When nameless bodies became the damned feature of the war of attrition in Kashmir during the nineties, many people across the Vale voluntarily became their attendants. Among them was Batamaloo’s Kabir Chacha who never let his son Hamid Sheikh’s celebrated commander image to come in the way of his community services.
Batamaloo’s Sidiqabad is downhearted over the sudden departure of the man who held a General’s sway over the entire township. He was known for carrying a kind heart behind his intense looks. Till yesterday, he would sit on a sunlit shop-front in the bustling square to keep an eye on things around.
And today, his lane is being frequented by mourners, offering silence and moist eyes to the gentleman who became the attendant of Kashmir’s insurgent history’s war-load, an attendant of mutilated bodies.
Among the mounting footfall assembling onto the third floor of a neighbouring spacious house, the legend of Sheikh Abdul Kabir aka Kabir Chacha—who was Kab Chach for most—is making most of them a touch nostalgic.
Inside sit the insurgent pioneers, the ex-commanders, the jailbirds, the activists, the traders and the commoners. Only eleven days back, most of them were face to face, greeting Kab Chach on the 25th death anniversary of his son, the slain Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) commander Sheikh Abdul Hamid.
But today, most of them are describing the passage as the great loss for Kashmir.
But perhaps Kab Chach’s legend is beyond the customary assemblies and reminiscence. His disgruntled son’s becoming of the young gun and one of the pioneers of armed uprising in Kashmir had its own costs for him.
Well before history would make him the commander’s revered father, the former walnut trader was known for his community and social services in the entire locality. He would carry a stick with himself during the pre-militancy period as a writ to enforce the order on the streets.
But at his home, frequented by neighbourhood cricket buffs and film fans, as his was one of the first houses in Batamaloo to have a TV, Kab Chach was a warm host. But his role was about to change.
With the arrest of his son, while objecting the poll rigging in 1987 elections, Kab Chahch’s address became a frequent raid point. Those raids were about to become the flashpoint in Kashmir’s armed uprising.
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After his son’s jail stint, when he became one of the first militants to cross over to Azad Kashmir for arms training and subsequently became the first letter—and spirit—in HAJY group, he received a gunshot wound and was back to jail.
“Back home his mother, Zoona Begum was tortured by then SHO Jalla,” says a senior JKLF member, turning up for the mourning.
“Hamid Sheikh’s jail and his mother’s torture forced Ashfaq Majeed Wani to come up with the plan of Rubaya Sayeed’s abduction episode.”
Later how that abduction changed Kashmir and fuelled an armed uprising has now become one of the feted militant feats.
When all this was happening, Kab Chach would make sure to watch the back of the boys—who had suddenly turned his home into a militant hotspot. He had developed a special liking for Saraibal’s Ashfaq Majeed Wani—JKLF’s first commander-in-chief. For him, Ashfaq had an apparent edge over his own son.
Infact, the former commanders now recall how Ashfaq shot his last, and the famous, interview inside the Sheikh House, a month before he was killed at Hawal Downtown. While his death almost brought Kashmir to a standstill, it was Kab Chach who was seen wailing over his body like a child, “Commander Majeedo…”
That death changed the Batamaloo’s prosperous trader forever. He performed Ashfaq Majeed’s last ablution and went on to perform hundred others. Almost 2 and half years later, when an ambulance van pulled over in the Sidiqabad square and brought home his Commander son’s body, Kab Chach quietly repeated the act.
But as long as his son was alive and active, he faced detentions.
“They never made it easy for him in jail,” says Sajad Bhat, Sheikh family’s next-door neighbour, and somebody who would act as a courier boy for his commander son whenever he wanted to visit home back in the early 90s. “Kab Chach would tell us how in an Udhampur jail, he was forced to wash his face with his own urine.”
Once out of the jail and subsequent loss of his son, Kab Chach along with the fathers of the martyrs—Aijaz Dar, Ashfaq Majeed Wani and others—floated the Hilal Community.
