Feroz was a symbol of humanity in his village, where he promoted literacy, sports and organised picnics for children. His neighbours and friends say he was their leader, friend and guide.
“He took care of all hundred of us in the family. He used to say, ‘I’m going to take care of everyone that I can'”, says the dead man’s cousin. “Such a selfless and generous man, I never thought he could die,” he confesses. Talk of the son’s mortality jolts his father out of his grief-struck reverie, “All we want is peace. A normal life. Not having to sit at the threshold every evening, wondering whether our children will return.” In a place as volatile as Kashmir, this seems to be too much for a parent to ask for. It is only too often that children do not come back home.
When Abdul Raheem Dar spoke to him late in the afternoon of Friday, June 16, Feroz Ahmed Dar, his son, was busy with his duties as the Jammu and Kashmir Police Station House Officer, but promised that he would come home in time to join in the Maghrib prayers and breaking of the fast with Iftar. The next time Abdul would see his son, after a few hours, Feroz would be in an ambulance, dead and disfigured beyond recognition.
The police contingent in which Feroz was on routine patrol in Thajiwara, Achabal, in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district, had been ambushed the same evening by an armed group of militants. In the ensuing assault, six police personnel, including Feroz, were injured. The bodies that had been rushed to the hospital were declared dead by the doctors on duty. Not only had they been killed by the militants, but they had also been deliberately mutilated, particularly facially, with a spurt of bullets shot at point blank range.
The attack came hours after joint security forces, who had surrounded two houses in Arwani village in Kulgam, had engaged in open fire with militants hiding inside, killing five. Of the five who were killed, three have been linked to the Pakistani Islamic militant organisation – Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), among them Commander Junaid Mattoo. The other two killed in the crossfire, have been identified as 34-year-old Muhammad Ashraf Khan and 15-year-old Ahsan Mushtaq, both civilians.
Just one day before this event, on June 15, two policemen were killed in separate attacks in Bogund, Kulgam and Hyderpora, Srinagar. This was the third attack in two days, testifying to an escalating wave of violence against the J&K police in the Valley, in which the LeT have assumed responsibility in an email shared with a news agency via spokesperson Abdulla Ghaznavi.
Even as Feroz’s family, neighbours and colleagues from the J&K Police department came to bid him a tearful, untimely farewell, the atmosphere at his family burial ground was tense in the shadow of Mattoo’s funeral that echoes with militants’ gun salutes and was attended by tens of thousands of mourners from across Kashmir. One day after Feroz was buried, the narrow village lane leading off Srinagar Anantnag highway was congested with parked vehicles.
Located in the midst of lush landscape, Feroz’s family residence is a two-storey house, simple but comfortable. One could have even called it idyllic or picturesque but for the large tent outside the house that held mourners, and the relentless lament that rose and fell from within the house. Wailing women surround Feroz’s mother and his widow in a protective circle, as they try to find comfort in each other’s company. Feroz’s newly orphaned daughters Simran and Addah, aged five and three, sit on their garden swing, either oblivious or numb to the carefully filtered information regarding their father’s demise that has trickled down to them. The men, including Feroz’s father, sit inside. Even in the depths of his despair, Abdul is the embodiment of Kashmiri hospitality as he ushers visitors in, stopping momentarily at Feroz’s room to reminisce and point proudly at the book rack – one of the few pieces of furniture in the house – overflowing with academic volumes.
Had he been a selfish man, after pursuing his MPhil in Maharashtra, Feroz would have gone on to fulfilling his dream of earning a PhD. He would not have come back to Kashmir at the behest of his people. Had he not been committed to the cause of restoring humanity in the valley, he would not have renounced his education to embrace the notoriously risky life of a police officer in Kashmir. Not only had he prioritised serving his community above following his individual ambition, but he also inspired those around him to do the same and help restore peace in their homeland.
“He was our leader,” says a neighbour, “We will miss him, as a friend and as a guide, for as long as we live.”
From championing literacy and sports, to planning and funding weddings for the children of the needy, to organising their annual picnics and helping village elders make important decisions, Feroz was emblematic of humanity in his village, where they call him Dogripura gaon ka hunar (the pride of Dongripura).
In contrast to the popular imagination among many who perceive every Kashmiri as a militant, he was not a pillar of opposition to India, nor was he a supporter of a Pak-Kashmir merger.
But these facts are easily washed over by the din of the media theatre that surrounds Kashmir. What irresponsible media professionals fail to realise is that their biased content has an impact more far-reaching than just the coveted spike of their TRPs – it affects the 60 lakh lives waiting for basic human rights of security and livelihoods.
Perhaps the ones that unethical reporting affects most are those that stand at the intersection of the two kinds that the media portrays as conflicting entities – the J&K police force, simultaneously representing both the common Kashmiri and an oppressive government. Their sense of belonging and call for duty puts them between the hatred from militants as well as brainwashed locals, who support the cause of the former. Yet, unlike the Indian Army or CRPF or BSF who are temporary protectors of the Valley, the local police force has to engage in a constant, lifelong battle, be it with militants or native agitators.
“Jammu Kashmir has among the lowest crime rates in the country. The J&K police work so hard, they work for us… But then…” Abdul’s voice trails off. “We do not understand. What justice is this?”
Army officers in Kashmir are martyred not killed, and receive collective condolences of an entire nation. When a militant is killed, he too gets his share of glory as his emboldened family has the liberty to mourn freely, even speak to the press and people about it. But when a Kashmiri police officer is murdered by militants or even killed in crossfire, the aftermath is far more low key. Few gather to pay their last respects and they too carry something deeper than sorrow in their eyes – fear. Already vulnerable, they cannot afford to bear the brunt of further rage from either the government or militants, both of whom they stand to upset if they break their silence.
Abdul Ahmed Dar, now the sole bread earner of his heartbroken family comprising his wife, Feroz’s widow, and his two daughters, works at the Department of Public Health Engineering Irrigation and Flood Control under the Government of Jammu and Kashmir and has little else to look forward to in life than a reduced existence. “I only need courage now” he says.
Avani Rai and Anushi Saigal are freelance journalists.