Zakir Musa through the eyes of his sister

Ever since he left home, Zakir Musa’s sister wondered about her trendy sibling’s ‘survival on biscuits’ in the hostile woods, when back home he would spend thousands to maintain his daily lifestyle. Some 2150 odd days later, as he returned home on his final journey, the sibling spoke about him like never before.

Disturbed with the way New Delhi-based media reported Zakir Musa’s death and his imagined relationship with women, Shaheena (not her real name) is holding her horses. Amid “propaganda”, Musa’s sister is adhering to her brother’s parting word: Sabr.

The two siblings shared the same plate and roof, and played under the shadow of the tree standing tall in their garden, for years. And yet, when the parting moment came, barely six kilometres from their residential address, they couldn’t even bid farewell to each other.

As the fallen commander and his combative worldview is currently being debated and reported, the sibling quietly watches the emergence of the ‘redefined’ Zakir — the one she always knew, when he was still riding those fast bikes in unruffled lanes of his hometown and carrying a typical teenager’s no nonsense attitude.

He came from Noorpur, Tral’s well-educated and well-settled Bhat family.

On one side of their residence, lies his elder brother’s consultancy clinic, while on the other side, huge posters of the native Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind’s chief—killed in the wee hours of May 24—have come up.

FPK Photo/Afshan Rashid

In many of these posters, he’s standing with his “idol” Burhan Wani and his deputy-buddy, Soliha—the one among the six insurgents killed in a cave gunfight in Tral at the fag-end of 2018.

The residence appears under watch, given its proximity with the nearby Indian Army camp.

The vehicles carrying mourners regularly pull over at the family gates. The pathway ahead is littered with rose petals. In the family courtyard, women and men sit in two different tents.

Signature wailing over loved one’s departure is missing. Instead tearful mourners are wearing smiling faces at Zakir’s place. His mother asks visitors to pray for her son.

A young girl walks us to the room of the fallen insurgent, graced by his smiling sister.

Shaheena, Zakir’s sister, is 9 years elder to her 24-year-old Shaheed.

As she feeds her daughter, she admits Zakir missed holding her. Hers is the most illuminated face in the room.

“I’m not in a condition to say anything,” she politely says.

But in next ten seconds, she starts jogging down memory lane, starting from the time when Zakir was a child, to the time when she had last seen him, some ‘one and a half year back’.

“He [Zakir] was an extremely sensitive child, especially when it came to social issues,” the sibling recalls. “He could never bear the pain of others. He was a submissive son. Whenever his father [Abdul Rashid Bhat, a senior engineer working with the state government] scolded him, he would quietly listen, with his head down.”

Although both her brothers have been friends with Shaheena, she shared a strong and special bond with Zakir, who would often leave home in new clothes and ‘return in rags’.

Mourners at Zakir Musa’s home. (FPK Photo/Afshan Rashid)

“As a schoolboy,” she says, “Zakir would often exchange his new uniform with poor students and his friends and then justify it by saying: ‘While I can afford a new uniform, not everyone else can.’ What would you tell to such person!”

The boy would seldom wear his clothes second time, Shaheena says. “But once he left home, we distributed his belongings among the needy during 2014 floods.”

His insurgent foray, however, did take his family by great surprise, making them recall his predictive words upon scolding: Don’t worry. It’s for the time being. One day, people will know you by my name!

Incidents kept happening, and shaping Zakir’s life.

As a restless boy, his sister continues, he was never satisfied with the idea of securing a job, getting married or having children.

“He was mentally strong, emotionally tough and steadfast in his beliefs,” she says. “Zakir would say what others hesitated to say. He was looking for something divine that could give him some relief, and he found it.”

But before he would leave for the woods, Shaheena recalls, Zakir had figured in stone pelting cases and faced police summons.

“One time, he was in Jammu for his studies when a militant named Saifullah’s martyrdom triggered clashes in Tral,” she says. “Being in Jammu and still being charged with stone pelting is strange. He was pestered for things he had never been involved in.”

To keep him away from his hometown tensions, his family sent him to Chandigarh to study engineering from Ram Devi Jindal Group of Professional Institutions.

Before leaving home, Shaheena would watch Zakir spending considerable time in his small room, reading Islamic literature. It shaped his understanding.

“And then, he would argue that we people offer prayers, give charity and fast for a month, and yet lie and eve-tease,” the sibling recalls.

But still, the Bhats of Noorpur were happy for their son, who was now following his father’s footsteps as an engineering student.

However, the summer of 2013 was going to change it.

A life size poster of Musa with Soliha inside his home. (FPK Photo/Afshan Rashid)

That year, he returned from Chandigarh to attend his brother’s wedding.

Back home, he had insisted to have the same dress, as his groom brother was wearing. His mannerism conveniently defied his soon-to-be surfaced defiance. He worked passionately and enjoyed every moment of his brother’s marriage.

Just before he would leave for his college, he was supposed to visit a dentist in Srinagar for a root canal. He skipped his treatment and instead rushed towards the woods.

“Initially, we thought he might’ve gone for an excursion with his friends,” Shaheena recounts. “But once we received his letter, things became clear.”

