On Sunday morning, Abdul Raheem Bhat got a call from his son Mohammad Rafi Bhat. “I am trapped,” he told his father. “Please forgive me for my mistakes. I am going to meet Allah”.
An assistant professor of sociology at the University of Kashmir in Srinagar, where he taught for the last two years, Rafi had been missing since Friday afternoon.
On Sunday morning, Rafi, along with his four associates, all top militant commanders of the Hizbul Mujahideen, was killed in an encounter in south Kashmir’s Shopian. Rafi had been a militant for only 36 hours.
On Friday morning, Rafi left his home in Ganderbal for the university, where he gave his lectures. When he didn’t return home that day, the following morning, his family filed a missing person report. As news spread, his students at Kashmir University took to the streets to protest his disappearance. A worried Kashmir University wrote to Director General of Police (DGP) S P Vaid requesting help to trace Rafi.
But on Sunday morning, the father finally heard from Rafi – he was on the phone, saying he was trapped in Shopian.
Rafi had recently been shortlisted for the post of assistant professor at the University of Hyderabad, his name topping the list of those who had made the cut. “On Friday, he told us he was leaving for Hyderabad,” said one of his students, among the mourners at Rafi’s Chunduna village in Ganderbal. “He was a brilliant teacher. Before leaving, he advised us to study hard.”
The 32-year-old Rafi, who completed his doctorate in sociology last November from Kashmir University, had qualified the National Eligibility Test (NET) twice and was a Junior Research Fellow.
“He was a brilliant student and a teacher as well,” said one of his teachers. “He qualified most of the competitive examinations in his subject and had 29 publications to his credit.”
Rafi joined Kashmir University over a year ago as a contractual assistant professor. The Head of Department of sociology at Kashmir University, Peerzada Amin, said, “Rafi was very competent. His death has came as a very big shock for all of us.”
The villagers of Chunduna in Ganderbal remember him as a “pious and down-to-earth” man. “He was loved by everyone, He never raised his voice with any of the villagers,” said a neighbour.
Rafi is the third member of his family to join militancy. Two of his cousins were militants and were killed in the early 90s. While one of his cousin was killed in a gunfight in 1992, the other cousin was killed in 1994 while trying to cross over to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) for arms training.