When pangs for home conquered lure of the gun

2 decades ago,they left for PoK,then opted out of militancy and settled there

Written by Mir Ehsan | Srinagar | Published: July 17, 2012 12:10:18 am

In the early 1990s,influenced by militancy in Jammu and Kashmir,scores of youths crossed over to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and joined camps there,but many later opted for a peaceful life instead. They got married and settled down in PoK but were always homesick.

When the Jammu and Kashmir government offered amnesty and rehabilitation to those willing to return,many did. Here are five of them,and their stories.

Fayaz Ahmad
Not the home he left

In the autumn of 1990,16-year-old Fayaz Ahmad of Noorbagh,Srinagar,decided to cross over to PoK. He joined a group of 55,most of them in their teens,and set out on the journey through dense forests and across the snow-capped mountains of northern Kashmir. After dodging Indian pickets along the Line of Control for three days,they finally reached PoK,where they were placed in an arms training camp for such youths.

It took Fayaz six months to decide he could take it no longer. “I was relieved when commanders noticed that frostbite had affected my feet. They considered me unfit,” he says.

He settled in Muzaffarabad,PoK. He set up a small tailoring shop,married a local girl and has had four children,aged 10 to two.

Homesickness brought him back last month,this time dodging Pakistani agencies. He is now in the custody of Srinagar police,who are “debriefing” him.

The city he has returned to,Fayaz has found,is not what he had left. “I still feel as if I am in a state of transit,” he says,playing with his children who have come to meet him. He points towards buildings that have come up in the last two decades. “I don’t even remember the names of the new localities. I feel like an alien. My children even can’t pronounce the name of my birthplace.” They cannot speak Kashmiri either.

While he was in Muzaffarabad,he lost his parents and a brother back home. “Everything has changed in these two decades,” he says. “I could not attend their last rites. Now,I will seek forgiveness at their graves.”

One worry is that Srinagar schools are asking for migration certificates from PoK schools. “Without those certificates,it means my children cannot continue their studies…”

Ashraf Gilkar
Starting afresh

Ashraf Gilkar,like Fayaz,left in his teens and has returned 22 years later with a wife and four children. And he too lost his parents while he was in PoK. He returned via Nepal and now sells old garments at Lal Chowk,Srinagar,having started the business with a loan from relatives.

“I was 19 when,as part of a group,I crossed over to PoK for arms training. I spent some time in a camp,but soon got fed up with militancy,’’ he says.

“In 1993,I married a girl in PoK and started a business there. The business flourished but I always missed my home,” he echoes Fayaz.

He too finds everything changed in Kashmir,but feels it has been for the better. “When I left,gunfire used to rattle everywhere. Today,tourists are here and shops remain open till late in the evening.”

Gilkar and another Kashmiri family in PoK got Pakistani passports made and bought air tickets to Nepal. “Airport officials tried to stop us but after a lot of persuasion allowed us to leave.” In Nepal,an agent made the arrangements for a trip to Gorakhpur,in the process exhausting Gilkar’s savings.

“From Gorakhpur,we took a train to Jammu,came to Srinagar by the highway,and surrendered to the police,” Gilkar says. A court granted them all bail days later.

Now,it is his wife Shabnum Kounsar who is homesick for PoK. “I have convinced her we can visit PoK,this time by bus through the Kaman post in Uri and after getting the papers.”

Bashir Ahmad Rather
The camera beckons

The gun held an appeal to the youth in those days,says Bashir Ahmad Rather,adding that age has now made him wiser. He lived in Charigam village near Pahalgam,entertaining tourists and clicking their pictures for a living,but discarded the camera when militancy began to check the flow of tourists.

“I am now unemployed. But if the government helps us,I can again start a photography shop here,” says Rather,now back and hoping his wife and children will be given Indian citizenship.

“Along with 32 boys,it took me four days to reach PoK,” says Rather,now 45. “After some time at various training camps,I got disillusioned and left those camps. I worked as a salesman for four years at a soft drinks company and married a local girl,” he says. “I never lost contact with my family,I used to call them. My parents and brothers missed me.”

His chance came when the J&K government announced the rehabilitation package.

Of Rather’s four children,eldest son Omar Bashir has earned a B Com from PoK. “My life is ruined,but I want my family to do well in their home,which is Kashmir,” he says.

Dawood Rather
Hopes unfulfilled

Now 37,he lives at Narbal on Srinagar’s outskirts. Since his return from PoK,he has not earned a paisa. “I have been sitting idle for the past one month. My children can’t get admission as school authorities want a migration certificate. Sometimes,I wonder if I made the wrong decision,” he says.

“When I left,I was only 15. I crossed over with 32 boys from the Kupwara side,” he says.

Ahmad Khan,a distant relative who had migrated before Partition,took him to his home in Rawalpindi and advised him against joining a camp. “I then started working as a salesman at a local factory.”

Like the others,he married there. “I used to earn Rs 20,000 in PoK and was living a comfortable life with my wife and three children. But my brothers and parents insisted I return following the government offer.”

Dawood says his and six other families planned the return together. “We were 40 and boarded a flight from Pakistan to Nepal in April. We stayed with an agent in Nepal and then took a bus to India.”

On the border,the Army and police detained them,but let them go once they had told their stories. The Kashmir police took them into custody,then granted them bail

Abdul Rashid Khan
Everything lost

Khan,37,lives in Kulangam village,close to the Rajwar forests in Kupwara and not far from the LoC. He had left in the spring of 1992,influenced by others before him,and joined a six-member group linked to the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front. He tried out various camps and,like many others,soon opted for a peaceful life. He did odd jobs.

When he returned,he brought a family that included three children. “After spending Rs 2 lakh,I reached Kashmir two months ago,” Khan says. Since he had not saved that much,he asked his brothers to sell his land back home. “I have nothing left. The promised rehabilitation is my last hope.”

Khan learnt palmistry in PoK but it is not a career option. “Here,nobody is interested in palmistry.”

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