A father’s poignant, futile search for militant son

Bhat would also make sure that he attended funerals of militants because very often militants would appear at these funerals and pay tributes to their fellows by firing in air. One of them could be his son.

During the past 16 months, Ghulam Nabi Bhat went to every place in southern Kashmir where a gunfight would break out between forces and militants.

Unlike other people, who would rush to such places to help militants escape at the great risk to their lives, Bhat had the sole purpose of looking for his son who had picked up arms.

“Every time there was an encounter, fear would grip me that he might be trapped. But there was also hope that I would reach him first and persuade him to give up arms and return home,” said Bhat, at his home in this village, nestled among apple orchards.

Bhat would also make sure that he attended funerals of militants because very often militants would appear at these funerals and pay tributes to their fellows by firing in air. One of them could be his son.
Tanveer, who was yet to complete his class 12, had left home on a September evening last year to meet his friends. When he didn’t return, Bhat called him the next day on his mobile phone.

“He told me ‘I will be back in five minutes,’” Bhat said.
This was the last time the family heard from their only son. A few days later, the police broke the news to the family they “feared most” – Tanveer had joined militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad.
For the family, according to Bhat, there was nothing that could have indicated that their son was inclined towards militancy. He loved playing cricket, would help his father in the orchard and spent evenings with his friends.
“I was sure that if I see him once I will persuade him to return. But every time I was disappointed,” sighed Bhat.
His search for Tanveer finally ended last week, on December 19, when he, along with a non-local militant, Ali Bhai was killed after a 22-hour-long gunfight with government forces in Batamarun village, less than a half kilometer away from Bhat’s home.
When the forces laid siege around Batamarun on December 18, Bhat was among the first to reach the encounter site to look for his son.
“A group of youth told me that all militants escaped. But the moment I returned home, the gunfight started and it went on for the whole night,” said Bhat.
The house where Tanveer was killed belonged to a distant relative of Bhat’s. He said neither the relatives nor anybody else told him that his son was trapped there, contradicting police claims that they had offered Tanveer to surrender.
“Everything I could afford I had given him. Yet he chose the path whose end is known to everybody,” said Bhat, while receiving mourners.
Among the mourners was Muhammad Akbar from Pulwama.
Akbar said his son Sajjad Ahmad, like Tanveer, left home earlier this year and called after two days to inform the family he had joined militancy.
“This is the story of almost every family in Kashmir whose sons have picked up arms,” said Akbar.
Outside Bhat’s house, banners with pictures of Tanveer holding an AK-47 rifle, along with a group of local militants, have been erected.
“He was only 18 years old, a kid, when he left home. For a moment I couldn’t recognise him when I saw his face,” said Bhat. Tanveer had grown a long beard.
In another room Tanveer’s mother, Tasleema Jan sat in a corner, shattered, surrounded by women from neighborhood. A young boy entered the room and after a brief pause asked her: “Uncle wants to know the date when Tanveer had left home.”
She took out a piece of paper from pocket of her Pheran. It read 28 September 2016. The boy noted down the date.

Tears trickled down from Tasleema’s eyes. She wiped them and put the paper back in her pocket, carefully.