How does one write about a 20-year old, known to you intimately, who decides to shun what is conventionally called a normal life to disappear into the woods and fight for a cause that demands nothing but life? How does one narrate a story of a person who is aware of deception—seen it first hand—knowing his chance of surviving to fight another day are minimal? How does one capture someone in words who forsakes his desires for the freedom he may not be able to witness and live? Even when writing about him, the question of whether we needed him breathing or somewhere in a martyr’s graveyard remains pivotal to our understanding of what happened in the past 26 years in Kashmir.
Shakir Showkat was killed on the evening of December 8, 2015, in a brief encounter with Indian armed forces near Pampore. I write of him as a martyr who wanted to see his religion triumph and his fellow Muslims, as he put on his facebook timeline a couple of days before joining the ranks, ‘to stand up for themselves’ as ‘nobody else could come to their rescue.’ I write of him as a beloved. We knew each other as cousins. He was younger to me—a whole five years. Yet, Shakir was more than a friend. He was family. In the family he was known for his excellent cooking skills and had mastered the art of preparing the traditional Kashmiri delicacy Toshe.
Shakir’s journey to martyrdom is no different than those thousands of our heroes who are residing silently in their graves. Their legends are alive, preserved in our collective memory and this memory is a reminder that resistance is possible. The heroes who died saw oppression and occupation and they decided to resist it. They saw the state with all her might robbing them, their family, and their friends of freedom. Martyrs are a reminder of the reality i.e., occupation and what we have lost—our dear ones. Even if we forget, which we are certainly doing, the martyrs won’t, for they are alive.
When I think about all those people who have died in Kashmir’s war against India, I believe all of them had certain motivations. I, however, refuse to believe that a single act of oppression leads them to take the extreme step of violence—a narrative that is championed by many to refute the ideological basis of the movement.
There might be instances where Shakir might have seen an act of oppression or for that matter Indian military occupation which unfolds everyday in Kashmir, but it was Islam with which he wanted to fight and ultimately died fighting. As his will was pronounced in the mosque, he had asked the people to fight the Taghuti Nizam referring immediately to Indian rule in Kashmir and in the larger sense, to every un-Islamic rule in any Muslim part of the world. As far as I knew him, he was an Islamist and Islam shaped his political understanding.
But the world we live in, political understandings shaped by religion are seen as naïve. Since Islamists see their religion as an ideology, people who reduce religion to a mere practicing set of beliefs make a grave mistake in understanding the Islamist worldview. Any ideology (Marxism, liberalism) can be used to shape understandings but when Islam is used, it is seen as outrageous. Large sections of intelligentsia, often with their own ideological stands, negate Islam (ideology) without even debating it. The philosopher Michael Freeden argues, ‘Ideology is a wide ranging structural arrangement that attributes meaning to a range of mutually defining [political] concepts,’ like equality or justice. Moreover, meanings that are conveyed reflect the historical discourses, contexts in which they are formed, and how these political concepts are ordered. Every ideology, thus, gives specific meanings to these political concepts. Islam does the same. It attributes its’ own meaning to political concepts and fashions them in such a way which reflect the ethos of Islam. People who do not see religion as defining any political understanding need to engage with the political concepts and the meanings attributed to them and not nullify religion wholly.
Shakir was young. I am not even sure whether he knew that the resistance he was joining was challenged even in his own society. But then a large section of the same society accepted him as a Mujahid (an Islamic term) and then a Shaheed (again an Islamic term) who fought in a Jihad (need I explain this?). In the three days of mourning at his home in Nowpora Sopore, people who came for condolences recited Quranic verses and quoted Hadith that specifically talked about martyrdom. Can a few voices decry religion as a basis of resistance just because they find space in newspaper columns and a few minutes on prime time television?
I remember the first time I met him after his first arrest. He was limping. His toe was broken. The family was considering a surgery. Every time he came from an arrest, it took days for him to recover. And every time there was a protest, the police would detain him. In the anti-Israel protests in the summer of 2014, he was detained for more than a month. Once I asked him how it felt to be in jail. He laughed and said, “Jail and police lathi-charge give you a lot of experience.” He told me that there was a name for every type of torture. He particularly dreaded the jihaaz torture. He told me how one day a police officer came and asked the boys in the jail if they wanted to travel by air. “One from the group said that he wants to, and next we heard his shrieks calling for help. He was hanged upside down, naked, and beaten.” He continued, “At sub-jails, you are just locked but in the police station…” he paused and said, “Allah save everyone from that torture.” Not just police, Indian army would time to time, at least a couple of times a month, call him, detain him for a day or two and when he would return, there would be bruises all over his body.
