FOR Abdul Khaliq Mir, it is enough that son Umar is alive. “I don’t know for how long he will be detained. But for me, it is a matter of solace that some day, he will return home.”
Twelve days ago, Umar Mir, 24, became one of the rare militants to surrender in the current wave of unrest in the Valley. Surrounded from all sides by security forces in a house next to where he grew up in Sopore’s Tujjar Sharief village, Umar chose to walk out after laying down arms following appeals by Abdul. The forces held their fire, waiting for over five hours for Umar to come out.
Taken away by a joint team of the Army and police, Umar was put in police custody. The next morning, Abdul and his wife were called to the 22 Rashtriya Rifles camp at Zaloora, 5 km away. “The officials asked us for details regarding Umar and took our photo, before letting us leave,” Abdul says.
They haven’t been able to meet Umar since. However, 60-year-old Abdul says that is preferable to the pain of losing a son. His one son, Mohammad Ashraf Mir, was killed in 2004 in an encounter. “After Ashraf, I also lost a nephew, Javid Manzoor, in a crossfire in 2008. It could have been the third tragedy in the family in 12 years.”
Talking about Umar’s surrender, Superintendent of Police, Sopore, Harmeet Singh Mehta said everybody had the right to live. “We gave the holed-up militant a chance, which he accepted. It was his father and elders who motivated him not to open fire on troopers. It took us several hours.” An AK-rifle, three magazines, a wireless set, two grenades, one pouch and a matrix sheet were recovered from Umar, Mehta said.
Located close to the Sopore-Kupwara highway, Tujjar is one of the biggest villages of Sopore, with most of its 10,000-odd residents dependent on either apple orchards or farming. The Mirs are a moderately well-off family, owning land on which they grow paddy as well as big apple orchards yielding nearly 1,500 high-quality apple boxes every year.
Their life changed after Ashraf joined militant ranks. Says Abdul, “Ashraf was a student at Deoband. He was harassed by security forces personnel in the late ‘90s when he had came home on a vacation. He crossed the LoC in 1999 and joined the Hizbul Mujahideen. He returned in 2003, but the next year he was dead. I didn’t see him after he had left, till he was killed fighting security forces in Lolab Kupwara. It was police who informed me about his death in an encounter. I collected his body three days later and buried it in the village.’’
After Ashraf’s death, the security forces began harassing his other two sons, Nisar and Umar, claims Abdul. “The two had no affiliation with any militant group, but whenever anything happened in our village or neighbouring villages, my sons were an easy target.”
Abdul claims an angry Umar often talked about joining militancy, and the “turning point” came last year. “A policeman was killed and another injured when unidentified gunmen attacked them as they were guarding the shrine of Sheikh Hamza Makdhoomi. The shrine is located close to our house. The policeman detained Umar. During torture, he warned the police officer that they were forcing him to pick up the gun.”
Nissar, a father of three who now oversees the family apple business, says the “harassment” made their lives miserable. “I was also harassed but since Umar was younger, he fared worse.” Umar left home in May. Police say he crossed over to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, was affiliated with the Lashkar-e-Toiba and came back last month.
Neighbour Irshad Ahmad, who remembers Umar as a shy youngster, says they were surprised when he joined militancy. “I thought he would never pick up the gun as the family had already lost one member to militancy.”
On November 3, when the Army and police quietly laid a cordon around the village and moved in on neighbour Sonaullah Mir’s house, Abdul and his family didn’t come to know about it for a long time. “Around 9 pm, Sonaullah along with his son came to our house with some police officers. The officers told me my son was inside Sonaullah’s house, and that while they could ‘neutralise’ him in a few minutes, they would not harm him if he didn’t fire on the forces.”
Abdul, who hadn’t seen Umar in six months, rushed over to Sonaullah’s house. “The police officers, including the SP, assured me again that my son would not be harmed. Along with Sonaullah, I went inside. My son was hiding in a small place near the cowshed. I told him about his chances, how the family had already seen two tragedies, and how our neighbour would suffer, his house go up in flames if security forces opened fire. I said Sonaullah would only blame us for his miseries. My son agreed. He left his weapons and came out from his hiding place.”
They hugged, before police led Umar away.
The police decision to give Umar a chance to surrender followed an appeal by J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti to police officers to try bring back the youth who had left home to join militants.
SP Mehta rejected the family’s claims of Umar and Nissar being frequently called to police station for questioning.
Abdul says they remain hopeful about Umar’s future. “We have already seen the bad days.”