Gundibagh, Tral (Pulwama): Sitting in a large bare room with just carpets and a few cushions on the floor, Ghulam Hassan Dar, a diminutive man in his late 50s, is dressed in a grey pheran.
It’s nearly 20 days since his son, Adil Dar, 20, a Jaish-e-Mohammed suicide bomber, rammed his explosives-laden SUV into a CRPF bus, near Pulwama on the Jammu-Srinagar highway, killing 40 personnel.
The older Dar says that he feels for the families of the soldiers killed on 14 February the same way he feels for his son.
“I know they will say that I am a militant’s father,” Dar tells ThePrint at his house in Pulwama’s Gundibagh. “It’s a fact that I can’t wish away. But as a father I feel their pain too.”
Dar believes there is only one solution to ending the cycle of violence that is killing young people almost every day. “Please talk. Even if you got to war, at the end you will have to come to the table and talk,” says Dar, adding that unless all the stakeholders talk and take a decision, more youngsters will get killed.
“It happened to my son. Tomorrow, it will be somebody else’ son,” he says. “Many others his age will get inspired and take up guns for azaadi. This has to stop. This is not an age to die.”
Dar’s nephew, Manzoor Ahmed, 21, was also killed in a gunfight with security forces. Another nephew, Sameer Ahmed, has left home for militancy.
A disillusioned son
Ask him what made his son take up violence and Dar is livid. He says that he recently read that Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan had called for India to introspect on why young Kashmiri men were picking up guns.
“I think he (Imran Khan) has a point. Has anyone in India cared to even sit and think about it?” Dar asks. “Youngsters in the 18-25 age group are taking up guns because they are being driven to them. It’s not about unemployment, poverty or sheer radicalisation — these are all simplistic arguments that are often cited.”
He alleges that his son was first assaulted by security forces in 2016 when he was returning from his grandparents’ house in nearby Newa village. It was during a protest march following the killing of the Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, he adds.
“He got caught up in the protest… His 15-year-old friend was injured by the security forces and Adil was trying to help him when the Army fired at his leg,” Dar alleges. “In 2017, the Army again picked him up and beat him. He was forced to rub his nose on the road… He came home bleeding and told us that it was better to die than live in such humiliation.”
The family, the father says, tried to reason with him. “We told him that he should not take these things to heart. And that it was happening here because no other place has the problems that Kashmir has.”
His son just wouldn’t listen. “He said he wanted azaadi and that he could give up his life for azaadi,” Dar says.
“The younger generation thinks differently. Tell me, as a parent, what do I do when these youngsters go out and see someone or the other their age being meted out similar humiliation by the security forces every other day?”
Muzaffar Ahmad Wani — another father, another festering pain
From Gundibagh, it’s an hour’s drive to Sharifabad village in Tral.
Sharifabad is where Burhan Wani lived. His death in an encounter in 2016 triggered massive unrest in the state, giving fresh momentum to militancy in the Valley. The unrest has continued till now in some form or the other.
Burhan’s father, Muzaffar Ahmad Wani, a mathematics teacher, continues to live in the village with his family. Wani is initially reluctant to speak, saying the current situation in the Valley is too volatile.
“I have already lost two young sons. Now let me move on with my life,” he tells ThePrint.
“Every time the media comes to talk to me, I get apprehensive that the security forces might knock at our door again.”
Wani, a principal in a government school, says it is important to resolve the Kashmir issue once and for all. “The government should not have let it linger for so long. They should talk with Pakistan, with the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Leh,” he says.
“Kashmir has just become a vote bank,” adds Wani.
“Which parent does not want his son to get a good education, a respectable job and settle down,” he says. “I wanted my older son to do a doctorate in economics but he was killed in cross-firing by security forces. I wanted Burhan to be an IAS or an IPS officer but fate had something else in store for me.”
Wani says that in Kashmir today, youngsters are being forced by the prevailing circumstances to take up guns.
“They are very impatient, unlike our generation that was timid,” he says. “They are not afraid to take up the gun despite knowing fully well that they will be killed by the security forces sooner or later. This trend is dangerous.”
Batting for a dialogue between Indian and Pakistan, Wani says that “humanity” should be the basis of all dialogue.
“We felt happy when the Indian air force pilot Abhinandan was released recently by Pakistan. It proved that humanity still exists.”