In January 2019, a 21-year-old militant, Syed Rubaan Hussain, lost his life in an encounter along with his two associates in district Budgam. Rubaan’s elder brother, Syed Tajamul Imran, writes about the void his brother has left behind; recounts what his death has brought to him and his family and the painful memories they have to live with.
Few events change the course of history, few storms destroy the homes and shatter families altogether. In the past thirty years of extreme armed and unarmed violence, the storms of bloodshed, one after another, have wreaked the havoc on the families in Kashmir who have lost their loved ones to this violence.
In my village Nazneenpora, a small hamlet on the banks of river Rambiara in Shopian district of Kashmir region, the armed rebellion arrived with the romanticism of gun in the early 1990s. Since its arrival, every evening, young boys would gather, sit in groups and talk about militants and guns. This ritual is the minimalistic yet compelling description of how we all grew up.
But, later in the course of armed violence, the counter-insurgency group of Ikhwan, also known as renegades became active and these gun-talks became less frequent. The counter-insurgency seemed to lull the gun battles for almost the next fifteen years, before it resurrected more violently. In this new era of armed rebellion, my village did not show any repellence. In 2015, a father of two kids, Farooq Ahmad Sheikh, joined the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen militant outfit. After Farooq alias Farooq Hurrah, an ex-cop, Naveed, also joined in.
In 2011, I left home for studies while my younger brother Rubaan stayed back with the family. Like any other family’s great attachment with a particular child, Rubaan was very close to our mother. He was so kind at heart that he would participate in the marriage of any poor and needy, and help these families with the chores. I once asked him why does he do that, and he replied, “I feel happy to see their children happy. It gives me satisfaction when I participate in their ceremonies of happiness.” However kind, he was always sentimental when it came to the plight of people and the conflict of the state. He once struggled for days to collect money for a young girl suffering from Lung Disease. It pained him to see her in such a miserable state. The girl was a local militant’s daughter. But I am sure he would have done the same for any other girl, too.
In April 2018, I came home on vacations and before leaving, I asked him if he needed anything. After a few days, he said, “I need all four seasons of Prison Break”, an American television series about two brothers and their struggle to survive. I got him what he asked for. We sat down and watched all the four seasons together.
But it wasn’t always like this. Sitting together in joy and at peace did not last forever.
In June 2018, at around 11:30 p.m., Indian Army personnel came to our village and cordoned it from all sides. Then, they barged into our house and assembled the whole family in one room. They accused us of harbouring militants in our house. This was followed with a three-hour-long search, including the houses of my uncles. They found nothing. One of the army personnel came to Rubaan and slung his AK-47 rifle over Rubaan’s shoulder. He, then, started to click his pictures. When my mother and other family members intervened, they began to abuse all of us. At that moment, I feared I would lose Rubaan forever. I confronted the army officer and asked him why they were harassing us. Instead of any answer, I was beaten ruthlessly. Rubaan tried to rescue me and asked them to not harm me as I knew nothing. “He stays outside Kashmir. He has been out of home for last 7 years”, Rubaan told them. They then turned to Rubaan and started harassing him. This was not the first time when he was harassed; it had started a couple of years ago after Farooq Hurra had joined militancy. Farooq was a close friend of Rubaan.
Rubaan, who had studied, ironically, in Army Goodwill School, was picked by police a few months earlier, in January 2018. I was outside the state at the time he was picked. On knowing about him, I became restless, and after many nights, I succeeded in getting Rubaan out with the help of some friends and politicians. He was beaten brutally and was not able to walk for over a month. I talked to my mother and convinced her to send him to stay with me outside the state. When he came, he showed me his deep wounds on his left leg and his back. But, he only stayed for some four weeks as the Indian Army personnel came looking for him at home. They asked my father to bring him back. I left my job and came back with him to Kashmir.
An army officer from Ahagam camp, who was commonly known with the name Sher Khan, had abused and beaten Rubaan on several occasions. The night they had barged into our house, it was the same army officer who had slung his rifle on Rubaan’s shoulder. He told Rubaan, “You have a beard, a skull-cap on your head, and you pray five times — why don’t you join your (militant) friend Naveed?”
Before Rubaan was subjected to incarcerations, he was a known cricketer in his area; one of the finest bowlers, and had taken part in many tournaments across the districts. After the killing of Burhan Wani, the nearby army camp forced many local boys to participate in the tournament they had organised. Rubaan was one among them. He was asked by Ahagam army camp to play with others. This was not a call for talented cricketers but a warning – warning that anything can happen if he did not join.
Surprisingly, Rubaan’s team won the trophy. Later, he told me that while receiving the trophy, the army captain had asked him to return it as they have to organise another tournament. They said to him that they didn’t have enough funds to buy a new one. That evening, we all laughed.
Do continuous incarcerations, harassments, tortures create intolerance or accustoming? Does this force the victims to take extreme steps and join militancy?
