A Rebel’s Life For Him

  • Ink Correspondent
  • Publish Date: May 3 2017 8:17PM
  • |
  • Updated Date: May 3 2017 8:17PM
A Rebel’s Life For Him

How 22-year-old hospital worker Firdous Rashid Lone became Abu Umer

 

On September 20, 2016, the administration of Sri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital sought an explanation from an employee for “unauthorised absence” from duty. Firdous Rashid Lone was posted at the Principal Government Medical College, Srinagar. 

So, where had Firdous, 22, gone? He had left his job and his home to join the militants. He was among 60-odd youth who picked up the gun last year after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani on July 8.

As the Kashmir valley erupted in revolt after Burhan’s killing, nearly 100 civilians were killed and about 15,000 injured, many of them in the eyes from pellets. At GMC, Firdous was tasked to keep record of the people who were brought to the hospital with pellet injuries.  

Firdous could not bear to see the maimed youth and children, his former colleagues at the hospital claim. “He was torn by the sight of people being brought to the hospital everyday,” one of them said. This former colleague, who asked not to be named, remembers Firdous as a “straightforward and hardworking” person. “But he was disturbed after the civil uprising began,” he said.

A tall, lean, bearded Firdous, who usually wore a skull cap, according to his friends, had joined the hospital in 2015 while he was still a first-year college student.

A government job for his son, Firdous’ father said, was welcome news for the family. “He was a good student but we thought a government job was a great opportunity knocking at the door,” Abdul Rashid Lone said. “So, I asked him to join the hospital.”

A resident of Ganowpora village in South Kashmir’s Balapora, Firdous is the youngest of five children, including two daughters, of Abdul Rashid. A retired state government employee, Abdul Rashid says his son spent most of his time away from home. “After he completed his Class 8, we shifted him to Srinagar. In the city, better education is available and Firdous was enrolled in a private school,” Abdul Rashid said.

Firdous fared well in studies. In the tenth grade, he was among the class toppers, securing 9.40 grade points and earning grade A2. “In Class 12, he passed after securing a distinction in the science stream,” his father said.

Firdous sat for and qualified the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test and even attended the counseling process, but decided against pursuing MBBS. He enrolled in Shopian Degree College in 2014.  

As catastrophic floods hit Kashmir valley, the final examinations were postponed. “But before he could appear in the exam, he received a job offer at the hospital,” Abdul Rashid said.

Firdous stayed in Shopian for over a year after returning from Srinagar. But after joining SMHS Hospital, he rented an apartment in Old City. He also enrolled his niece in a private school there and brought her to stay with him. 

For months during the civil uprising, Firdous couldn’t go home, not least because his hometown was among the worst hit by violence. Six youth fell to the bullets of the government forces in Shopian during the unrest. In adjoining Anantnag and Kulgam districts, at least 30 civilians were killed and thousands left injured.  

Since ambulances were also being attacked, Firdous could not even travel to his apartment and was provided an accommodation inside the hospital premises. In a protest held at the GMC, Firdous stood with the protesters carrying a placard: “Stop killing innocent Kashmiris.”  

Still, his joining a militant outfit was not “spontaneous”, a friend of his claimed. “There was a build up and last year’s chain of events ultimately acted as the trigger,” he said. Firdous had been transferred to another department of the hospital but he never joined.  

After Burhan’s killing, a series of videos appeared online in which young, freshly recruited militants, wearing army fatigues and brandishing assault rifles, called for war against the Indian state.   

According to official estimates, the number of active militants in Kashmir is about 215. In the south, there are about 120 militants, most of them local and locally trained. In north Kashmir, there are more foreign militants than locals.   

Firdous is currently active in South Kashmir’s Kulgam, Shopian and Pulwama areas, according to an official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. In these areas, security agencies are facing a tough time, not only because of the swelling ranks of militants but also the expanding support system. The biggest challenge, of course, comes from attempts by local villagers to disrupt counter-insurgency operations.

In his militant life, Firdous is known by the nom de guerre Abu Umer. He is among the militants who have appeared in videos and pictures circulated widely on social media networks.

“We did not get to even speak to him before he left,” said Abdul Rashid. “I came to know from his office that he had been absent from work for some time.”