After deadly dusk, denial and dispute in Kulgam

Haroon Rashid’s one of several Facebook photos. [FPK Photo by Zishan Amiri]

The relation shared between the three fallen Kulgam youth is a mystery. How they got into one car – families claim to be completely unaware of. For police, the same is a matter of investigation.

It was Zara’s first birth anniversary on Thursday, October 29. But celebrations soon transpired into mourning as her father, Fida Hussain Itoo, instead of coming home with the birthday cake, returned dead.

At YK Pora village of Kulgam, Thursday evening was another bloody addition to the three-decade-old Kashmir conflict. 29-year-old Fida Hussain was killed alongside two others in a militant shooting outside a public prayer ground – Eidgah.

Residence of Fida Hussain Itoo at YK Pora village of Kulgam district [FPK Photo/Zishan Amiri]

On entering the Itoo residence on the second day of mourning, Saturday, one could hear the sounds of weeping women from inside the two-storey house. The slain Fida Hussain’s mother wailed the loudest, but father Gul Mohammad seemed emotionally composed. He may not have been prepared for this day, but, he was aware the clock was ticking on his son.

Fida Hussain was the youth general secretary of the right-wing Bhartiya Janta Party, and being its representative in Kashmir, comes at a heavy cost.

This year alone, at least seven party workers have been killed in various attacks by militants, of which, five took place in the hotbeds of south Kashmir.

There’s heavy resentment on ground against Narendra Modi’s BJP, so much so, that even Gul Mohammad was never in favour of his son’s political affiliation – or – as he calls it, “the political thirst”.

“When I realised he has dwelled deep into this circus of politics, I gave up; but I kept pursuing him to at least leave BJP and join any other party. But, he had only one answer in return – ‘Leave it to me, this is beyond your understanding’.”

Now that Gul Mohammad tries to make sense of his son’s political choices, he reasons: “You know, there are several aspects you take into consideration before coming to a decision. It wasn’t any different with my son; it’s just that, in Kashmir, the reasons are complex. Maybe, he just wanted to secure himself with the perks of being a BJP politician: the army and the police won’t bother you, you enjoy power and attention…

“…And then of course, he was ambitious.”

Father of Fida Hussain, Gul Mohammad, is a teacher by profession. [FPK Photo, Zishan Amiri]

Fida Hussain had a bachelors degree in Pharmacy, which never transpired into a profession. His political career floated around four years ago when he joined BJP, but that barely filled his pockets. Thus to sustain his family, he would do odd jobs like buying and selling cars.

Not that Fida Hussain was unaware of the danger to his life. Only in July this year he had demanded personal security from the senior party members, but was denied.

He was given the option to live in one of the accommodations in a heavily ‘secured’ hotel in Pahalgam, about 60 kilometres from his home. He even stayed there at one ‘Dolphin hotel’ for three weeks, according Kashmir police chief, Vijay Kumar, but then left it on his “own will”.

His father says: “He could not stay away from his family. How could he? He had a daughter; he had a wife whom he married only two years back.”

“But then, he was destined of this separation,” he says, as his tone lowers, “There must be God’s will…”

Abdul Rehman Hajam was in his prayers at the nearby mosque when he heard a series of gunshots that went on for about 10-15 seconds. It was around 8:00 in the evening.

When he returned, he noticed his neighbours gathered outside his residence. “If only I knew one of those bullets had my son’s name written on it,” he exclaims. His son Umar Hajam was on the backseat of the same car which was attacked by the militants. He succumbed to a fire that pierced through his abdomen.

Abdul Rehman with the photo of his son, Umar Hajam. [FPK Photo, Zishan Amiri]

Lashkar-e-Toiba backed militant outfit The Resistance Front has owned responsibility for the killings.

In a warning note, it termed the trio as the ones “trying to weaken the resistance”.

As per IG Kashmir Vijay Kumar, the militants behind the killings have been identified as Nisar Ahmed Khanday and Abbas Sheikh.

At least 7,000 political workers have reportedly lost their lives in militant attacks since the uprising in 1990s.

The BJP, meanwhile, has blamed the Kulgam police for their “lax” attitude towards ensuring security to its party workers. One of BJP’s prominent faces, Altaf Thakur, accused: “Our district president had raised the issue of these militant threats with SP Kulgam in a recent meeting, but it has remained unaddressed.”

BJP president for Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, Ravinder Raina, along with Altaf Thakur, had visited the Hajam and Itoo family the very next day. “These workers sacrificed their lives for the tricolour and this country. Their blood will not go to waste,” Raina had said.

But oddly so, Abdul Rehman claims Umar had no affiliation with the party. He says his son’s “blood was innocent”.

“Umar had nothing to do with BJP. He was not even aware of the day-to-day politics. He was still studying, a semester away from securing his graduation,” he says.

Alongside pursuing academics, 24-year-old Umar was also slowly establishing his business. He owned a goods truck, and also drove it when needed. Only a night before his killing, he had returned home after a 25-day work-trip from Tamil Nadu.

His father repeats, “He was never associated with the BJP…”

At Sopat village, six kilometres from YK Pora, is the residence of Haroon Rashid Beigh, one among the three slain. Outside his residence, a relative was scrolling through Haroon’s Facebook profile; he was interrupted when I confirmed with him. On knowing I was a reporter, he straightaway continued: “Look at his profile, does it look like he carries any political interest? He was 21. He had everything he wanted – car, money, clothes, whatever he wished for. Why would he join BJP?”

Mother of Fida Hussain swarmed by mourners. [FPK photo, Zishan Amiri]

None of Haroon’s family members, however, wanted to come on record. The way the family has distanced itself with the BJP is noteworthy. Haroon’s another relative asked me upfront to not “touch the political aspect, whatsoever”. He even appealed to not mention any of it in the report.

“I do not have much to say,” the relative, in his mid 40s, said, when I sat with him for the interview. “He was his father’s only son, survived by mother and a sister. He had a diploma degree in electrical engineering from Kulgam Polytechnic. That’s all we can tell you.”

This relative had reached the shooting site an hour after the assassination. It was Haroon’s car in which the three laid lifeless on their seats. “Three of the four side-windows had bullet marks. They were killed from a close range,” he described in brief.

On inquiring further, he said the three were left dying inside the car for almost an hour past the shootout. “No one dared to rescue them,” he says, “the people only kept staring from the distance.”

The car was at halt when the attack took place. It was carried out in a secluded spot inside of Yeshipora locality, five kilometres from Haroon’s home, and a kilometre from Fida Hussain’s and Umar Hajam’s.

The relation shared between the three is a mystery. How they got into one car – families claim to be completely unaware of. For police, the same is a matter of investigation.


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After deadly dusk, denial and dispute in Kulgam
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