Scholar And An Engima

  • Auqib Javeed
  • Publish Date: May 14 2018 1:27AM
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  • Updated Date: May 14 2018 9:53PM
Scholar And An Engima

His family, colleagues and fellow academics are struggling to understand Kashmir University professor Mohammad Rafi Bhat’s decision to pick up the gun.


Sighs pierced the gloomy silence as I walked through Chunduna, Ganderbal, a day after the village buried their “soldier”. A heavy deployment of the Central Reserve Police Force and the J&K Police watched the tense streets and shuttered shops as thousands of mourners flitted in and out of a tent pitched outside one house.

Many of them were students who had come to pay tributes to the professor who had taught them only 36 hours ago. Dr Mohammad Rafi Bhat had been gone and lived as a Hizbul Mujahideen militant for just two nights before he was killed in a gunfight with the Indian forces in Shopian on May 6.

Chunduna is a relatively prosperous village. Most people are farmers and a good number are employed with the government as well. Rafi had followed a similar path – completing his PhD in 2007 and getting a job teaching sociology at Kashmir University – until, that’s, he went missing late last week.

“He left our department at around 3 pm on Friday. On Saturday, his family came to know and they lodged a missing persons complaint,” said Asif Ahmad, Rafi’s student at Kashmir University. “On Sunday, news came that he had been killed.”

To many people in Kashmir and beyond, the news came as a shock. Why would a highly educated man who apparently had everything going for him choose the path of the gun? After all, by all accounts, he had never desired to take up arms though he was “conscious of the resistance movement”.

He had apparently tried to cross the LoC for arms training while in middle school, but that has been put down to a “childish impulse”. “He was in 7th standard and had joined some youth who wanted to cross the LoC,” said his father Abdul Rahim Bhat. “They were caught in a gunbattle in Handwara. Rafi managed to escape safely and returned home.”

Rafi though was not the first from his family to die for the Kashmir cause. “Two of his cousins who had become militants were killed in the early 1990s,” one of his relatives said.

But Rafi’s wife still can’t figure out why he became a militant. “He would share everything with me and we would make every decision jointly,” Iqra, slumped in a corner of her home, tears streaming down her cheeks. “How can I explain to you how much we loved each other? But I don’t know why he took this decision all alone.” 

Iqra hadn’t tasted food since Rafi last called his family just before he was killed, saying “I am sorry if I hurt you”. Her eyes are sunken from crying and lips chapped. 

“He purposefully did not speak to me because he knew I was his weakness,” Iqra said of Rafi’s final phone call. “I wouldn’t have let him die had he spoken to me.” 

Iqra knew her husband of three years was disturbed and anguished about the prevailing situation in the valley “like any other Kashmiri”, but she never suspected he would “suddenly” pick up the gun. “He did not say anything that could have alerted us.”

Iqra said her family learnt Rafi had been trapped by the Indian forces when they received a call from the Shopian police chief. “I told them that Rafi would not listen to anyone except me,” she said. “We begged the SSP to wait until we reach the place so I could talk to Rafi myself. But they killed him before we got there.”

Rafi’s mother Fatima Begum is as clueless as Iqra. “He achieved everything in his life, so many degrees. I had never thought he would take such a step,” she said. “‘Mother, we shall meet on the day of Judgement,’ he told me when he last called and I could hear gunshots in the backdrop. My heart was beating fast. I am a mother. No mother wants to see her children die like this.”

Not just his family, Rafi’s decision to join the armed struggle has confounded many of his colleague and fellow academics as well, even though young Kashmiri men have been increasingly taking up arms after the Hizb commander Burhan Wani was killed in July 2016 and the Indian state unleashed a brutal crackdown on the peaceful protests that ensued. 

This year alone, 45 youth have taken up arms so far. Relatedly, 114 people have been killed in militancy-related operations in the valley. Of them, 53 were militants, 33 civilians, 14 policemen, 13 armymen and one pro-India politician. 

“Youth, specifically those who are educated and from well-off families, joining militancy speaks of the acceptability of armed resistance among the Kashmiris,” said an international relations scholar who asked not to be identified.

“The events of the recent past have made it clear that there is no way of abandoning this path as India has only used violent means to suppress our genuine struggle for the right to self-determination,” he added, referring to the armed resistance.

The academic and novelist Shahnaz Bashir noted that even policeman are becoming militants, let alone teachers. “It means that there is something wrong in our educational system as well.”

Prof Peerzada Amin, the head of the Kashmir University’s sociology department where Rafi taught, said the young professor was “very competent”. “His death is a shock for all of us. He was a decent boy and professionally very sound. I never saw this kind of tendency in him. He was doing his job very seriously.”

“This should not have happened,” insisted Prof Mehraj-ud-Din, the vice chancellor of the Central University of Kashmir, “but due to circumstances youth are being pushed towards militancy.”

Rafi’s case, he argued, is particularly worrying. “Teachers counsel students against the things which give rise to violence but when a teacher himself takes such a step it is very distributing.”

“Instead of expecting a solution, we have seen that such educated people become points of reference for others,” the vice chancellor added.

Prof Mushtaq A Siddiqi, the vice chancellor of the Islamic University of Science and Technology, expressed a similar view. “If a qualified professor from a reputed university and coming from a well-off family is picking up arms for addressing the issues, then it means something is grossly wrong. It means this issue is neither social nor economic, but political.” 

It’s thus imperative, he added, that “Delhi and Islamabad resolve the issue forthwith”. “Since I have direct contact with students, I can say they are very angry,” he said. “They feel desperate and hopeless. Delhi should stop seeing Kashmir as a law and order problem and resolve it politically.”

Peerzada Amin seemed to disagree. “This will not become the reference point for students,” he said, referring to Rafi’s death. “Given the kind of environment in which people are living in Kashmir, it is natural that there are vulnerabilities for youth to fall in. It all depends on what kind of environment we are offering as parents, heads of institution as well as a society to the students.”

“I believe the state should not underestimate the situation,” he cautioned. “It’s up to the state to address the issues.”