Faizan Muzaffar Bhat needs no introduction in restive Tral today. But they knew him once a soft-spoken, shy boy of 15—until this March he ran with a paramilitary firearm, became a rebel and returned home two months later, dead.
Tral (Pulwama): Two new life-sized posters have come up in main town Tral-the hometown of Burhan Wani, whose poster remains an attention-grabber. Wani’s brawny comrade Sabzar Bhat has appeared on a new poster with his signature sombre looks. But what leaves the condolers sighing, is a poster of the boy militant, Faizan.
Both Sabzar and Faizan died fighting the forces in an encounter at Tral’s Samioo village on May 27.
Inside an open gate of Faizan’s house, people walk in droves for condolences. Men and women have assembled in two separate rooms. People have come as far as from Kishtwar and Teetwal, other than from Kupwara, Kalaroos, Qazigund, Pahalgam and Budgam. The footfall, despite restrictions, remains unabated.
Mourners sit silent. Some talk tough. Others seek divine intervention to cease bloodletting in Kashmir. Among them, at one corner of the room, sits Faizan’s father, Muzaffar Bhat. He repeatedly recalls his slain son’s date of birth. “He (Faizan) was born on the death anniversary of the Maqbool Bhat: 11th February, 2002.” Other than sharing surname with Trehgam’s Maqbool, the father apparently stresses on the fact how his son turned out to be rebel like him.
Faizan deserted home a month after his 15th birthday.
Many inside the room want to know the obvious: how can a 15-year-old boy take such a step?
“Isn’t it (picking up gun) surprising,” the father replies, quite frequently.
“Ye chu Ilhaam (This is the voice of the Almighty). People who receive and hear such ‘voices’ don’t need preaching or education. They just do what they have to do.”
Countless heads nods in agreement, albeit silently. Like a learned cleric, Bhat seems to deliver an enlightening sermon on divine justice and matters of fate. And akin to a captive audience, the condolence assembly quietly hears by.
Bhat continues to speak on ‘Ilaham’, which he says, isn’t age dependent. It can enlighten a 100-year-old as well as a 15 year old, he says.
“A rahbar (one who shows the way) can be anyone,” Bhat asserts. More than a disturbing monologue of a father who just lowered his teen son to grave, the talk sounds saintly—perhaps, a complete submission to fate, as is known among god-men.
He next turns to poetry, quoting the ‘poet of east’ Mohammad Iqbal, “Hazarron Saal Nargis Apni Baynoori Pe Roti Rahi / Badi Mushiqil Se Hota Hai Chaman Me DedawarPaida” (For thousand years the narcissus was lamenting its lack of luster / With great difficulty the one with true vision is born in the garden).
He swiftly terms his “war-mauled” narcissus—the boy-next-door—studying in a private school till his 9th grade before briefly attending a local institute for his Class 10 till March 4, 2017. That day, in Tral’s Hafoo village, Hizb militant Aquib Moulvi was killed in an encounter.
Faizan was in school till 5pm on that fateful day. Once he came back home, the father says, the gunfight started. Following the signature civilian movement with the start of encounter, Faizan left home with scores in his neighbourhood. Despite the repeated fatal warnings shot by army and police—asking people to stay away from the encounter sites—a horde in Tral defiantly marched to the site in a bid to rescue the trapped militant.
Faizan, his father says, got lost in that charged crowd, forever.
“That was the last time we saw him,” says Bhat, as the mood inside stays glum.
“The next time we saw him was when his body was handed over to us.” But in between, the family tried to trace his whereabouts. Nothing helped. The family even filed a missing report at the police station.
“But shortly, we came to know that he has joined militant ranks,” Bhat says. “Then… we just went silent.”
Sitting next to him in the room is his father and Faizan’s grandpa, Abdul Rahim Bhat. Once the word about Faizan’s militant joining spread, Bhat Sr says, police told them to give up searching. “It was all over the social media,” he says. “Faizan had joined Hizb.”
As such, there exists no extraordinary tale about their slain son. He seems to have followed the popular trend, wherein the young boys are engaging Delhi in Kashmir by snatching guns, run into the woods, appear on social media with selfie images before get trapped in an encounter and return home, dead.
But Faizan, many argue, was no combatant stuff. In fact, it is said, that the boy was so frail that Hizb had allotted him pistol than rifle.
