In the scorching heat, Irfan Dar was walking down a road in north Kashmir’s Kreeri, when he heard gunshots in the distance on the morning of 17 August. He knew his younger brother, Muzaffar Dar, a 24-year-old Special Police Officer (SPO), was stationed in that area and hadn’t been picking his call since morning.
The brothers were more of friends; wore each other’s clothes; read from each other’s textbooks; played cricket together; and shared secrets. When the unemployment, and subsequent poverty, pushed the Dar family to the wall, in December 2016, the brothers applied for a job as SPO — together.
“There is so much unemployment. People with [higher education] can’t get a job in Kashmir,” said Mr. Irfan Dar. “We had to do it. We had to do it for the family.” Both qualified and joined the service.
Walking down the road, a few minutes later, at about 9:20 am on Monday, Mr. Dar’s phone rang. The caller, Mr. Irfan’s munshi, who is posted in the Special Operations Group (SOG) in Kreeri, said: “You should reach your home.”
His brother, Mr. Muzaffar was shot dead, in the firing that he had heard, by militants on a checkpoint in Kreeri. Two Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troopers were injured too, who later succumbed.
In a family of eleven — three brothers, six sisters, and parents — the duo was the only source of income. With Mr. Muzzafar’s demise, the responsibility is upon the 26-year-old, Mr. Irfan. “We never spoke about the conflict [in Kashmir],” said Mr. Irfan. “We had only one idea behind this job: how can we strengthen our family.”
But now, he said, the family will cut down on every need: lesser oil in food, household expenses, and the education of two younger sisters — studying in 11th and 12th standards.
“Allah will protect you”
In Habbak village of north Kashmir’s Baramulla district, the semi-constructed one-storey house of the Dar family is packed with mourners. Sitting against a cement-wall, Mr. Muzaffar’s 28-year-old elder sister, Yasmeen Dar, who was born handicapped, is numb.
Over a dozen women in the room cannot console her. She cries for his name — “Muzaffar” — and gasps. “I would miss him the most,” she said, “nothing about him — but him.”
Ms. Dar, who was closest to Mr. Muzaffar, had lived on his assistance; for food, toilet, and conversations. She had been missing his presence since he joined the government forces. Last time he left the home, about a week ago, she told him, “Allah will protect you.”
The family of Mr. Muzaffar remembers him as a kind, innocent man, whom “nobody even knew in the neighborhood”. After completing high-school with Commerce from a government school in Magam in 2013, Mr. Muzaffar dreamt of becoming a teacher.
However, the family’s condition deteriorated financially. Father, who used to work as a daily-wage laborer, was diagnosed with a heart ailment. Mr. Muzaffar gave up his dream and took responsibility for the family by working as a laborer; before he joined the government forces in 2016.
In an overlit room, Mr. Irfan sitting aside gave his sister a shoulder to cry upon. “I had wishes for his marriage,” she said. “I would have drawn Mehndi on his hands.”
“Aren’t you home yet?”
Since August, the attacks on the government forces have increased. On 12 August, an army trooper was injured after militants attacked a Quick Reaction Team (QRT) of the army on Srinagar-Baramulla national highway; two days later, two cops were shot dead in Srinagar; on Monday, three government forces’ personnel were killed and two army troopers were injured. In Baramulla, two militants were killed too in a gunfight, which raged after the government forces tracked down the attackers a few hours later.
Inspector-General of Police, Kashmir, Vijay Kumar, told the press after the attack that three militants affiliated with Lashkar-e-Taiba militant outfit, “came from orchards” and attacked a joint party of CRPF and the police on “normal duty”, and ran away.
These attacks have made the Dar family worried too; Mr. Irfan has to join back his duty. But, he said, it is inevitable. “I’ll have to go back for my family,” he lamented.
The 60-year-old father, Ali Mohammad Dar, is lying lifeless in another room at their home. On Monday morning, he was right outside his home in Habbak when he came to know that Mr. Muzaffar had been killed in an attack. Since then, he is only roaming around his house, calling out his son’s name.
“It is late, Muzaffar Sahab, where are you,” Mr. Dar said out aloud. “Return now. Where are you? Aren’t you home yet?”
In a moment, he refuses to believe his son has been killed. In another, he wails.
When Mr. Irfan would show a photograph, where Mr. Muzaffar lies, bloodied, the father cannot help but see. He oscillates to get a clearer view of the photograph — the camera’s shutter makes him uneasy — whispers his son’s name, and falls on the wall beside him — beating his chest as he wailed louder.
One of the cousins, also sitting in the same room, said: “Either a militant is killed or a policeman, human life is lost.” Mr. Irfan added: “Today, it is my home, tomorrow it will be someone else’s. This conflict will not end. It will never end.” And the room broke into tears, again.