The letter had arrived along with some of his articles. It clearly stated that he had burnt his bridges: Stop searching for me; I’ve found my path.

With that, he was no longer Zakir Bhat.

He was given a striking nom de guerre—Musa—a name given to someone with a distinct personality, who’s hard to read at times.

His new name suited him, Shaheena says, given how he had surprised many during his insurgent stint.

But despite making uneasy peace with his sibling’s decision, Shaheena often wondered about Zakir’s survival under the open skies. In some of his viral video clips, he can be seen braving chill and snow in an open field, along with his colleagues.

“He was habitual of spending thousands of rupees on his daily routine,” the sister says. “But now, he was mostly surviving on biscuits and sleeping under open skies. His patience indeed determined his cause.”

To begin with, Zakir had joined Hizbul Mujahideen, along with his pal and playmate, Idrees.

“Idrees, Zakir and Parvez were three close friends,” the sister says. “Like Zakir, they were also hounded by forces on pretext of questioning, so much so, that they were forced to pick up the gun. They were martyred before him.”

Zakir with Burhan Wani and Soliha.

Being a militant’s relative, however, comes at its own cost for families in Kashmir. And Zakir’s family wasn’t an exception.

By the time he would broadcast his final words from his safe house in Tral’s Dadsara area, the family had braved exhaustive summons, checking, surveillance.

The “witch hunt” ran parallel with the daily anticipation of the fatal news. Even on the professional front, Shaheena, the ex-banker had to constantly grapple with the armed forces. “They would come to my office in Aripal in plainclothes to build pressure on my brother,” she says.

During this troubled period, she got married. Later, she says, forces even came to her in-laws’ place, prompting Zakir to release an audio, wherein he asked them not to involve families.

On the combat zone, Shaheena’s sibling initially stayed low-key, even as his comrades were greatly faring on social media for their arms adventure. Zakir mostly avoided the camera that popularised new age militancy in Kashmir.

He didn’t even figure in that iconic picture of 2015—showing eleven insurgents clicking akin to Chechyan rebel style. That photo took the internet by storm, making some sleuths to call it a watershed image “that eventually acted as a militant catalyst” in the valley.

A year later, as the central figure of that defining image of new-age militancy was killed along with his two associates, Zakir was named Burhan Wani’s default alternative.

Following twists and turns, Zakir, in 2017, took the Hurriyat leadership head on — distinctively warning to chop off their heads and hang them in Lal Chowk, if they come in his way of Jihad. He openly endorsed the struggle for Islam, in contrast to Hurriyat’s fight for the ‘political’ solution.

His parent outfit Hizb termed his views personal. In response, Zakir announced his dramatic breakaway from the Muzaffarabad-based militant leadership.

“When his first audio message went viral, he was misinterpreted,” Shaheena says. “Zakir only said what others wanted to say, but for the fear of reprisals, they hesitated. He was perceived wrong for saying that until and unless Kashmiris do not change from within and pray for Azadi, it won’t come.”

Zakir never believed his ideology was any different from those who opposed him, she says.

“He always said, ‘We all have the same goal but our ways are different.’ His belief was based on his extensive reading of religious texts and literature of our history that is long forgotten. All this made him stand tall on his holy path.”

Zakir wasn’t against Hurriyat, Shaheena asserts.

“He was only against their way. The mission was the same. He wasn’t counting on a third party like the United Nations, but on Allah’s help, saying, ‘How did Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) fight, without huge armies, and with countable faithful who believed in Allah’s help.’ The same religious belief didn’t make him hate informers. ‘It’s because of informers,’ he would say, ‘that we get to attain our goal: Shahadat.’ ”

Even if you see his last video, Shaheena says, Zakir doesn’t have fear on his face. “He knew his time had come and he happily embraced his martyrdom,” she says.

A grab from the last video of Zakir.

Around 6 kilometres away from his home, as Zakir got engaged in a gunfight with a posse of counterinsurgents on May 23, some random reports suggested that police shouted: Musa Musa… Zakir Musa—the slogan, that became popular during his lifetime, to track him down.

“But as per eyewitnesses, armed forces had taken two civilians inside his hideout as human shields,” Shaheena says. “They had called out on him. And to save them, he jumped out and attained his martyrdom outside.”

Soon, JK’s top cop Dilbag Singh termed it as the end of a certain militant ideology in Kashmir.

Back home, however, as it rained, a massive funeral awaited Musa.

“Such was the rush that when our father tried to tell mourners to bring him home, once, so that his mother could see his bandaged face, they wouldn’t listen. Neither my brother, nor my father could see him being buried. ‘People took care of him for all these years,’ our father told us, ‘let them take care of him now.’ ”

Zakir Musa’s funeral. (FPK Photo/Wasim Nabi)

Today, Shaheena is happy that no innocent person lost his life over Zakir’s passage “as he had wished”. She’s equally pleased with the timing of his martyrdom.

“Zakir would often quote examples of Jang-e-Badr during discussions,” Shaheena says. “And on the same sacred day, he returned to his Allah!”


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