On 18th July 2018, Rubaan came home, took a bath and left for Isha prayer. Nobody suspected anything unusual, as it was his routine. Since he was first harassed, he often went to stay at his friend’s. When he left for prayers and didn’t come home, we didn’t think otherwise. But my mother was suspicious; she had seen Rubaan wearing a new pair of shoes while leaving.
Next day, when Rubaan did not come home, and his phone was switched off, we thought he was arrested again. We went to search for him, and as the news of his disappearance spread, people started pouring in at our house.
Two days later, I found his picture on Facebook; holding a rifle in his hand. The description said that he had joined a little known militant outfit known as Al Badr. I was instantly shattered; that moment, I knew we have lost Rubaan forever.
Rubaan used to say, “Some wounds do not heal”, to which I would always reply, “Time heals every wound.” But, the wound which he gave us proved him right.
On 21st January 2019, an encounter erupted between militants and security personnel at Hapatnar, Char-e-Sharief area of Budgam district. From the morning, I felt uneasiness and inexplicable pain. During the day, many news portals had reported on the on-going encounter. In the evening, reports of three militants, who were gunned down, came. One of the friends of Rubaan called me and said that he could be among the slain militants. This call left me breathless. After an hour, an army officer called my father and told that Rubaan is one among the militants. With this news, the family had gone helter-skelter to look for the dead body in police stations of Pulwama, Shopian as the army cop had suggested.
I couldn’t be sure about the dreadful news. I did not choose to be. I began to receive calls from the army, police and CID officials. They said it is not Rubaan; I did not choose to believe that either.
At around 2:00 a.m., I received a call from CID officials, confirming the death of Rubaan. We had lost him.
At 2:30 a.m., in tears and frenzy, I, along with my friend, went to Chadoora police station. But we were told that no dead body of any militant was there. We went to Budgam police station, and heard the same. At around 6:45 a.m., we stopped at the police control room; the building only symbolised horror for families for collecting dead bodies. I was not allowed. After many pleas, at 9 a.m., I was allowed to enter; the first thing I looked at was Rubaan’s shoes, which we had bought him a few weeks ago when he visited home.
I could see the scars of ropes and how the body had been dragged. I saw six bullets pierced in my brother’s heart and chest. At 4:30 p.m., we took the body of Rubaan and reached home at 7:30 p.m. The funeral would be held tomorrow, it was decided. Rubaan was home for one last time; in our arms, all through the night.
As the night was breaking into dawn, my heart was breaking into million pieces, too. It was time for Rubaan’s departure. The funeral lasted from 8:30 a.m. up until 1:15 p.m., before we finally rested him.
It had been some ten months and more of Rubaan’s departure, since I received a call for Prison Break. At the end of the fourth season of Prison Break, the younger brother Michael Schoffield dies. Rubaan had told me that he will resurrect in the following season. He was sure no story can go on without its hero. I didn’t believe him then. But Rubaan lived in a story where he had little chance to return from. Like the elder brother Linken Borros in that TV series, I too couldn’t give up on my little brother. I did my best to bring him back.
When I sat down for the fifth season of Prison Break, Rubaan was dead for almost a year. In the first three episodes of the fifth season, the main hero resurrects. His elder brother opens the grave, only to find it empty. I began thinking what if Rubaan, too, is not in his grave?
Rubaan came into my father’s dream. He told him, “I am not feeling well in my grave. There is something which disturbs me.” Father did not react instantly. However, a few days later, mother narrated a similar dream, and then my aunt as well. I too saw my brother in my dream, and he told me to get him new clothes. He told me that his right arm is wet in his grave, and he is not feeling comfortable. It had been raining for a few days. He said the water is getting into his grave.
After such dreams, we approached religious scholars and were asked to wait rather than to rush open the grave. After sometime, Rubaan came in my dream again, feeling angry. He said, “How many times have I told you to get me new clothes? But you don’t. Now I will tell my father again.”
I travelled back home from Srinagar the next day, and went straight to Rubaan’s grave. I felt the grave is not in its position or the way it should have been. I rushed to our orchard where my father was working and told him about the dream. After approaching scholars again, we decided to open the grave.
To everyone’s surprise, Rubaan’s body was almost in the same condition, as it was some eleven months back, his right arm still carrying blood marks from bullets. We realised that everything he told us in dreams was right; rainwater was actually seeping into his grave. His body was wet from one side, as he had complained. We put a fresh shroud over his old one.
Unlike Prison Break, Rubaan slept peacefully in his grave.
Since Rubaan is gone, mother keeps an extra plate during each meal; the plate is for Rubaan. It has become a routine. The plate reminds us of his absence.
Some wounds never heal, he had rightly said.
I know there is no way to bring my brother back, but those who are alive have to carry on living despite the odds of life, till we meet again.
Disclaimer: The views, opinions, positions or strategies expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or strategies of Mountain Ink Magazine or any staff member thereof.
To help us strengthen the tradition of quality reading and writing, we need allies like YOU. Subscribe to us.