In Search Of Hope

  • Ubeer Naqushbandi
  • Publish Date: Mar 19 2018 1:56AM
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  • Updated Date: Mar 19 2018 1:56AM
In Search Of Hope

A father’s struggle to bring back his militant son ended in a Facebook post: ‘As per reliable sources, my son Eesa Fazili has left for heavenly abode’ 

 

 

When, at around 3 in the night on January 12, Naeem Fazilli received a call from Soura police station in Srinagar, he knew what it meant. It’s the call he had dreaded getting for six months, since his son Eesa Fazilli had left to take up arms.

“Fazilli sahab, where are you?” the police officer on phone asked. Used to getting untimely calls from security agencies after his son had become a militant, he replied: “Naturally, at this time, I am home and sleeping.” 

There was a pause before the officer said, “I don’t know what to say to you.”

Naeem, a government school principal, understood what it was about. “Is it Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un?” he asked, reciting the prayer for the dead. “Where has it happened?” 

“Yes, somewhere in South Kashmir, in Kokernag tehsil,” the officer answered and hung up.

Hoping against hope, Naeem did what he had been religiously doing the past six months: he picked up his mobile phone and started surfing news websites and social media. “I wanted to check it doubly. Was it my son? Where had the encounter taken place?” he recalls, taking a moment from attending to people who have come to offer condolences to his family at their house in Ahmednagar, on the outskirts of Srinagar.

Finding nothing about his son online, Naeem called the officer who had woken him. “Should I share the news with my family?” he recalls asking the officer, desperately hoping it wasn’t true.

“Yes.” 

Naeem first broke the news to his wife, then to his parents and his four brothers, who all live in three adjacent houses. There was commotion as they swarmed Naeem’s house.

Then Naeem did what no parent of a militant slain in Kashmir is know to have ever done: he announced his son’s death on Facebook. “As per reliable sources,” he wrote, “my son Eesa Fazili has left for heavenly abode.”

At around 5 in the morning, Naeem, shaken and sullen, got another call again from the officer at Soura police station. “Come to Police Control Room in Batamaloo,” he said, “and take the body.”

Hearing the commotion at Naeem’s house, neighbours also gathered. It was decided Naeem’s brothers and a few neighbours would go to bring back Eesa’s body.

Naeem had last seen his son in July 2017, when he had come for summer vacations from Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University in Rajouri, where he was studying engineering. “He showed no signs of inclination towards militancy. He celebrated Eid-ul-Fitr with us,” Naeem says. 

Eesa went back on July 30. Naeem would call him every day before going to bed. “Our conversations would revolve mostly around his daily classes and general well-being,” he says. And so he called on August 16. That day, though, Eesa’s phone was switched off. Naeem didn’t think much about it.

“I thought it was normal,” he says. “The next day, August 17, we had a function at a relative’s. I was tired and forgot to call him that evening. I called him the next morning, but his phone was again switched off.”

He called again in the afternoon, but no luck. “I remember it was Friday. I thought he might have left for Friday prayers.” Same in the evening.

It was the marriage of Naeem’s niece in Soura the following day and all the Fazilli clan was busy there. “I was anxious about Eesa,” he recalls. “I called him at 3 in the afternoon. Again the phone was switched off. Seeing my uneasy, my relatives told me not to worry as he would be safe.”

Finally, on August 19, Naeem called his nephew who was studying in the same college. “He told me he will check and get back to me,” says Naeem. 

Naeem’s nephew learned from Eesa’s friends he had left his hostel for class three days ago but not returned. One of his friends said Eesa had gone to Poonch to attend the wedding of a friend’s sister. “I was perturbed when I heard this. Eesa had never done anything like this before, but then there was satisfaction that he was safe,” Naeem says.

He asked his nephew to contact Eesa’s friend in Poonch and tell him his parents were worried. When the friend said Easa hadn’t turned up for the wedding, Naeem grew anxious. “I feared he might have driven his friend’s bike and met an accident. Like any other teenager, bikes fascinated him.”

That night at around 11, Naeem got a call from an acquaintance. After exchanging pleasantries, the acquaintance asked him how his sons were doing. “I told him one was studying in Aligarh University and another in BGSBU,” Naeem recalls. 

“Are you on Facebook?” the acquaintance asked.

“Yes.”

“Check a page by the name of 90ft.”

