Conflict

The life and times of Lance Naik Nazir Ahmad Wani

He may have become a new “role model” in the run-up to the 2019 elections for BJP and its allied parties, but the recent Ashok Chakra-awardee Kashmiri Indian army man’s address, in his native town, tells upon his life.

Chak-Asmuji, a small village surrounded with snow-covered paddy fields in South Kashmir’s Kulgam district is the hometown of Lance Naik Nazir Ahmad Wani; a carpet weaver turned Ikhwani turned army man.

Nearly one and a half kilometer from the main road, a macadamized lane leads to Nazir’s house.

Villagers gossiping on shop fronts and streets sides, avert their eyes when they hear about Nazir. They neither want to listen, nor to speak about him.

“Nobody will talk about Nazir here,” says a villager, with a straight face. “We don’t know — who he was, what he did and which award was given to him?”

Not only villagers, but Nazir’s family too feels reluctant to talk about him.

“We’ve hardly seen him, ever since he left home to join Ikhwan in the early 1990s,” says his younger brother. “If you want to report, then please don’t mention our names.”

Lane leading to Wani’s home. (FPK Photo/Aamir Ali Bhat)

Lance Naik Nazir Wani recently hogged headlines after he became the first Kashmiri to receive the Ashok Chakra, India’s highest peacetime gallantry award, posthumously. His family members were invited on India’s 70th republic day, to receive the award.

“We don’t know what this award is,” Nazir’s brother says. “He is not in this world. So, what’s the purpose of this award now!”

Back in the day, when the armed insurgency against Indian state was gaining momentum in Kashmir, Nazir dropped out from school and started working in a local factory as a carpet weaver.

As the eldest among four sons, Nazir would also help his baker father at his shop.

Then as Ikhwan-ul-Muslimoon, pro-India militia, emerged in Kashmir during 1993-94, he decided to join the government force known for creating terror among the masses.

His shift to Ikhwan didn’t come in the backdrop of his media-peddled “militant past”. In fact, his brother says, “Nazir was not associated with any militant group.”

His joining was “sudden and shocking”.

One day, in the nineties, when he left home and didn’t return, his anxious family frenetically searched for him. He was nowhere to be found, until a few days later, the family received information that Nazir had become an Ikhwani.

“We met him and tried to dissuade him, but he had made up his mind,” Nazir’s brother narrates the difficult time for his family. “We were quite content in life, but his decision changed that all. We could never understand why he took such a step.”

After becoming the member of the dreadful group, Nazir shifted to Ikhwan Colony in Kulgam, and rarely visited his home. It became his fortress. But his other three brothers—a mechanic, a sawmill worker and a mason—lived together, with their parents, in Chak-Asmuji.

Then, in 2002, when the government dismantled Ikhwan, Nazir joined the Indian armed forces. He became a part of 162 Infantry Battalion of the Territorial Army of Jammu and Kashmir. He was also deployed with 34 Rashtriya Rifles of the Indian Army.

Soon, he would marry a local village girl, with whom he had two sons. “He never informed us about his marriage,” the sibling continues while recounting Nazir’s life. “He hardly spoke, and did not share his life with us.”

In that silent phase and time of his life, Nazir had become a shot in the arm for the counterinsurgency grid.

Wani’s widow receiving the Ashok Chakra during India’s Republic Day.

His native understanding of insurgency, stint in the renegade camp and passion for being “the best soldier” made this Kulgam man an indispensable force for his unit.

He was reportedly part of over a dozen counter-insurgency operations, and was bestowed with Sena medal twice. Nazir, as per his family, also spent a year in South Africa as an Indian soldier.

But his eventful run ended on November 25, 2018—when he lost his life in a gunfight that broke out between militants and Indian armed forces in Hirapur village near Batgund, in Shopian.

After sustaining bullet injuries, he was rushed to the hospital where he succumbed. In the gunfight, six Lashkar-e-Toiba militants were killed, and reportedly, two of them were killed by Nazir.

“When Nazir was killed I heard television anchors screaming: Puray Kashmir Ney Rooya Nazir ki Mout Par (Everyone in Kashmir cried over Nazir’s death),” Nazir’s brother continues. “But the reality is 99% people were against his ideology.”

A day after his death, he received 21-gun salutes. But unlike the signature gun salutes by insurgents in southern Kashmir, it was Indian army holding smoking guns for their “top gun”.

Then, his body was draped in the tricolor, and ferried to his native village, where he was buried.

Grave of Nazir Wani. (FPK Photo/Aamir Ali Bhat)

“For many Kashmiris, my brother’s path was wrong,” Nazir’s brother says. “But we never faced any sort of hostility for his move.”

Today, as Nazir is lying in his snow-draped grave, his widow and two sons continue to dwell in the same Kulgam quarter — a fortress, which became a symbol of his shift.

 

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