Four Sons, One War: All Dead
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because death is only final if people stop dying.
By Irfan Amin Malik
In the blazing summer of 2014, guns started roaring in southern Kashmir. Again. The cause? Either a militant attack on Indian security forces or a gunfight between militants and security forces.
I got a news notification on my phone that this gunfight raged in my home town of Tral, some 25 miles south of Srinagar. Next day, I saw a local newspaper with a front-page lead: Three militants killed in Tral gun battle. A Kashmir University postgrad-student-turned-militant named Tariq Ahmad Parray was among the slain.
Parray was a known face at the local undergraduate college in Tral where I had also graduated. In 2011, Parray had drawn notice when he won the annual college road race. Two years later, he was pursuing postgraduate studies at the Institute of Kashmir Studies, University of Kashmir, when he went missing. It was suspected he had joined the Hizbul Mujahideen militant outfit.
This may not translate to anything where you’re from, but Ishaq’s nickname, largely because of a brilliant academic record, was Newton. And Ishaq is an Arabic version of Isaac.
In that winter’s chill I was sipping noon chai (Kashmiri salted tea) in the kitchen when I saw a photo of Parray on Facebook. In the photo, Parray was wearing an army uniform, carrying rifles and guns on his shoulders.
Nearly a year later, when Parray and his associates were killed in the encounter with forces, I was pursuing postgraduate work in mass communication and journalism. I became obsessed with Parray and his decision to leave his university career midway and join the militant ranks.
One of my professors asked me to write an article about young men who come from well-off families and are mostly well-educated, but who leave their studies and join the militants. When I got home, I opened my computer and wrote about Parray. The next day, my article was published in a local newspaper under the headline: “Heads You Win, Tails I Lose.”
Later — July 27, 2015, to be exact — I overheard some friends talking about another news story. The headline read “Guns ‘N’ Poses: The New Crop of Militants in Kashmir.” Tariq’s cousin Ishaq Ahmad Parray had also joined the militants.
Twenty-one-year-old Ishaq had previously become famous across Kashmir after scoring 98.4 percent in 10th standard, the ninth position holder in the entire Kashmir valley; he followed it up by scoring 86.2 percent in his 12 standard exams. This may not translate to anything where you’re from, but Ishaq’s nickname, largely because of a brilliant academic record, was Newton. And Ishaq is an Arabic version of Isaac.
In March 2016, another gunfight raged in the Dardsara hamlet of Tral, and Ishaq Newton, along with two associates, was killed. When the gunfight ended, the bodies were handed over to the families. I reached the gunfight spot to find men, women, and children wailing and sobbing. Hundreds of mourners marched to catch a last glimpse of Ishaq in his native village in Laribal, near Tral. They had expected him to be a future doctor. Instead of carrying a stethoscope, though, he carried a gun.
Other young men were leaving their studies and joining the Hizbul Mujahideen group led by the charismatic Burhan Wani. Wani had picked up arms when he was 15 years old, and he fought until he was killed by Indian security forces, in July 2016. Following his death, Kashmir witnessed massive political unrest with hundreds of people dead and thousands blinded from pellets fired by Indian forces.
Wani had used social media as a recruitment tool. Ishaq joined the militancy when Wani was active.
In October 2017, 18 months after the killing of Ishaq Parray, his second cousin Shakoor joined the militancy. Like his cousin brother Tariq, Shakoor Parray was studying at a local undergraduate college in Tral before he took up arms.
On Jan. 4, 2019, I got a call that Shakoor, along with two associates, had been killed in a gunfight in the Gulshanpora forests of Tral.
The next day, I visited Shakoor’s native village in Laribal Tral, where thousands of people participated in his last rites. His father, who had been jailed in 1990, kissed the forehead of another son before bidding him a final adieu.
In the village overlooking lush Shikargah forests, the slain militant’s elder brother Iqbal had told me that, like his cousins, his brother Shakoor did not tell the family that they were joining the militancy before joining the militancy. This year, in May, the fourth son from the Parray family, Basit, left home and joined the militancy.
June 2020 was when my source confirmed that Basit was a militant. The next day he was killed, along with his two associates, in a 14-hour gunfight in the Chewa Ullar village of Tral. Before falling to bullets, Basit was a student earning a bachelor of science in information technology. He joined the militants on May 27 and was dead within a month.
Before his death, when Basit found himself trapped in the military cordon, he called his family for the last time. Following his death, an audio went viral on social media in which Basit seeks forgiveness from his family members and advises them to stay steadfast on Islam.
- Irfan Amin Malik, OZY Author Contact Irfan Amin Malik