“In Batamaloo, that community did a commendable job during the crisis,” Bhat says. “They would gather and distribute relief among the needy during the times when continuous curbs and curfews would make it impossible for people to earn their bread.” But more than that, destiny had something else stored for him.
As the nameless dead bodies became the ghastly feature of how New Delhi handled Kashmir’s massive upheaval during the nineties, Kab Chach volunteered for their ablution and became their gravedigger. “Before burying anyone,” Bhat says, “he would take off their shoes, clothes and other things and keep them safe in his home, hoping that one day their wandering family in search of their ‘forcibly disappeared’ sons might come at his doorsteps.”
Many families did turn up. Some fainted over the sight of their disappeared-turned-slain sons’ bloody clothes and lasting identities.
And once the J&K Police’s dreaded counter-insurgent wing STF and the army had a whiff of Kab Chach’s volunteerism, Bhat says, they would call him to the Police Control Room — often in the dead of the night, for “clearing the mess” they had created in the form of the mutilated and blood-dripping bodies.
“At times,” says the eyewitness Bhat, “Kab Chach would return home with rotten bodies — killed some 10 to 12 days back.”
All this would rob the neighbourhood of its calm, but Kab Chach ensured to keep the morale of the locality high by leading from the front.
In Sidiqabad, he had already laid the foundation of the Martyrs’ Graveyard, where the patterned bodies kept coming for the burial.
“Their faces would be mutilated,” Bhat says. “Most of us would shudder at the sight of those unclaimed bodies, but only Kab Chach would muster courage to bury them properly.” At times, Kab Chach would only come home with body parts—brain, limbs, skull—for the burial, Bhat says.
Over the years, the Sidiqabad Shaheed Malguzaar, that Kab Chach helped establish, has been layered thrice to make room for the arriving bodies. Among the war-load buried in it, are 11 among the 50 bodies that the CRPF piled on Gaw Kadal on Jan 21, 1990.
They along with scores of other massacred Kashmiris were buried at the graveyard, by Kab Chach himself.
For this reason, not only JKLF, even Hizb militants of yore would respect the man who never let ideologies to come in the way of his selfless service.
“He must have buried hundreds of Mehmaan Mujahids too,” Bhat says. “Most of them have been buried in a patch of land between Dalgate’s CD Hospital and Gupkar.”
A slain boy whose body was kept as a showpiece at Dalgate in early 2000 was brought to Sidiqabad’s graveyard by Kab Chach for the burial. The image of that boy has been continuously making rounds on social media.
Back in Batamaloo, his address was the stopover for those parents whose sons had either been subjected to enforced disappearances or detained.
“I remember how people from Kupwara and other far off places would visit his home and seek his help for their sons’ release,” says a senior JKLF member. “He would pass through the dreaded bunkers and pickets and fight for the release of the detained boys.”
But after 2008, his role slightly changed. He would visit the police stations and the nearby Cargo detention centre, only to plead for the release of the boys detained on stone pelting charges. “As long as he was there,” Bhat says, “we had a father figure around, who would go the extra mile fighting for us. But now, we feel as if the whole neighbourhood has become an orphan.”
Back in the day when people were busy shouldering coffins, Bhat says, Kab Chach would often wonder, ‘Aies ha tchi yiman diwan nakhi, kabar asiey diya kah’ (We’re shouldering their coffin, but I fear whether anybody would shoulder ours). Perhaps the escalating body count across Kashmir had made even him uncertain about the times to come.
But on the last day of November 2017 when he finally fell to his ailing health — some say he was suffering from cancer, the fatal disease he had concealed from others and never taken seriously — hundreds came out to shoulder the coffin of the man who had arranged countless such journeys for the nameless and the faceless slain people.
“His deeds speak for him. See the day [Birth anniversary of Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ)] he returned to his lord!” the speaker says, as the footfall continues to rise inside.