It was the Rebel’s Life for him

  • Ink Correspondent
  • Publish Date: Aug 17 2017 9:50PM
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  • Updated Date: Aug 17 2017 9:50PM
It was the Rebel’s Life for him

A young man’s journey from stone fighter to militant


In the run-up to Martyrs’ Day, Sajad Gilkar would invariably be arrested. The day, July 13, commemorates 22 Kashmiris who were killed by Dogra ruler Hari Singh’s troops in 1931 for the “crime” of seeking freedom from the autocratic rule. Sajad, the police feared, would organise pro-freedom marches to the Martyr’s Graveyard, which the state doesn’t allow. So, they would jail him until the day passed. Last year, they sent him to Kot Bhalwal jail in Jammu.

This year, they killed him. 

Sajad, 26, was shot dead by government forces in an encounter in Budgam’s Redbugh village on July 12. 

On Martyrs' Day, at his home in Malaratta Chowk in downtown Srinagar, his family, friends and neighbours relatives gathered to bid him adieu, mourning and paying tribute – all in slogans. They had managed to sneak in, through alleys and backstreets, despite the government forces blocking all roads leading up to the house.

The women sang, “Qoam kay bohdooro, karyo goor gooro (Braveheart of the nation, let me sing you a lullaby).” The men shouted, "Shaheed ki jo moot hae, woh koom ki hayat hai (The death of a martyr gives life birth to the nation).”

Around four in the afternoon, the mourners began to ready the body for funeral prayers. Reverberating slogans rent the air. A masked young man, standing close to the bier of Sajad, took out a Pakistani flag from his pocket and tried to spread it over Sajad’s body. But his friends removed it and instead placed a black flag with the Kalima, similar to the flag of the self-styled Islamic State.

This ruffled some feathers in the pro-freedom camp as well as the police. Hurriyat chief Syed Ali Geelani labelled the people who had draped Sajad's body in the black flag as “sick minded elements”, while the police launched an investigation whose outcome is not known yet.

The truth is Sajad wouldn't have minded the black flag. He and his friends used to wave the same flag whenever they fought Indian forces with stones at Nowhatta Chowk. Sajad had given up waving the Pakistani flag apparently because he was disillusioned with Pakistan, as well as the resistance leadership. He had given up on Geelani, whom he had looked up to, after the 2010 uprising “failed to yield results”.

“I believe India is oppressing us here. Neither Pakistan nor the resistance leadership are doing their job, then why should I support them or derive the idea of freedom from them. I believe Jammu and Kashmir is ours and should be ruled by us. I protest for the sake of Allah. The black flag represents Islam and not ISIS in my opinion,” Sajad had told this reporter in 2015.

This caused a split within the ranks of the stone-pelters in the old town, with one group insisting that waving the black flag, which was taken by the India media to represent the Islamic State, did their cause more harm than good. They would rather want the protesters to wave the green flag. The differences spilled out even at Sajad's funeral.

“His funeral was held in a ground in downtown and he was laid to rest at his local graveyard. The reason is that stone fighters were divided. Otherwise, it was not a big deal to take his body to the Eidgah Martyrs' Graveyard. We had managed to take Wamiq Farooq, Tufail Matoo. We could have take him too," said a friend of Sajad's.

Another young protester said “stone fighters irrespective of their political ideology assembled at Sajad’s funeral and it was known that he would be taken to Eidgah for burial”. But when green flag was replaced by the black one, he added, the group opposed to it backed off. Yet, despite their ideological differences, all stone fighters respect Sajad for his “honesty, bravery and determination”. 

Sajad was first arrested in 2008, when he was just 17. Thereafter, jail virtually became his second home. Not that he didn’t try to evade arrest, even going underground several times. “Only when they detained me or his brother would Sajad turn up at the police station,” said his father Nazir Ahmad Gilkar. “It pained him a lot that his family was made to suffer because of him. He even gave up protests for us, but the raids continued. He was least bothered about detentions. He was brave and courageous, but the family was his weakness.”  

Nazir said his son was jailed three times under the Public Safety Act, but each time the charges could not be proved and were quashed by courts. “Because he didn’t want to see his family harassed, he would make sure not to miss court hearings, which he didn’t care about otherwise,” Nazir said. Sajad was fighting four cases against him.

Sajad’s family admits he was a “fierce stone fighter” as the police have claimed. However, they reject the police’s claims that he was involved in the lynching of police officer Ayoub Pandit or engaged in “militant activities”. “He was having tea with me at home when the incident is said to have taken place,” his mother Naseema said. “And why did the police not arrest him if he was involved? The day after the killing, the police raided our neighbour’s home but didn’t come for Sajad. It is all a bundle of lies.” 

Although constant harassment by the police and arbitrary arrests had become integral to Sajad’s young life, his family had no inkling he would take up the gun. To them, he was a generous and pious son who happened to be a kani jung woul (stone fighter). “I was detained many times, beaten too. In 2015 I was beaten so badly I was bed-ridden for months. The only reason was that I was Sajad’s father. Ultimately, I think, this constant repression became unbearable for Sajad. He even apologised for it when I last spoke to him,” Nazir said.

Sajad was the second of Nazir’s four sons. One is a disabled and the other two work at a phone repair shop in Lal Chowk. Just 15 days before he left home on date (July 28), Sajad had got a job as an ATM guard. For Eid, he had brought new clothes for himself and toys for his cousins.

“It was God’s will that he be martyred,” said Nazir. “I am proud of my son.”