Lieutenant Ummer Fayaz's funeral at his village on Wednesday, with full military honours
By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 10th May 17
Insurgency-racked Kashmir’s fragile social compact, already under severe stress, could experience further strain after armed militants abducted and murdered a young, off-duty army officer, who was visiting his home in South Kashmir.
Army officials say 23-year old Lieutenant Ummer Fayaz, the son of a Kashmiri apple farmer from Sursana village in Kulgam District, had taken leave from his unit near Akhnoor, in the Jammu region, to attend his cousin sister’s wedding on Tuesday, in her village near Shopian.
Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) Police sources recount that, while the festivities were in full swing, at about 10 p.m. on Tuesday night, four men in civilian dress arrived and asked to talk to Fayaz. Since they were apparently unarmed, he quietly left with them.
When Fayaz did not return after an hour, the village began searching for him. Early on Wednesday morning, his body, bearing two gunshot wounds, was found near Harmen village.
Fayaz is the latest and most high profile casualty of an ongoing militant drive to dominate and control South Kashmir. So far, this has consisted of intimidation and violence directed at the homes of J&K Police personnel, who have been instrumental in controlling militancy over the years. Recently, the J&K Police chief warned policemen from South Kashmir against visiting their homes.
Yet, Lieutenant Fayaz, knowing well the precarious security situation in South Kashmir, regularly visited his family in the dangerous districts of Kulgam and Shopian. Similar is the case with thousands of Kashmiri soldiers and policemen who serve in the military and the central armed police forces (CAPFs).
“Since the 1990s, there has been a social compact within the Kashmiri populace, which has co-existed even as many people worked for the government, while others supported, or actively fought as, armed militants. But now, especially in South Kashmir, that compact is eroding. Ummer Fayaz might have been safe in his village earlier; but today, people like him are being targeted”, says a J&K Police inspector with long experience in the area.
A senior Kashmiri journalist agrees: “Lieutenant Fayaz might have felt safe as he was not in uniform and was with family members. In earlier days, he would have been justified in his belief. But not now; he has been caught in the mill of a societal churn and paid with his life.”
A lawmaker from South Kashmir, who like most of his ilk has moved out of his constituency to the safety of a guarded compound in Srinagar, blames indiscipline from both separatists and the state: “When a Bharatiya Janata Party heavyweight like Ram Madhav can dismiss human rights concerns with the comment, ‘all’s fair in war and love’, militants will hardly play by the rules.”
Most worrying to the security forces is the growing synergy between stone pelters and armed militants. An officer involved in a recent encounter near Traal recounts communications intercepts between a militant, cornered in a house, and his commander who was outside the cordon. When the commander told the militant to take advantage of stone pelting by unarmed villagers to escape the cordon, the cornered militant told him: “Pattharbari sirf do taraf se ho rahi hai. Unko bolo ke chaaron taraf se karein” (The stone-pelting is happening from only two sides; ask the villagers to hurl stones from all four sides).
This turmoil in Kashmir manifested itself on Wednesday afternoon in the burial, with full military honours, of a young man with multiple identities – Kashmiri, Muslim, Indian and soldier. Fayaz’s compatriots from his highly decorated unit, 2nd Battalion, the Rajputana Rifles, paid tribute to him as “an honest officer, from a humble background, full of josh (enthusiasm). He was very active in his unit, loved by the troops and immaculate in performing allotted tasks.”
In a condolence message today, Lieutenant General Abhay Krishna, the Colonel of the Rajputana Rifles, wrote: “The complete Army fraternity stands shoulder to shoulder with the bereaved family at this tragic hour.”
And then, ominously, he added: “I also assure the family that perpetrators of this heinous crime and dastardly act will not be spared”.