He had reportedly become the former Hizb commander Sabzar’s much-loved new recruit given his boyish nature. In fact, the elusive Sabzar’s killing along with Faizan in an encounter recently is also being attributed to the former’s second thoughts for the teen guerrilla, who couldn’t escape from the encounter site.
At the room, the grandpa is pointing out at the recent news where United Nations listed Jammu and Kashmir as a separate country. Bhat reads a pattern and asks, “Yiman cheezan chu yeminai hund khoon divan baraav… beyi ti’diey (It’s the Martyrs’ blood which bears witness to such events. And it will keep bearing witness).”
Faizan’s father points out that nowadays boys don’t wait for any advice before taking such steps. The circumstances force them.
“Parents don’t tell their children to pick up arms,” he insists. “Why would any parent give such an advice? But they see things happening around them. I don’t need to tell you what they see. That is what forces them.”
Bhat Sr intervenes, blurts out, “Khoon di akh doh baraav (The blood will bear witness on day).” So will air, water, land, animals and every inch of Kashmir, he continues. “Everything will bear witness to the truth here.”
Coming back to his grandson, he says, none told Faizan to pick up arms. On the contrary, the family was hoping that he would become a doctor or an engineer.
“And then the parents hope that their child would become their support,” he says, with a straight face. “Ye baneow qaumuk zee kul (He became the support of the whole community). Ye baneow mazloom qaumuk akh Inqalaab (He become a revolution for an oppressed people).”
At his age, kids don’t even know the difference between right and wrong, he says. “But here he is. It’s astonishing. But then he was chosen.”
Outside his home, Faizan’s close friend recalls the day when they took part in the protest together at the encounter site. Ghufran (not his real name) remembers his buddy Faizan as a very docile and a quiet person.
“He was very humble, soft-spoken and a shy boy,” Ghufran recalls. However, he says, the 2016 uprising changed him, like many others.
“He was affected, likes me and many others,” he says. “As we started taking part in protests, we became more close to each other.”
Coming back to the fateful day, Ghufran informs that stone pelting was going on. “The forces were moving towards the encounter site and stones were being pelted on them. I was there, too. A few personnel came out of the vehicle to catch hold of the boys. In the process, one of the trooper’s rifle fell on the ground. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Faizan emerged, picked the gun and ran away.”
Later as he returned home along with other boys, Ghufran saw the family members of Faizan watching the protest from first floor of their home.
“I didn’t tell them at that time that Faizan has run away with a rifle,” he says. “I thought I would let them live in hope for a couple of more days.”
During the conversation, Ghufran suddenly asks, “Do you know Faizan’s grandfather was with the Jammu and Kashmir police? His uncle also works with the JKP.” After a fleeing moment of silence, he says, “But don’t be surprised. This is the reality of our home. At the end, we are all rebels.”
Faizan’s principal at Madrasa Tailimul Islam—where from he was pursuing his Class 10—remembers him as boy of few words. Mohammad Amin Thoker also blames 2016 uprising and subsequent security onslaught for changing his pupil.
“That was a bad time for everyone, especially for youngsters,” Thoker says. “The schools remained shut for more than 7 months. It had a very bad effect on students. It was during that time Faizan must have changed.” Faizan, he says, was an average student who seemed very normal without any signs of defiance in him.
But the principal feels that after ‘picking up’ that rifle, he had no chance to come back. “Mein chu basaan ye chu aamut jazabatan laiyne (Emotions must have taken over him) when he picked up that gun and ran away,” he believes. “After that, he didn’t leave any options for himself.”
At the room, the Bhat Sr has a question for the condolers: “Does a person with a proper Nikaah (marriage) shout every day that the woman who lives with me is my wife?”
In chorus, everybody reply, “No!”
“Then why does India tell everyone and every time that Kashmir is our Atoot Ang (integral part)?” The condolers exchange stares and smiles over the query.
On a street outside, however, Faizan’s buddy, Ghufran, sitting in the backdrop of his friend’s life-sized poster shares how he would love to hate the integral part statement often broadcasted from Delhi media studies.
“One doesn’t bleed one’s integral part,” Ghufran quoting Faizan says. “And if one does, then that integral part must do something about it.” That’s what he did, Ghufran concludes.