Dawood’s smile and politeness were overwhelming, but so was the injustice he had suffered; his mother wanted to sell family land to buy him a gun
Anantnag: On an unusually cold March afternoon earlier this year, while I lazed around at home, a friend called to ask if I wanted to do a story on three friends who were “framed” in the murder of a mainstream political activist and kept behind bars for about 4 years.
“Two of them became militants and one has been killed already. I sense the third one might become a militant as well,” the friend briefed me.
The story was too tempting, too good to say no to. I readily agreed, and thought of scheduling it.
“Meet me in fifteen minutes on the highway. We are going to Hawoora village in Kulgam district, to Dawood’s house,” the friend told me and hung up, without even listening to what I had to say.
I pulled myself up and in about 45 minutes we were in Hawoora, at Dawood’s home.
Today, at about 6:30 in the morning, the same friend called, breaking the news of Dawood’s killing in an early morning encounter with government forces.
I lay in bed for a long while, re-winding what transpired that March day, at the “would-be militant’s” house.
Dawood had made me promise that I would write about him only after he attains martyrdom. Here I am, keeping the promise.
He was spreading the prayer rug to offer the afternoon (Asr) prayers when we entered his room. It was the first room on the left as we entered a huge three-storey, newly constructed house.
Dawood’s burly structure, his unkempt hair and beard, and his strong presence did not take an iota away from the warmth of a genuine hug he gave me, despite the fact that we were complete strangers.
“Excuse me for a few minutes, I’ll offer my prayers in the next room. I’ll join you soon,” he said with the demeanour and smile of a school kid seeking permission from his teacher.
With only me and my friend left in the room, we made ourselves comfortable. I started to examine the room. It was ordinary enough, with an Islamic painting adorning one of the walls.
The painting bore the signature of Dawood, and below the signature was the name of the place where the painting was made: Central Jail Srinagar. The words were written neatly, along with the date.
The warmth of the rug beneath us was starting to make me feel cozy. Then my eyes caught the sight of something on the window sill, which made me freeze.
It was a pistol! While my friend and I had a discussion over whether the weapon was a real one, and more importantly, whether we should not leave right away, Dawood walked into the room.
“I am extremely sorry for keeping it like that. I had kept it beneath the prayer rug and I completely forgot about it when I used the rug,” he told us, doing nothing to make us feel any better.
The story I had in mind vanished. I tried hard to figure out what to ask, now.
A couple of cigarettes and a cup of tea eased my nerves. I finally decided to stay and have a conversation.
Still not sure what to ask, I started with, “So, you are a militant, already?” followed by a nervous laugh.
“You can say so. If pistols are enough to make one a militant,” he said with the same childlike innocence. “And if you still wonder, yes, I am just waiting for a gun to be allotted to me. There is a dearth of weapons as of now.”
“Why is that?” was my next question. I felt stupid the moment I asked it.
“You are a journalist, you should know why,” he said, the smile never leaving his face.
He was just 22 years of age. I was overcome by the impulse to stop him, to not let him go down that path to certain death.
Without taking into account that I might offend him or make him feel uncomfortable, I began to reason with him.
“You leave your home and you die after a few months, while you try to find a safe place to hide in,” I said, all the while biting my tongue, for by now I had realised that I may be offending him.
I did not want to offend him, not because he was a militant but because he was childlike, a young lad for whom only good things could be wished for.
Adding to my unease, Dawood smiled again and began to speak. This is what he had to say:
“I don’t know what you call a life, but it is not a life that is not spent in the service of Allah. I think a few months spent in the service of the Almighty are better than a lifetime spent otherwise.
“Besides, don’t you see what is happening in Kashmir? Can’t you see how our brothers are getting killed and how they are being blinded? And our sisters – what about them? Don’t you see what is being done to them? Are they safe? Is their chastity safe in Kashmir?
“If all this does not make you want to fight back, I don’t know what will. I have decided to fight back. I don’t know about you or the others.
“If these things seem too superficial to you, let me add more to it.
“I was eighteen when I was picked up for a murder I never committed. I was leading prayers in the nearby mosque when the sarpanch was killed. I and my two friends Younis and Rameez were picked up. For 58 days we were tortured at the nearby Amnoo camp of the SOG, following which we were sent to the Central Jail.
“We studied in the jail, Younis and I. I did my graduation and Younis completed another post-graduation while we were in Central Jail. Our understanding of things, I would like to think, improved. It was in the jail that we decided what path we will take after we are released.
“Younis has attained what he strove for and Rameez has also chosen his path. I, too, wish to attain martyrdom, sooner than later.”
As Dawood spoke, I was making a mental note of counter-arguments to make him realise that picking up the gun was not the only solution.
But he, without losing a speck of his politeness, shut me up.
“Let’s keep the further discussion for some other time,” he said.
I, however, had not given up yet. The next argument I came up with was family.
“What does your family say about your decision to become a militant?” I asked.
He smiled and then asked his friend to bring his mother into the room.
Ateeqa Bano came into the room and I immediately saw where Dawood had got his politeness and innocent smile from.
“Mother, he wants to know what you think of my decision,” he said to his mother, and both of them smiled as if they shared a secret.
His mother’s reply sent a chill down my body. I was almost left in tears when his mother replied.
“He says they do not have weapons to give him one. I am of the opinion that he should sell some land and purchase one for himself. After all, he is going to fight in the cause of Allah and we have no dearth of land,” she said.
At that, I asked permission to leave, but not before Dawood made me promise that I won’t write anything before he was martyred. I promised and left with a heavy heart.
Only a week after our meeting I received news that Dawood had finally went into hiding and become a militant.
I wondered how long he would survive. I never wanted to write this story, but it is all that is left of Dawood now.
The evening before he was killed, Dawood came home to meet his mother. Soon after he left, she suffered a brain haemorrhage. It was as if she had seen the shadow of death right over his head. Now she is fighting her own battle for life in SMHS Hospital.