The families of at least 30 active local militants have told the police that they have no contact with their sons since they left their homes to join the militant ranks.
A source told Kashmir Post that the family members of these militants were called to the circuit house in Shopian on Tuesday for an “interaction session” which the police said was aimed at “reaching out to the families of youth who have joined the militant ranks to get them back into mainstream.”
‘No idea about his whereabouts’
Bashir Ahmad Malik, a prosperous orchardist from Harmain village in Shopian, told the top police officials that he had no contact with his son ever since he left his home for a university in Srinagar five months ago. Aamir Malik, 23, a postgraduate student, has joined the militant outfit Lashkar-e-Toiba.
The interaction session with these families was attended by senior police officers including SP Pani, the deputy inspector general of police (South Kashmir), senior superintendent of police Shopian Sriram Ambarkar Dinkar and a team from the Shopian police “in a bid to call back their near ones”, a police handout read.
“My son was doing post-graduation in history and left his home for Srinagar five months back to attend his classes. Since then we have no idea about his whereabouts. We looked for him everywhere and also enquired from his friends about him, but to no avail. He never met us,” Malik told the police officials.
Malik said that he had no idea that his son would take “this step.”
“He wasn’t harassed by any security agency. He never showed any inclination towards militancy. If I knew it once, I would have tried my level best to stop him from taking this step,” Malik told the police officials, who assured him of “facilitating” his return in case he is able to convince his son to “come back.”
‘No Contact with him’
The family of Aasif Malik, 20, from Malik Gund village expressed similar views before the police officials.
Malik, a student of bachelors in computer applications, has joined Hizb-ul-Mujahideen three months back.
“My son never faced any harassment by security agencies. But he suddenly went missing two months back without saying a word to any of his family members, relatives or friends. He never tried to contact us during these three months. We got to know about his joining militancy after his photo carrying a gun went viral on social media,” his father Muhammad Ashraf told the police officials.
Why they joined militancy?
While many families maintained that their sons who joined militancy did it out of their own choice, there were others who accused the security agencies of “forcing their children to pick up arms.”
“My son was just holding a certain political ideology but he was harassed and booked under the Public Safety Act (PSA) several times since 2008 after which he chose this path,” Bashir Ahmad Turray of Bonbazar locality in Shopian town told the police officials, according to an official source.
Turray’s son, Zubair—affiliated with Tehreek-e-Hurriyat—escaped from police custody in Shopian early this year and joined the Hizbul Mujahideen ranks. Soon after his joining, he released a video on a social networking site, asserting that his “frequent harassment” was a reason behind his joining the militant ranks.
‘Our Sons were harassed’
The family of Bilal Ahmad, an employee in the public health engineering department, from Heff village—who joined Hizbul Mujahideen in early 2016— also accused the security agencies of harassing their son and implicating him in false cases, thus “forcing him to pick up arms.”
“My son was implicated in a false case of being an over-ground worker (OGW) of militant outfits and severely tortured,” his father Muhammad Yousuf told the police officials.
A source said that the police officials told the family of Zubair and Bilal that they were already aware of their sons’ cases.
The family of Yawar Itoo from Safa Nagar village of Zainapora told the police officials that government forces harassed them and resorted to ransacking of their house after he joined militancy.
Yawar, 18, a Hafiz-e-Koran (one who has memorised the entire holy Qur’an) and a student of religious seminary, joined the Hizbul ranks five months back.
“I met my son only once after he joined militancy and tried to convince him to return, but he refused. Later, our house was raided several times, goods ransacked and all family members beaten up. How could I convince my son to return thereafter?” his father Abdul Ahad Itoo asked.
Itoo, however, was assured by the police officials that his family won’t face any harassment in future and that they should continue with their effort to bring Yawar back.
“We will drop all charges against your son,” Itoo was told by the police, according to the source.
The source said that many families complained of harassment to their members and ransacking of houses during midnight raids by government forces, especially after their children joined the militant ranks.
“If it’s a fight between you and them (militants), why are you bringing us (family members) in between? Why are our houses being ransacked? Why are we beaten up and our other sons called to police stations and army camps?” the parents of some active militants told the police officials.
The source said that none of the family members of Saddam Paddar a Hizb commander hailing from Heff village, was present in the interaction session.
The families were called by the police and asked to report at the circuit house on Tuesday.
“We were told that police officials want to talk to us,” they said.
Shopian district, in particular its Zainapora-Wachi belt, is considered to be a hotbed of militancy in southern Kashmir and even after the “operation all-out” launched by the security agencies in May this year to “kill all militants”, there has been no let up in recruitment of local youth into the militant ranks, according to police officials.
More than 100 youth from southern areas of Kashmir, most of them from this district, have joined militancy this year, even as top commanders of Hizb, Lashkar and Jaish were killed in different gunfights with government forces.
A top LeT commander Wasim Shah of Heff village was killed in a gunfight with government forces in October.
However, other commanders including Zeenat-ul-Islam and Sadam Paddar of Hizbul Mujahideen are still active and security agencies consider them as a major challenge.
After the return of ace footballer Majid Khan of Anantnag town a week after joining the LeT ranks, the police and army have been constantly appealing to local militants to give up arms and return.
‘Interaction was fruitful’
The police termed the interaction session as fruitful, saying “our doors are open for those who shun the path of violence.”
“We assured the families of militants that the doors to mainstream are open to these misguided youth and every care will be taken for their dignified rehabilitation if they shun the path of violence,” the police handout read.
It further read that the DIG South Kashmir talked to every family separately and listened to them patiently.
“Some family members turned extremely emotional and burst into tears for their loved ones being on the path of death and destruction. Every family shared the circumstances in which their loved ones left their homes and joined militant ranks. Some of the recent efforts where arrests were made once the surrender offers were accepted, were appreciate by the audience. Such efforts have been able to bring a significant rise in the trust level between the police and public,” the handout further read, adding that the interaction was “indeed an extremely fruitful exercise and beginning of a new chapter in policing in the district.”