This kind of torture by the police and army, Shakir reminded me, has been effective in ‘de-radicalising’ the pro-freedom stone pelters. Recently, a news report mentioned how the police have been using various tactics ‘to humiliate and subjugate young people they arrest.’ A few essential instruments that the police use to dissuade the youth from joining militant groups or participating in anti-India protests are blackmailing and threatening. Shakir had his own story. In the jail, a plain clothed police officer had offered to bribe him to shun the ‘path he had taken’ and indulge in any activity that he liked. The police officer had also mentioned to him if he would like to have ‘love affairs’. “When I declined everything he offered, he said ‘you are a bastard’,” Shakir recalled.
I asked what the police do when the boys don’t accept their offers. Do the police resort to any other means? Shakir told me that they then bring in the family. They threaten the family. “After that, the boys start breaking. They plead for mercy.” What Shakir told me that afternoon is something I remember every time I hear about some youth being arrested.
Shakir’s long tryst with the police torture began, two and half years ago, on an April afternoon 2013, when he was first arrested with one of the top commanders of Lashkar-e-Toiba in Sopore area. A dozen other people were also arrested at different places in Sopore that day and a Mujahid was martyred in the encounter. Shakir would later tell the family that it was the top commander who had himself betrayed the group. After the arrest, began a long prison time and court proceedings where he was prosecuted under the Arms Act with other charges levelled against him as well. He was later released on bail but was summoned to the court after every fifteen days to defend his own prosecution and the identification of the militant commander. Surprisingly, the LeT commander was never produced for identification nor was any court proceeding held.
As a family, we tried our level best that he shun the path that he had chosen. But if anyone spoke to him against his joining the Mujahideen ranks, he would remain silent; listening patiently to what he was being advised. In the last two years of his life, Shakir had grown intellectually. He was good at mathematics and loved to teach children. At home he used to give math tuitions. He had also established a small school where he taught Arabic and the Quran to young children in the local mosque.
Opposite the local mosque is a Dargah. In August this year, a small fire broke inside the shrine after a candle fell on a carpet. Next day the police started investigations and Shakir was picked again. This time the charge was that he was the one responsible for the fire. Later we came to know that it was a local politician of Indian National Congress party who had given his name. On the third day of the mourning period, the same politician sent an emissary asking if he could visit the family. The family refused. We all were amazed at his shamelessness. The person who was responsible for some of the pains that Shakir faced was now trying to balm them. It is not something that has happened with our family alone. I have grown up on stories where I hear how the local pro-India politicians—leaches—use money so that we could forget our martyrs. But not only have the unionists used money, the pro-freedom parties in order to own martyrs also use this tactic. We faced such a situation as a prominent pro-freedom party offered money. Martyr blood was never so cheap.
A week before Shakir effectively joined the Mujahideen ranks, he told his friend that it was going tough for him to live in a state where he was threatened and tortured every few days. (From April 2013 he was arrested a dozen times with varying lengths of prison time, the longest seven months). He had told the friend that ‘he is going to leave home.’ The reason, the friend explained to me, was that a police officer had threatened him that if he did not turn back on his activities, they would frame him in a murder case and no one was going to rescue him. It may have been one of the causes for him joining the armed ranks but I know Islam shaped Shakir’s position.
In these times when there is a debate if violence is an option for self-determination, Shakir or people like him answer that question more effectively than anyone else. They have repositioned Jihad as a political weapon which is manifested militarily drawing historical context from the early Islamic period. Religion, thus, provides their understanding of movement, a psychological and philosophical justification. When the means are religious, the ends necessarily would be religious too. That was what Shakir had evoked in his will—to fight the Taghuti Nizam. For him, dying while fighting an occupation by means of religion was more important than living under a free secular country. And what did he think of violence: he embraced it. I assume he must have thought of other modes of resistance, the ones less risky. But he chose the difficult, bravest and the noble. That is why, Shakir will live even after his death. Others will perish. He is Shaheed Shakir.