Irshad had vowed he would return home only as a martyr

Srinagar: The death of Irshad Ahmad Ganai, Lashkar’s second-in-command of south Kashmir, might be a big achievement for the government forces, but for his family his “martyrdom” means an end to years of persecution at the hands of government forces.
“I always prayed for his dignified martyrdom. I always prayed that his martyrdom should not harm anyone. And Allah has listened to my prayers. We are free now, and so is he,” says Irshad’s mother Muneera Begum.
“They (government forces) would raid our house at will and pick up my husband and sons. They would take them to police station and army camps and torture them. Prior to September floods, my husband was detained for three weeks at Awantipora and Cargo (infamous torture centres of police’s counterinsurgency unit SOG). Now our persecution has come to an end,” she adds.
Twenty-six-year-old Irshad, who rose to the rank of second in command of Lashkar after Abu Qasim, was killed reportedly in a brief gunfight with government forces in Kakpora on Saturday.
Irshad was born in 1989 in a poor peasant family of Larkipora village of Padgampora. His father, Abdul Majid is a farmer, while mother Muneera Akhter is a housewife. He has three younger brothers Muzaffar Ahmad, a driver, Amir a mechanic, and Suhail, the youngest, a fifth standard student.
Irshad did his schooling from the government high school Padgampora. He passed the 12th standard from higher secondary school, Padgampora, before joining a paramedical institute, called Dolphin, to pursue nursing course. It was during this time, the family says, his ordeal began.
Irshad’s uncle Farooq Ahmad Ganai says that his nephew was constantly harassed and detained by the government forces after his classmate Bilal Ahmad Bhat joined militant ranks. Special Operations Group (SOG) and army, he said, would interrogate Irshad and seek information about Bilal (killed in a gunfight last year) from him.
“In the beginning, he was picked up occasionally. However, when he was undergoing nursing training, his life was made miserable by the forces with frequent detentions and torture,” says Farooq.
In 2011, Irshad, he says was picked up by the SOG from Lal Ded hospital when he was attending his pregnant aunt. The cops took him to the nearby Cargo complex and subjected him to third degree torture, he said.
“He was beaten with rods and sticks, his flesh was burnt, and roller was run over his legs. He was left in a terrible condition,” says Farooq.
“This was just the beginning of an ordeal that continued for next four years. He was not a militant or a stone pelter. He was a brilliant student,” he adds.
On July 10, 2012, Farooq says Irshad lost his patience and joined militant ranks after facing humiliation and harassment of the government forces. Since then, he said the family never saw or heard from him until he was brought home dead on Saturday.
“His father and mother were dying to have his glimpse but he never turned up. He had told his friends that he will come home only when he achieves martyrdom,” says Farooq, adding, “He kept his promise.”
He said that after Irshad’s disappearance, the family published a public notice in a local daily informing that their son has gone missing. The notice brought teams of army and police rushing to their modest house in Larkipora.
“One day, a CID official came to our house and informed that Irshad has joined militant ranks. We were not surprised since we knew he was pushed to the wall,” says Farooq, adding, “A month after he became a militant, we received his job letter. But then it was too late.”
He said that the unending harassment made the lives of family “hellish” prompting them to move court in 2013. He said even the civil officials, including Director Education Dr Shah Faisal, rebuked the forces for subjecting the family to harassment.
“I have lost the count of detentions. There is no camp or police station where Muzaffar and I were not tortured. On January 26, 2013, we were stripped by an army officer at the Balpora camp in Shopian. Before that, we were photographed with weapons by the officer to scare us,” he said.
Farooq says in the last four years he can’t recall a single night when he or Irshad’s family had a peaceful sleep.
“But now Irshad has slept forever. His martyrdom has freed all of us from tyranny,” he says, adding, “I am thankful to Allah that he died as a martyr, not as a traitor. He has made all of us proud.”
Thousands attend Irshad’s funeral
Several thousand people attended his funeral in his native village on Sunday, shouting pro-freedom slogans and kissing his face.
All shops, business establishments, private offices and petrol pumps remained closed in all the major and small towns of Pulwama. Both passenger and private traffic remained off the roads. However fierce clashes erupted between youth and forces in the native village of the slain commander after the conclusion of his funeral prayers. The youth after offering Jinaza to the militant attacked the nearby CRPF camp with stones and bricks. The CRPF troopers responded with teargas shells and pellet ammunition resulting into the injuries to at least five youth. One of the youth after being hit by pellets in his eyes has been referred to Srinagar hospital for advanced treatment.
Clashes also erupted in Pulwama town after the groups of youth took to roads and pelted the government forces with stones. The police and paramilitary troopers had been deployed in large numbers to prevent the mourners from taking out pro-freedom protest demonstrations.
—With reporting by Mushtaq-ul-Islam