Kashmir’s lingering political problem.
On April 1, when 13 insurgents fell to the biggest counterinsurgent strikes of the last decade in southern Kashmir, a blonde boy—tense, tearful—emerged near the smouldering rubble of a residential house at Dialgam, Islamabad. As the blasted encounter site sent out curls of smoke, he stood motionless, turned sullen and finally walked away to silently take part in the militant funeral.
The boy happened to be the second cousin of the fallen (teen) insurgent, Rouf Khanday, who had dramatically sent back his parents, besides turning down the repeated olive branch appeals from the Islamabad police chief, Altaf Khan.
Twenty days later, on April 20, at around 2 pm, the boy’s younger sibling, Shakir Wani rushed home with a smart phone in his hand. Amid wheezing, he raised a cry, “Mummy, Seth Bhai cholmut Mujahidan seeth” (Mother, Seth Bhai has joined militants.)
Picture of Seth Bhai who goes by the name of Zubair Wani had appeared on the social networking site in the signature insurgent style of announcing the new rebel recruits in Kashmir. The shocked sibling refreshed his Facebook page, and found another picture, with a clear face.
The boy’s seething silence at his militant cousin’s funeral had apparently come full circle with his picture, wherein he dons fatigues and brandishes AK-47 rifle.
In his native Dehruna village in Islamabad, 29-year-old Zubair’s viral photo has already made the “Samaritan” a new talking point. Many are expressing disbelief—as the pious and progressive boy had no police record or part in any anti-India activities.
Zubair’s mother Rasheeda Begum repeatedly clutches the hem of her headscarf inside her home, raising her head upwards, to pray, “Wan kar’nas khuda panin rash cho’pair” (Now, Let Allah save him wherever he goes.)
On 19 April, after having lunch, Zubair left home for appearing in Service Selection Board (SSB) teacher’s entrance examination. The exam was scheduled to be held in Srinagar, two days later.
“It was Thursday when Zubair left for Srinagar. He told us that in Kashmir anything can happen on Friday. So, it is better for him to reach his destiny a day before,” says Rasheeda. “I told him to call us upon reaching Srinagar.”
ALSO READ: AMU research scholar joins Hizbul Mujahideen
But when his call didn’t come, Rasheeda and her husband Muhammad Afzal Wani, a farmer, repeatedly called their son, but his number was switched off. “Hundreds of evil thoughts crossed parent’s mind when their son remains out of reach for long time,” says Afzal. “We were waiting for his call, until we saw his photograph on Facebook with a gun.”
Zubair followed the footsteps of scores of Kashmiri boys who gave up their well-settled lives and careers to fight the war of attrition against the Indian state in Kashmir. The so-called “hounded history” apart, many say, it’s a sense of conviction which remains a common thread in these rebel recruitments.
Zubair has done Masters in Political Science from Bhopal, Masters in Philosophy (M Phil) from Rajasthan, Bachelors in Education (B Ed) from Srinagar. In 2014, he took admission in PhD. He left it a year later and returned home, following an illness.
“He was hard worker and had good interesting in education,” says Afzal, his father. “He deserved to be treated well. I preferred to sell my property to give him better education.”
Back home, he started working at a consultancy where he used to help students in getting admission outside the state. In 2015, Zubair got a job in a private company in Saudi Arabia. After spending around 2 months there, he again fell ill and was forced to return home.
Later, he began working as a broker in bike business—and would simultaneously prepare for the SSB and Naib Tehsildar entrance exams. “He always remained stuck to his books,” the mother says. “He spent around Rs. 20,000 on JKSSB forms.” But now, all that has changed.
Since his militant forays, the small piece of ground near his house where he used to play cricket and volleyball with his friends lies deserted.
“What can we do?” Afzal asks, sitting on the right side of his wife. “It was Zubair’s own decision. We can’t interfere in this matter. Yes, we were looking after him and had attached our every hope with him. But he chose his own path.”
Zubair has three sisters and one brother. Among them, two of his sisters are married. Few months back, one of his sisters turned widow following her husband’s death due to a heart attack. She now lives with her parents, along with her two kids.
“Allah sent him to us,” the mother says, smiling. “We cherished him. Nourished him. Gave him a good education and sent him back. That’s it.”
Like this story? Producing quality journalism costs. Make a Donation & help keep our work going.