Srinagar: Mourners are crowding into a small house near Eidgah, a volatile locality situated right next to downtown Srinagar. The lawn is full of women; crying, beating their chests and shouting slogans in the name of ‘shaheed’ Altaf Hussain, the slain Jammu and Kashmir police cop who died protecting a Bharatiya Janata Party legislator on Tuesday.
The locality hems a sprawling Eidgah ground where Kashmiri Muslims converge for special Eid prayers. But it had also been a site of political expression registered through large scale pro-Azadi demonstrations and stone pelting protests in the past. Yet on Wednesday afternoon, hundreds of locals were trailing behind the coffin of Hussain. His funeral prayers had been offered in the same ground before he was buried in a graveyard nearby.
Hussain was deputed as personal security officer (PSO) guarding BJP legislator Ghulam Qadir Rather at his village in Nunar in central Kashmir district of Ganderbal. According to police, the legislator was attacked while on his way to “safe cluster accommodation” at Kangan in the same district.
Police said that the militants had ambushed Rather, firing bullets indiscriminately at him and one more constable Jehangir Ahmad, who was accompanying the legislator. Both cops attempted to shield the legislator while firing in retaliation during which a militant identified as Shabir Ahmad Shah had died. “However, while securing the protected person, one of the PSOs Constable Altaf Hussain sustained bullet injuries in the attack who was rushed to hospital where he attained martyrdom, thereby making supreme sacrifice in the line of duty,” the police statement said.
As per police, Shah, a resident of Pulwama, was a close associate of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Riyaz Naikoo, who was killed in May earlier this year.
A grievous assault on the life and dignity of Kashmiris
The death of Hussain, who lived in the heart of Srinagar city, has registered on locals as one more assault that the conflict has inflicted, robbing people of life and dignity. “Everyone is showing up at our home,” said Ibrahim Bhat, slain cop’s uncle. “This is a Shia-dominated area but Sunni Muslims living in the vicinity have been grieving equally over this tragic killing. People across the sectarian divide turned up at his funeral. It was vast.”
Bhat said that they received a call from police to appear at Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences on Tuesday evening. “We were told that Altaf was injured during duty,” he said. “But when we arrived, the sight of his blood ridden corpse left us shell-shocked. We had not expected this. It feels like doomsday,” he added.
Hussain is survived by three brothers, his wife and an 18-month-old son. “Our father used to weave carpets for a living. He was a labourer,” said Ishfaq Hussain, Altaf’s brother. “All of us slogged for different occupations so that we could feed our family after our father passed away eight years ago. We would have fallen into penury had my brother, through sheer luck, not gotten through physical tests for a constable post in J&K police advertised some years ago,” he recalled.
Ishfaq is an apprentice to a wood-carver where he helps inscribe decorative motifs of Chinar leaves and Paisleys into furniture made from the walnut wood. The earnings from the work help him eke out a dignified living for himself.
In Kashmir, where discourse of conflict is often articulated in black and white terms of “them” and “us”, the killing of Hussain and a collective sense of loss over it demonstrates the patchwork of grey shades that inhabit within the social fabric.
“Where do we go from here?” Ishfaq asks, aggrieved. He calls for Sameena, Altaf’s wife. Moments later, she is ushered into a small room. Her eyes are swollen from crying. Her 18-month-old son, Hasnain Ali Bhat, is restless and crying. “He has been asking for his father from the last four days,” she said, breaking down. “How do I convey the magnitude of our loss to him?” she asked helplessly.
Altaf and Sameena were married in 2018. Altaf’s pictures showing the 32-year-old sturdy man caressing his infant son went viral on social media across Kashmir on Wednesday with users posting emotional updates.
“He had come to his home on Sunday after two straight days of duty,” she told The Wire. “On Monday, he left with a promise of returning on Wednesday morning. He kissed his son good bye and Hasnain started crying as if he had a foreboding that his father won’t return,” she recalled.
Umpteen attacks against BJP leaders
There has been a spate of attacks on BJP leaders in Kashmir this year. In July earlier this year, militants killed a BJP youth leader Waseem Bari in north Kashmir district of Bandipora. All 10 personal security officers (PSOs) guarding Bari were dismissed from service then. In August, militants attacked three political workers associated with BJP in a span of week, sparking a wave of resignations. One of the workers succumbed to injuries.
As per the data furnished by Jammu and Kashmir Police to The Wire, a total 13 cops have died during various attacks in 2020 in Jammu and Kashmir union territory so far. Of these, nine are categorised as police personnel and four as special police officers (SPOs). “Since 1989, when the insurgency began, J&K police has lost 1,059 police personnel and 508 SPOs,” an official said.
On August 30, militants killed assistant sub-inspector of J&K police Babu Ram. On August 17, an SPO was among the eight persons including two Laskhar militants who died in two-day-long gun battle in Kreeri area of north Kashmir. Militants also killed two J&K police personnel on August 14 in the run up to Independence Day preparations.
Last week, Director General J&K Police Dilbagh Singh claimed that militancy in J&K was coming down. “There is decline in militancy-related incidents in Kashmir,” he told reporters. “J&K has seen improvement in law and order situation,” he added.
Shakir Mir is a Srinagar-based journalist.