SRINAGAR, May 26: With its raging guns having fallen nearly silent, calm might be descending on Kashmir. But nothing will let the armed rebellion that erupted more than two decades ago, heralding an era of guns and grenades in this Himalayan region, to be ever forgotten.
At least, Akbarabad and Victorpora will keep the memories alive.
In the midst of the apple-rich town of Sopore in North Kashmir is a cluster of villages named after an Afghan militant. Akbar Bhai, as he was known, was perhaps the first foreigner to enter Kashmir to take part in the uprising against Indian rule in the early nineties. Akbar Bhai, a diehard militant with long locks of hair, would roam around the localities when militancy was at its peak in the apple town, the locals recall.
The foreign militant remained active in the town for three years before he was killed in an encounter on August 7, 1993. He was buried in the locality and since then a cluster of seven neighbourhoods- Chinkipora, Telian, Hajaman, Arampora, Lal Bab and Sheikh Mohalla- changed call signs in ‘honour’ of the foreigner.
This is the first and perhaps the only village in Kashmir which has been named after any militant. “I still remember the day when this area was renamed by our leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Since then the area is known as the Akbarabad,” says Ghulam Hassan, 60, who lived in Arampora locality and was present in the rally that day when his village was given a new nomenclature.
Bashir Ahmad Wani who was a twelfth grade student then recalls, “The renaming of our place was the outcome of an emotional outburst of only some militants and separatist leaders. But that is what these villages came to be known over a period a time.”
“Now even the signboards say Akbarabad.”
Seventy miles down South of Akbarabad, a small hamlet has been renamed by the Army after its biggest counter insurgency force. Jawyabara on Srinagar–Jammu national highway in South Kashmir was made to switch its name to Victorpora; it housed the Victor Force camp.
To make the nomenclature more familiar, villagers say they were advised to identify their village only by the new name. “We were told by the army to call our village as Victorpura. They even fixed a new sign board depicting the new name,” says Shabir Ahmad, who lives close to the Victor Force headquarters.
But the Army denies thrusting the change on the locals. “We didn’t compel any person to call the village by this name. This name is only for the troopers,” says an officer of the Army.
“It was only to identify the location of the Army headquarter.”
But an official of the government rubbishes these attempts by separatists and the Army to change names of villages, saying “emotions faded soon”. “In the revenue records, the original names of the villages are always used. By installing sign boards their names can’t be changed. There is a proper procedure for that,” he says.
But original or not, these two villages seem to have shed their old identities, forever.