Although weathered, pro-freedom graffiti and names of militants written across house boundary walls and shop shutters in Heff and neighbouring villages of Shopian remain as the most enduring sign of last year’s uprising.
The spirit of the uprising endures in people’s discussions, tragic tales of youths giving up comfort to pick up arms and state repression.
“How can we forget all that? The protests might have ebbed but those bitter memories (of 2016) will always remain with us,” said a youth in his early 20s, identifying himself as Zubair.
He and his friends sat at a shop front in Heff, discussing a midnight raid by the government forces on the home of Hizbul-Mujahideen district commander Saddam Paddar last month.
They said Paddar’s family members, including his aged father Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din Padder, had been beaten up.
“This is how they (forces) keep this fire burning. Go and find out yourself that the entire village is brewing with anger over the incident even today,” interrupted another youth, calling himself Masroof.
Nestled among apple orchards, Heff, located 12 kilometers from Srinagar-Jammu highway, is in news because to a wave of renewed militancy.
Heff is the native village of five active militants including Paddar, one of the 11 militants who posed along with Burhan in an iconic picture in 2015. 
Another militant, Irfan, left his studies—he was pursuing MA in History—and picked up the gun on May 11, 2016, two months before Burhan’s killing.
“I miss my son as every mother would but at the same time I respect his decision and pray that the path he has chosen helps us to achieve what we aspire for,” says Irfan’s mother.
His father Muhamad Abdullah Ganai, an orchardist, described Irfan as an obedient son. 
“I had gifted a new car to him days before he left. Nobody uses this car now,” he points towards the vehicle parked in a corner of the garden.
Irfan’s uncle, Farooq Ahmad, a top Hizb militant was killed in an encounter with government forces in the late nineties while his nephew and Irfan’s cousin, also a Hizb militant, was killed in 2002.
The family members are at odds to understand what prompted their son to give up lavish life style and join militancy.
“He (Irfan) was once picked up by police and detained at Cargo Interrogation center in Srinagar,” recalled his father.
It is these lesser known villages like Heff, Turkiwangam, Aglar, Chitragam and Imam Sahib in Zanipora-Shopian belt and scores of villages in Kulgam and Pulwama districts, where young and educated youths are joining new generation militancy. 
Lashkar-e-Toiba district commander Wasim Shah alias Osama, who has been active for the past five years, also hails from Heff village. 
“Wasim was an excellent fast bowler and an athlete who would terrify the best of batsmen in the rival camp with sheer pace,” recalls one of his friends, "We used to call him Shoaib Akhtar."
The public outpouring of support for militants is growing. This is like a replay of the early 90s when militancy was at its peak in Kashmir and enjoyed mass support.
Today, people rush to the encounter sites to help militants escape and crowds of Kashmiris including young boys and women participate in militants’ funerals, indicating militants are again emerging as heroes though these new age militants are less active on the ground.
A senior police official described Kulgam-Qaimoh-Khudwani-Arwani; Pulwama-Awantipora, Zainapora-Shopian, Tral and Dachnipora-Bijbehara belts as the “corridors” that have become the “fertile ground” for militancy in South Kashmir.
Most of the areas in the south had been declared as militancy free by 2008 and the mainstream parties, especially the ruling PDP, had made significant inroads in these areas.
But today not only is south Kashmir almost out of bounds for the parties, the militants have been targeting houses of JK police officials too, warning the families to persuade their kin to quit job. The situation is grim to the extent that Election Commission of India had to indefinitely postpone the by-election to Anantnag LS seat last April.
“There is anger…the situation in some (south Kashmir) areas is still edgy with growing militancy, and law and order problem continues to be a major challenge,” the official acknowledged.
In Kulgam district, as per police records, at least 20 militants belonging to Qaimoh, Yaripora and Kulgam tehsils are at present part of the militant network operating in southern districts of Kashmir.
Areas like Redwani, Rampur and Khudwani are the hotbeds of the present day militancy. In the main market of Khudwani, a former PHE employee who identified himself with his first name Bashir only, said the pro-freedom sentiment never waned in these areas.
“But Burhan revolutionised the movement. His message has penetrated deep into the villages and the results are evident today,” he said. 
It is not only the “inherent pro-freedom sentiment” that is contributing to the renewal of the militancy in Kulgam and other districts. Families of militants and locals whom Greater Kashmir spoke with said the harassment of the youth, who participated in the protests in 2010 and 2016, by the government forces was leaving young boys with no choice but to pick up arms.
“This harassment is only rejuvenating the spirit for Azadi,” said another local of Khudwani, Hafeezullah. “This fire is burning, the more they harass the youth, the higher the flames will go.”
His answer to India media’s oft-repeated theory that youths throw stones because they are paid comes in the form of a question.
“Why did a policeman recently flee with five guns if it was all about Rs 500…he must have witnessed the oppression our nation is going through, no? Every youth here is a mujahid and if provided with weapons they will not hesitate to join their brothers.”
A few Kilometers ahead is Rampora, a village known by the locals as Shuhadapur (the village of martyrs). Among the militants from the area is Hizb commander Muhamad Abass Sheikh who was first arrested in 2004.
“He wanted to restart normal life and be with his family but the police would often harass him on one pretext or the other,” recalled his wife Rasheeda Banoo, mother of four minor children.
“This harassment continued till one day in 2013 he (Sheikh) again joined militants.”
The Sheikh family has seen 16 of its men joining militancy and getting killed during the past 27 years. Sheikh’s elder brother Muhamad Ibrahim, an HM commander, was killed in a gunfight in 1999. His younger brother Maulvi Muhamad Ashraf was also a militant and was killed in 2009. Sheikh’s nephew Tauseef Sheikh, 21, picked up arms four years ago and his another nephew, Aasif ul Islam, who was also a militant, was killed in a gunfight in 2010.
Sheikh’s uncle Muhammad Ramzan Sheikh, a Jamat-e-Isami member, was detained under the Public Safety Act last year for leading pro-freedom rallies during the uprising. He is currently lodged in Kathua Jail.
When Burhan picked up the gun in 2010, it was the Pulwama district that had turned into stronghold of militants. The trend continues even today. Among the locals who joined militancy post Burhan killing was Abid from Muran village.
“He was an ace cricketer,” said one of Abid’s friends.
In 2010, Abid had participated in pro-freedom protests. “This is when police started to harass him. He was detained at district jail Anantnag during 2014 assembly elections. He would be often detained illegally which left him no choice but to leave his home,” he said.
In Naina, a village in Awantipora, Subzar Sofi, who is in his mid-twenties and had an M Phil degree, joined Lashkar-e-Toiba recently as did another post graduate, Ashraf Dar.
At a local court in Shopian, advocate Habeel has been fighting the cases of the youths held on charges of stone throwing. He is readying for a hearing.
 “I have been contesting these cases for a long time now and what I realise is that the political aspirations, unresolved Kashmir issue is drawing youth out of their homes to protests or give up their normal life,” said Habeel.
“There is another aspect and that is the humiliation our youth face in form of detention and arrest…where is the space for dissent now. They don’t allow you to speak a word,” he said.
 
 
 
 

SHARE