By Shafat Mir
Belov (Pulwama): On Monday, Shahbaz Shafi joined a new generation of militants educated and influenced by the teachings of Islam, in the graveyards of Pulwama in south Kashmir. His family has no regrets and feels proud of his martyrdom.
Class 12 pass, good looking, and native of Belov village of Rajpora, Shahbaz was known among his friends, family and neighbours by the name Rayees Kaachru. On a hot summer afternoon on June 24, 2016, Shahbaz left home for Friday prayers and never returned. The son of a shopkeeper who has a Jamaat-e-Islami background, Shahbaz even at a young age spoke with command on religious matters.
His father Mohammad Shafi Wani, 45, is an Umeed-wari e Rukun (one who is eligible for Rukniyat or basic membership) of the socio-political religious organization Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI).
“Shahbaz was committed to his ideology even at a young age and knew his goal very well. In the evenings he used to sit with me and discuss a host of issues – political, social, religious, and environmental,” recalled the father.
He said his son would often talk of the repression faced by Muslim Ummah in general and Kashmiris in particular.
Before joining rebel ranks, Shahbaz worked as an over-ground worker to provide logistical support to militants. “When I noticed his links with militants, I tried to convince him to pursue his career and take a decision about joining the rebels later. However, he had already chosen his path,” said his father.
A day before formally joining Hizb ranks, Shahbaz had a long conversation with his ailing grandfather and sought forgiveness from him if he had ever hurt him.
“On that evening, Shahbaz returned sixty rupees to his grandfather which he owed him from a few days before. Shahbaz also sought forgiveness from his grandfather and sought advice from him while discussing what it means to be truthful, honest and righteous,” Shafi Wani said.
“It was the Holy month of Ramadan. I had gone to offer Friday prayers to Pulwama town. When I returned, I found him missing from our shop. He had downed the shutter and left without locking it. In the evening when I returned home, he wasn’t at home as well. I called him on his phone but it was switched off. I could make out that he had chosen his path,” Shafi Wani said.
Shahbaz’s friends and neighbours remember him as a good-natured and pious person. “He was very humble, honest and pious. He would never look into the eyes of anyone while talking. He was very soft spoken and down to earth, like his father,” said one of his neighbours.
“Shahbaz was very gentle and couldn’t harm anyone. He used to say that it is a sin to kill any innocent person,” said one of his friends and former classmate.
During his association with Hizb ranks, Shahbaz’s family was harassed by government agencies. Shafi Wani said, “I was pressurised time and again by the police and the army. They wanted me to ask my son to surrender. However, I told them outright that if you can find him, then go and arrest him. My elder son, Owais , was detained for four days at a time when he had had a surgery in his foot. He was taken away while he was bed ridden.”
Six months after Shahbaz left home, his close friend Liyaqat Ahmed, resident of the same village and a senior to him in school, also joined him — becoming the sixth militant from Rajpora last year.
At the funeral of Shahbaz in Belov village, thousands of people from south Kashmir areas and also from Budgam villages came to offer him funeral prayers. His body was wrapped in the Pakistani flag and people were seen jostling with each other to have a last glimpse of his body.
At least four rounds of funerals prayers were held before Shahbaz was laid to rest. His father addressed the mourners and appealed to them to safeguard the sacrifices of martyrs.
“The day is not far away when we will see the dawn of freedom, provided we remain resilient and don’t betray the sacrifices of our youth by participating in elections,” he told the mourners.
All eyes turned moist when Shafi Wani told people that he was proud of the path chosen by his son.
Emotional scenes were also witnessed in Belov village late last night when a group of militants appeared at the house of Shafi Wani to have a last glimpse of their comrade. They offered a gun salute to Shahbaz and raised pro-freedom, pro-Islam and pro-Pakistan slogans. With tears in their eyes, the people present there hugged them and kissed them and prayed for their safety.
The people were heard raising the slogan, “Mujahido Qadam Badhao Hum Tumhare Saath Hain (Rebels move ahead, we are with you).”
The rebels were seen hugging the father and brothers of Shahbaz.