Curious, Naeem looked up the page. Staring back at him was a picture of Easa brandishing an assault rifle. “It was an absolute shocker for me. I did not know what to do. For more than an hour my eyes were glued to my phone.”

Naeem finally got out of bed and broke the news to his extended family. It was decided that the next morning, all elders will go in search of Eesa and persuade him to return home. They decided to start from his college. It was not to be. Early in the morning, a posse of Special Operations Group operatives and the police raided the Fazillis. “For one week, we were continuously called by police and other agencies for profiling Eesa,” Naeem says. 

Naeem knew he had to act fast, but he couldn’t as he was being frequently called to various police stations and the SOG headquarters. “I got help from SPHazratbal. He assured me I wouldn’t be called again so that I could make efforts to bring my son back,” says Naeem.

Thus started Naeem’s journey to bring his son back. He started from Eesa’s college in Rajouri. But the teachers and even Eesa’s friends there could not tell why he had chosen to hard path. “Eesa’s teachers talked highlyof him, and they were equally puzzled about him joining the militant ranks,” says Naeem.

In desperation, Naeem checked Eesa’s hostel room. “His things were left in such a way I felt he would return any instant. Everything was lying there – his books, toothbrush, clothes, notes, accessories.” 

Overcome with emotion, he fainted and was brought back to Srinagar by the university authorities. 

Back home, Naeem calledalmost every acquaintance asking if they knew how he could get his son back. “Nobody could give me any information.” 

At that moment, Naeem decided to search for his son by himself. He and his wife, a teacher,would get into their car in the morning and go to towns and villages in South Kashmir. In the evening, Naeem would religiously surf news websites and social networking sites to find information about his son. “I knew it was impossible to get into the mysterious world of militants, but I had not lost hope,” he says.

In these suspicious times, wandering among strangers is fraught with risk. Naeem found this out when was questioned by people in several places in South Kashmir. “Naturally, when you move like a lunatic in alien places, people are bound to look at you with suspicion. I did not mind it. I could not tell them the real reason for wandering in those places. I would dodge their questions saying I was visiting a relative or some such thing.”

Three days before Eid-ul-Adha, Naeem found himself in Ratnipora village, Pulwama. “I offered prayers at the local masjid. There, a stranger asked me about the purpose of my visit. As usual I dodged him saying I was visiting a relative. But there was something different about him,” says Naeem. He can’t place what it was that he felt different, though.

Back home that evening, Naeem started surfing the internet as usual. He was “shell shocked”, he says,when he found a video showing Eesa talking about Islam and jihad. “It took me fifteen days to recover.”

While Naeem was searching for his son, Eesa was rising up the “hit list” of government forces out to hunt him down. “It was getting frustrating. Then, I shot an arrow in the dark. I emailed Eesa, hoping that he would read it. I asked him not to appear in videos as it was not Islamic. I also wrote that it was necessary to take permission from one’s parents before going away for jihad, which he had not done. I told him we would talk to the persons who had taken him along.”

Naeem didn’t receive a reply but his son never appeared in videos after that. “I guess he might have read the email somehow or someone might have taken the message to him.”

Days turned to weeks and months, but Naeem kept wandering through South Kashmir during day and looking up the internet for clues about his son in the evening. “Words such as CASO, gunfight, encounter, trapped militant would give me sleepless nights. Whenever a gunfight erupted anywhere, I would just hope it was not my son.”

In January this year, word spread that Eesa was in Ahmednagar. “I was in hospital that night, attending to a relative. The forces raided my house. They called me at 4 in the morning asking why I was not home. I had nothing to hide. I told them I was in hospital and could get back homeimmediately. So, I went and unlocked my house. They searched, but found nothing and went away.”

It went on like this for six months: Naeem wandering in distant villages and towns and trawling the internet. Until the night last week his phone rang.

Now that he thinks back, Naeem feels he ignored two warnings about what was brewing inside his son’s mind. “Once, while he was at university, he posted a picture of charred bodies of militants on Facebook. When I told him to remove it, he asked why I was getting so worried. ‘Aren’t they somebody’s sons?’ he asked. I retorted angrily that when he returned home, we would talk about it. He had never asked me questions or confronted me ever.”

Another time, Eesa asked him about an engineering student who had been killed in firing on a protest in HMT, Srinagar. “Abu what did this boy got from doing B tech?” Naeem recalls Eesa asking him. Naeem did not have an answer. “I was speechless.”

It’s a question that could be asked about Eesa.