“Future of the great nation,” reads a hoarding of the Operation Sadbhavana project in a military base lawns near the Palhallan village in the northern Indian-controlled Kashmir. As per the project “the Indian Army undertakes various campaigns to develop literacy, women empowerment, public health and relief and rehabilitation in Jammu & Kashmir.” The project has been under criticism from the civil society and the people of the Valley that it is used as a tool of propaganda by India to strengthen her roots here.
A few meters away form the hoarding lives Sajad Khan. For him, in this sentence, nor the “nation” matters neither its “future”. While filling the details of his undergrad examination (year two) form, twenty-one years old Sajad says, “We don’t like the policies executed by the Indian authorities. We hardly see any element of wellbeing for our future in their system.”
At the age of 18, Sajad’s approach towards life changed. “It was the 2010 unrest. A phenomenal change was seen in locals of Palhalan village. My mindset also changed,” he tells me.
On 30 July 2010, a 14-year-old boy Adil Ramzan Sheikh was shot dead by the Indian paramilitary forces in the Sub-district hospital (Pattan), a five minutes drive from the village. Sajad says that initially the incident was attributed to him but later the people got the correct information. It was Adil. In the afternoon, Adil’s father was informed that his son had been shot and been taken to the Pattan hospital. After he was admitted in the hospital for treatment, the Indian paramilitary forces’ personnel raided the hospital and pulled Adil off the bed and shot him dead at point blank range.
“He was a school going kid, why did they kill him? We had the same names. I miss him,” adds Sajad. A month later, Adil’s killing was followed by the killing of six other locals. Feroz Ahmad Malik (21), Mohammad Ashraf Mir (34), Noor-ud- Din Tantray (23), Mohmmad Ramzan (43), Ali Mohammad Waza (31) and Ansar Ullah Tantray 28 were killed.
“They came, killed our boys in the holy month of Ramadhan without any reason. And then they come with the freebies like Sadhbavana but it will not help us,” says Haleema Begum, Sajad’s mother. Taking a Kangri (fire-pot) from his mother, Sajad agrees with her. Sitting next to him, in the room, his friend Javaid adds, “They can’t build trust among us. Recently, on the eve of Eid-ul-Adha they entered in our houses. Broke household things and left people
The people here believe that the village is very much affected by the ongoing conflict in the region. “My father was a militant in the armed resistance of 90s. He was killed. Javaid’s cousin was also killed in a gunfight in 2010,” says Sajad, dragging the Kangri under his woolen cloak. With teary eyes, he talks about his father Khazer Mohmmad Khan, whom he never saw.
“I miss my father. I also miss my teacher, Hilal Sahab, who taught me several good things about life,” says Sajad, while showing the pictures of the funeral of Hilal Ahmad Rather (his teacher) from a local newspaper.
Hilal alias ‘Hilal Molvi’ was a stone-thrower during 2010 mass protests and joined Lashkar-e-Toiba – a Pakistan based militant outfit, in October 2012. Police had lodged several complaints and filed cases against him in various incidents. Hilal’s father, Ali Muhammad Rather, doesn’t agree with that. “After he failed in class 10 at school, I admitted him at a Darul-Uloom (Islamic Seminary School), Bandipora from where he got a degree in Islamic studies. Later, he went to Darul-Uloom Deoband [in India] and returned in 2008,” Muhammad tells The Kashmir Walla.
“After his return he taught at a Darul-Uloom in Sopore and Baramulla and came back to Palhallan in 2010,” adds Muhammad. His father believes that the summer of 2010 changed Hilal’s attitude for forever. “My son never accepted cowardice in his life. He was forced to pick up arms.”
Muhammad believes that his son was a man with a mission, a mindset to work for his religion and people. “His mother once asked him about his marriage. In reply to her, Hilal said that someone else is waiting for him in the world beyond this,” says Muhammad, wiping tears from his face and adds, “He meant Heaven.”
This village stands unique and has taken an active part in the ongoing Kashmir resistance movement. A report, published by a Delhi based magazine (Tehelka) in 2011, “They Call Palhalan The ‘Kandahar Of Kashmir’. Here Is Why It Might Yield New Recruits For Militancy,” mentions more than 325 people from 150 households of the village have been killed since the armed insurgency started against the Indian rule in late 80s.
Sajad believes that 23 May 2013, when Hilal was killed, was a day of great loss for the village. “We lost our guide and mentor, he taught us how to raise the voice against the tyranny.” Sajad thinks that the youth of Palhallan have no other option than fighting the occupation. He considers the present scenario of the village as the major consequence of the innocent killings; judgments based on the enforced confessions, Illegal arrests and much of the Public safety Act (PSA) arrests.
“We have no other option. Today our friends roam, eat and talk with us and tomorrow they are killed in front of us. Our education and future is our youth but they are chopped like carrots and turnips, how come we could attain a great future,” concludes Sajad, as he completes filling all the details in his form.
Photograph by Shahid Tantray