Handwara pays tribute to teacher-turned militant

Khan taught at the school where the Handwara girl allegedly molested by a soldier was student
Kupwara: Hizbul Mujahideen’s slain militant Mohammad Azharuddin Khan, alias Gazi Umar, was a teacher at higher secondary school in Handwara when a girl student there alleged molestation by an army soldier. Azhar saw the protests that broke out after the 14-year-old girl made the allegation, protests that were suppressed by brute force, shooting dead five civilians on the streets. It was that brazen display of state power that made Azhar turn from teaching to militancy. Nine days after army troopers shot dead the five civilians, Azhar left his home in Handwara, never to return.
Azhar was 27 years of age when he was killed Saturday afternoon in a gunfight with the police in Sopore. The son of a poor farmer, Nazir Ahmad Khan, resident of Tiras village in Nitnosa in Handwara area of district Kupwara, Azhar acquired a degree in Kashmiri at Kashmir University and in 2014 was contracted as teacher for the girls’ higher secondary school Handwara. His friend Feroz told Kashmir Reader that Azhar is now being referred to as the first martyr of “a new breed of militancy” in the small village of Tiras.
“Azhar belonged to a poor family. He overcame many obstacles to complete his degree in Kashmiri. He was a scholar of religion. Sometimes he would lead the prayers in the local mosque. When five civilians were killed by government forces last year, including a famous cricketer, Nayeem Ahmad Bhat, and an elderly lady, Azhar told some of his friends that he will join militant ranks, because enough is enough. After only a few days, he went missing,” Feroz said.
Azhar’s body was brought to Tiras village late Saturday evening and kept at the local Jamia Masjid for the night. Announcements were made from the mosque that the funeral prayers would be held in the morning. About three thousand people shouting anti-India and pro-freedom slogans braved the bitter cold and walked through snow-covered paths to reach the graveyard at Tiras village where some militants had been buried in the past. Women of the area were seen beating their chests while Azhar’s family members looked on silently.
Reports said that more than two dozen youth were taken into custody by the Baramulla police on Saturday evening when they reached Baramulla to demand the body of Azhar. The elder brother of Azhar, Rayees Ahmad, said that police snatched his cellphone and did not give it back, while the arrested youths were also not released. Locals said that the arrested youth were beaten inside the police lock-up.
Nazir Ahmad Khan, Azhar’s father, told Kashmir Reader, “Azhar passed his Class 10 from the government high school in Chogal (Handwara). Later he studied at the government higher secondary school Handwara and then went to Kashmir University for three years to study Kashmiri. He also completed his BEd and was then appointed as contractual teacher in government higher secondary school Handwara. He was religiously inclined from his teenage. He would say to us that one day I will sacrifice my life for Islam. Azhar was the second eldest of my six children. I have three other sons and two daughters.”
He further said, “The Handwara girl molestation triggered a change in his mind. He left home on April 21, 2016, telling his mother that he had some work at Kashmir University. When he did not return, we called his cellphone, but it was switched off. We later filed a missing complaint at the police post in Dragmulla, but they couldn’t find him.”
Azhar’s family lives in a single-storey mud house. Nazir Ahmad Khan and his eldest son Rayees Ahmed were trying to make improvements to their old house but the death of Azhar has put a stop to that, for now.
Azhar was killed along with another Hizb militant, Sajad Ahmad Lone of Bomai, Sopore. In the brief gunfight, a police sub-inspector and the SP Operations Baramulla sustained minor injuries. Police said that the militants hurled a hand-grenade towards the police team. Soon after the militants were killed, police claimed that the duo was planning a major terrorist strike in the area. Police also claimed that they recovered arms and ammunition from the encounter site. (With inputs from  Asim Shah)

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