By Muda Tariq and Tamana Qari
“Abu ji, I’m sorry I couldn’t fulfill your promise,” a militant son tells his father.
On 1 April 2018, a boy in a small village of Amshipora village of Shopian district in South Kashmir breaks down over the phone upon hearing his brother’s quivering voice, saying, “Logsaya (May I perish for you), if I have committed any mistake, forgive me. I’ve been cornered.” He then tells his family members, in the room, “Brother is trapped.”
On the other side of the call was Aetimad Hussain, a 26-year-old MPhil Urdu student from Hyderabad Central University, who had left his home in November 2017 to join the militant ranks of the Hizbul Mujahideen outfit, leaving behind a grieving family that longed to hear his voice. The family finally received the much-anticipated call that announced his fast approaching death.
There has been an upswing in young boys joining the militant ranks, despite the growing intensity of government’s anti-insurgency operations in Kashmir. Over 100 youth have joined militant ranks in 2018 until now. While as in 2017, 207 militants were killed in major operations by the government forces. But even in their death, these young militants leave behind the last words that have a lingering effect.
A collection of such call recordings posted as videos, with photographs of militants overlayed, have millions of views on Youtube. These posts evoke a myriad of emotions ranging from intense acrimony, bereavement and sympathy to profound reverence for the militants.
“Please come home for a night someday, soon”
One such phone call was made by Sameer Ahmed Lone, a resident of Hillow village in Shopian, who joined the ranks of the Hizbul Mujahideen on 27 February 2018. He was classified as a Category ‘C’ militant.
Amidst the gunfight at Kachdoora in the same district, Sameer made a call to his family members. In the audio available, he tells his family members, “Seven of us are trapped out of which two have left. I don’t know if they have been successful (in escaping) or not. We have been fighting since 2:30 am.”
He expressed his desire to speak to the rest of the family members and the call gets handed over to his sister. His sister tells him, “Please come home for a night someday soon, why didn’t you ever call since you left?” To which Sameer replies, “We aren’t permitted to make calls. I’ll come home if it is in my destiny.”
As he continued to recite Quranic verses, the phone was handed over to Aappa, who broke down saying, “Sameero, what have you left me for?”; to which he replied, “Did I do anything? This all has been written by God.”
One of the first call of a death-bound militant
The first such recorded phone call of a death-bound Kashmiri militant dates back to 2012, of Muzamil Amin Dar alias Urfi, a Lashkar-e-Taiba commander. In his end-of-life conversation, he asked his family to be patient and to have faith in Allah. Sounding calm and composed, he told his family, “Don’t worry about anything, I don’t want anyone to weep at my funeral. By the will of Allah, we’ll meet in Jannat-ul-Firdaus (Heaven). Life is short, one day or the other, we all have to die, don’t we?”
Before the phone disconnects, sobbing women are heard from the other side.
In their last recorded conversations, militants generally do not talk about the politics in Kashmir, instead, their conversations are highly personal and religious. The male family members tend to be more stoic and pragmatic, while women are emotionally expressive; they wail and open up their reticence. The militants counsel their family members and use the concept of shahaadat (martyrdom) as a consolation for their stricken family members.
“If you can escape then do it”
In Kachdoora, after being hit by a bullet in his head Ishfaq Thokar alias Abrar told Aetimad’s father, “Don’t take any tension. We left for this purpose only, please pray that Allah accepts our Shahaadat.”
Aetimad’s father in the last call told him, “If you can escape, then do it. If there’s no chance, what can we do!”
Militants also seek forgiveness from their family members in these calls. On 4 May 2018, a 32-year-old Assistant Professor in the Sociology department of Kashmir University, Mohammad Rafi Bhat, left the campus at 3 pm. Rafi didn’t come home that night, his anxious family being clueless about him joining ranks, filed a missing report with the police on 5 May. On the next day as Rafi’s family finished their morning tea, Abdul Rahim Bhat, Rafi’s father, received the last call of his son in which he said, “I am sorry if I hurt you, I am going to meet Allah.”
The call hit Rafi’s family like a thunderbolt. Rafi, their son, was trapped in an encounter. The police, monitoring the calls from the encounter site, sent its team to Abdul Rahim Bhat, urging him to cajole his son to surrender. Desperate to save his son’s life, the father along with his wife, daughter, and daughter-in-law left his home to reach the encounter site, however on their way they were told that Rafi was killed.
Impact of the last phone calls
For the families of the militants, these recordings might be the last memory of their dying sons but when they are made accessible to the masses through social media, they become political.
Commenting on the thin line between personal and political, Dr. Khalid Wasim, a professor at the Central University of Kashmir, said, “The last calls of militants are a reflection of the personal aspirations of the militants towards the larger movement. These calls convey a larger political message. Even when they talk about Islam, Shahadat, and forgiveness, they convey a larger political meaning. All these terms they use aren’t personal but political.”
They might be used to impact the emotions of the public and generate multifarious discourses. According to Dr. Wasim, these recorded conversations impact different generations differently. “The younger generation can get attracted to it [militancy] as for them it might be a call for recruitment. However, the older generations might feel worried about their offspring getting inspired to join the ranks,” he said.
But according to a senior police official, who wished to remain anonymous, such emotional calls may have the potency to entice the young population to join the ranks. “All such organizations [militant outfits] use mechanisms that appeal to the young men. The recruitments are done systematically in a way that convinces the youth and makes them believe that Jihad is an only way to gain political power,” he added.
The official added that most of the young men who join the ranks, do it after facing atrocities or seeing someone who goes through it. He calls leaking and popularity of these last conversations as soft recruitment.
Surrender as an Option?
In most of these conversations, ‘surrender’ as an option is looked down upon as an act of cowardice, while ‘martyrdom’ connotes valor. Surrender is often seen as the beginning of a life of harassment, indignity, and torture. Whereas death as a martyr is considered a hundred times better than surrendering.
Khanday Rouf, a Hizbul Mujahideen militant, of Dehruna, Anantnag district was killed in an encounter in Dialgam on 1 April after he refused to surrender even though his companion Imran did.
In his last call to his parents just before he was killed, he told his family, “If I surrender, I’ll be tortured to death and my life will become a living hell. Martyrdom is the best option for me.”
A female family member replied, “This is an honor for us.” In the conversation, Rouf’s father asked him not to surrender and added, “Pray to Allah to destine for you a death of a martyr.”
The militants in their last phone call heavily rely on religion to console their family members. Their unshaken faith in God and certainty about meeting their families in heaven is reflected in these calls. Aetimad’s father in their last conversation sought only one promise from his dying son, “Do help me in the Hereafter.”
He told his father, “I will be next to you in the heavens.”