Bandipora: “Ye to bachay niklay (They (militants) turned out to be kids),” shouted a group of soldiers after retrieving the bodies of two teenage militants from the rubble of homes that were blasted by security forces to put an end to an 18-hour gun battle on the outskirts of Srinagar on Sunday, December 9.
The two teenagers were identified by the police as Saqib Bilal Sheikh, 15, and Mudasir Rashid Parray, 15, who had picked up arms three months ago.
The duo’s journey started three months ago, on August 31, when they left their homes located in north Kashmir’s Hajin village to play cricket at the nearby playground but never returned. Their families searched every possible place but to no avail. On December 5, Mudasir's picture, with an AK47 rifle in one hand and a knife in the other, surfaced on social media and announced his entry into the militant ranks.
Abdul Rasheed, father of Mudasir, said he had no inkling that his son would join militancy because of his age. “His shoulders were too young to carry a gun. Besides studying, he would work as a labourer to help out with family expenses,” he said.
Both the boys were operating from the Hajin belt which was once home to the Ikhwan-ul- Musalmoon, a home-bred counter to Kashmiri insurgency at its peak in the 1990s and its men were known for kidnapping, insurgency, torture, murder, unaccounted transgression. Of late, the place has emerged as the hotbed of militancy in North Kashmir and the place has become a haunt for the militants.
As the news of their death reached Hajin, about 50 kilometers north of Srinagar, clashes erupted as hundreds of residents hurled rocks at the security forces, who responded by using tear smoke shells and chilli bombs. Street clashes were also witnessed in Srinagar where the encounter had taken place as hundreds tried to vent their anger on roads
At Mudasir’s home in Khankah Mohalla, nothing can be heard except the dirges of his mother, while she wailed, “I cannot bear your separation. I don't have much in life. We are very poor and my husband is also a patient.” His ailing father has been sitting in one of the corners of the makeshift tin shed, where the family lives; motionless with tears rolling down his eyes and his sister inconsolable.
A day before his death, Saqib had promised his mother, through an emissary, that he will come home and sleep next to his mother for the night. She was waiting to see him and embrace him. “He fulfilled his promise even in his death. I have finally met him,” Saqib’s mother Mehbooba said.
Both the mothers spent their night with the numb bodies of their sons. The following morning, they led the funeral processions of their sons. All the roads and streets of the village were filled with mourners, women almost outnumbering the men. The women sang dirges and wedding songs for the pair.
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The people reacted differently to the death of the teenagers: some said that police should have persuaded the militants to surrender while others opined that militants should not allow teenagers to join their ranks. “The army could have easily persuaded them for surrender. Even if they were unable to motivate them for surrender, they should have been arrested. He was not only killed but his body was charred in the process. It’s a grave human rights issue and cannot be justified,” Basit, a lawyer based in Kashmir said.
Terming the killing sad and scary, People’s Conference chairman, Sajad lone, tweeted, “The administration should exhaust all non-military options when a minor is involved. Calling off such an operation is a better option. And the involvement of minors in non-state military activity merits thought from the society.”
While security forces are seeking reasons behind the teenager’s decision to voluntarily join the militant ranks, experts hold prevalence of the “war-like situation” in Kashmir responsible for their decision.
On Monday, the Inspector General of Police, Kashmir range, Swayam Prakash Pani said: “I have called for a report as far as the case of Mudasir is concerned." He, however, refused to accept the prevalence of any such trend.
An expert on child psychology said on condition of anonymity that children cannot be immune to the violence and bloodshed that is going on in Kashmir and would react to the situation. “We should not fool ourselves by saying that children should be kept away from violence. It is impossible to achieve as everything is happening in front of their eyes. Their personality will be developed as per the environment they are in,” he said.
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This is not for the first time that teenage boys have joined the militant ranks. In a similar instance in 2017, two young boys took up arms. Faizan, 15, was killed on May 27, 2017, after two months of joining the militancy in 2017. Before him, Fardeen, 17, became the first teenager ever to have conducted a fidayeen attack on January 1 on a forces camp at Pulwama.
The trend would continue as the situation around them has gone from bad to worse. “They are growing in a hostile environment wherein killings, violence, and humiliations are happening every day,” Owais farooqi, a journalist based in north Kashmir said.