More than three years after the Pulwama suicide attack in February 2019, Danesh Rana’s “As Far As The Saffron Fields” takes up the really big question: what is the real face of terrorism in Kashmir? What made the suicide bomber, Adil Dar, ram a van full of explosives into the CRPF bus that resulted in the death of 40 CRPF personnel? In his latest non-fiction book, Rana has outlined his single-minded absorption of the intricacies of the terror ecosystem in Kashmir.
Rana’s subject, in a larger sense, is the emergence of social media-driven terrorism in the Kashmir Valley in the latter half of the 2010s, and its zenith with the Pulwama attack. There are numerous books that have tried to understand terrorism in Kashmir through various lenses. Rana has chosen to understand one of the most deadly terror attacks not only from the angle of what happened and who was behind it, but also through the stories of those who lost their lives.
The Stories of Constables Maneswar Basumatray & Tilak Raj
Jaimal Singh was the driver of the CRPF bus that became the target of the suicide attack. His bus was part of a convoy of 78 vehicles moving from Jammu to the Valley. The juxtaposition of the mountains of Kashmir with the Dhauladhar range in Kangra, Himachal Pradesh, where Constable Tilak Raj hailed from, conveys the nostalgia about the home that most soldiers belonging to different forces deployed in Kashmir experience in their own unique ways. Tilak grew up listening to Gaddi folk music and his fondness for music took him to YouTube, where some of his songs are available.
Similarly, the stories of Constable Rathod Nitin Shivaji from Maharashtra, Constable Subramanian, and Constable Vasantha Kumar from Kerala, Tilak’s co-passengers in that blue bus, are told by Rana. Constable Maneswar Basumatray, a Bodo from Baksa, Assam, had on the last day of his leave tried to console his wife by saying he was trying to get a posting closer home. The victims of this terror crime had families back home and these families will have to endure the pain forever.
One thing that stands out through these stories is the dedication with which these jawans of the CRPF and countless more like them serve in Kashmir and elsewhere in the country, while their families make sacrifices on a daily basis. India owes these brave men much more than what we have been able to comprehend or convey. One can appreciate their bravery and mental fortitude through the stories of these heroes told by Rana.
How Was Adil Dar Motivated to Be the Suicide Bomber?
The mastermind of this attack was Umar Mohammad Farooq Alvi, whose father, Mohammad Ibrahim Ather Alvi, was behind the hijacking of the IC-814 in 1999. Umar and four other terrorists sneaked through a tunnel during the intervening night of 13 and 14 April in 2018 and infiltrated India.
Rana has traced his journey to Kashmir, his relationship with the Valley, the making of the bomb, how Adil Dar was motivated to be the suicide bomber, and the eventual execution of the conspiracy. Umar was killed in an encounter with security forces in March 2019 in the village Suthsoo Kalan on the outskirts of Srinagar.
The chapter ‘Making of the Bomb’ helps one understand the intricate network of Over Ground Workers (OGWs) active in Kashmir. The conspiracy involved managing an EECO van and procuring various things required for making the bomb. Rana has gone into the details of this entire process.
The day of the killing of Umar in Suthsoo Kalan coincided with a failed attempt at another suicide bombing in Banihal. This conspiracy was masterminded by Hizb ul Mujahideen commander Riyaz Naikoo.
Memories of the 2018 Shopian Attack
‘Blood in the Orchards’ takes readers to the orchards where 23-year-old rifleman Aurangzeb Khan was tortured and killed by terrorists. Aurangzeb faced the brutal interrogation in the most gallant manner and his story is the story of countless bravehearts from Jammu & Kashmir who have sacrificed their lives for the nation in this long war against terrorism.
This chapter also details the killing of four Jammu & Kashmir police personnel in a terrorist attack in Shopian on 29 August 2018. I was working as Superintendent of Police in Shopian at that time. Carrying the bodies of those brave comrades back to the Police Lines will remain one of the most painful experiences of my life.
“As Far As The Saffron Fields” studies the reasons for the proliferation of terrorism for years and now the gradually reducing footprint of terrorist organisations across the Valley. The Pulwama terror attack’s baneful legacy may well be deeper and more painful than that of any other terror attacks in recent memory, except the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. It’s a story that Rana’s new book tells in this well-researched book.
His first book, the Tata Literature Live! First Book Award-winning “Red Maize” (2015), shows why we shouldn’t discount his deeper understanding of terrorism too quickly.
(The author is SSP, Anantnag, Jammu & Kashmir. This is an independent book review and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)