Faisal Gulzar, the 16-year-old-boy who was killed in a gun battle in an orchard in Shopian on Sunday, is the youngest militant to have died in a counter-insurgency operation in Kashmir in recent memory.
Faisal, the only brother among five siblings, was reported missing by his family on Thursday, 8 April when he had left home to bring grocery. His family had issued a passionate appeal to militants to stop him from picking up arms.
“The first jihad for him is to take care of his four sisters and get them married. If you don’t return him, you will have to answer on the day of judgement,” his father, Gulzar Ahmad Ganie, had said, in an apparent appeal to militants.
Faisal’s tragic end once again highlights the use of child combatants in the protracted violence in Kashmir.
According to initial police findings, he was already in touch with militants when he went ‘missing’. On Saturday evening, 10 April, a team of the J&K Police’s SOG and the Army’s RR laid siege around an orchard in Shopian’s Hadipora.
Three militants were trapped in the cordon. Family sources said Faisal made the last call to his father to inform him that he was among the trapped militants.
“During the phone conversation, he sought forgiveness of his father and mother, and also told him that he was not going to lay down the arms,” a family member said, wishing anonymity.
“We made sincere efforts and even got his family to the encounter site to convince him to surrender but his associates didn’t allow him to surrender,” Inspector General of Police, Kashmir, Vijay Kumar told a local news agency.
The other militant killed in the encounter has been identified as Asif Bashir Ganie, also a resident of Chitragam. The identity of the third was not immediately known. They were all affiliated with the Al-Badr outfit.
‘A Shy, Average Student’
A resident of Chitragam village, Faisal had recently passed Class 9 examination from National Innovations Public School in the neighbouring Zainapora village of Shopian. After schools opened in March this year at the conclusion of winter vacations, he attended regular classes till the government shut schools again last week amid surging cases of COVID-19.
“He was a shy, average child who didn’t mix easily with other students. But he was a disciplined student who didn’t create fuss either, like other school kids normally do,” Arshad Khan, chairman of the school, said.
Faisal’s father, Gulzar Ahmad, earlier drove a passenger car to make a livelihood. He is now working as a broker of second hand cars to sustain his family.
“Although their’s is a poor family, his father worked hard to ensure that his only son got good quality education at a private school,” a relative, who didn’t want to be named, said.
“We were shocked when we learnt about it. I raised him like my own child,” the relative added over phone, struggling to hold back his grief.
According to a video that went viral last week, his mother is seen reminding Faisal that she and his two sisters have undergone surgical procedures and that he was their only support.
“Who will your sisters look up to if you are gone. Come back my son. How are we going to live without you?” Irshada Bano said in the video.
On Sunday, Irshada, her husband, Gulzar, and four daughters were joined by other relatives in their long, arduous journey from south Kashmir to north Kashmir’s Handwara where Faisal is being buried in an unmarked graveyard.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, security agencies have been denying the bodies of militants killed in encounters to their families, arguing that it will prevent mass gatherings at their funerals which might spread the viral infection.
Use of Child Combatants
The use of children for military or militant operations is a violation of various national and international conventions on human rights and children. Article 38 (3) of the Convention of the Rights of the Child prohibit the recruitment of children below the age of 15 to engage in hostilities.
But this is not the first time that young children have fallen prey to the violence in Kashmir. On 9 December 2018, 16-year-old Saqib Bilal and 15-year-old Mudasir Rashid were shot dead in a massive encounter on Srinagar outskirts in which seven houses were also destroyed. Both were affiliated with Lashkar-e-Toiba outfit.
Earlier on 27 May, 15-year-old Faizan, a resident of south Kashmir’s Tral town, was gunned down by security forces in an encounter. When Faizan was killed, he was just two months old in militancy.
Before his foray, 16-year-old Faisal, who was killed just two days after joining Al-Badr militant outfit, was, as per police sources, in contact with Asif Bashir Ganie, who lives in their neighbourhood.
“He might have radicalised him to take up arms, otherwise there is not a single case against him,” a senior police officer said, wishing anonymity.
Prof Noor A Baba, a senior political analyst based in Srinagar, said the minimum legal age for recruitment and use of children in hostilities is 18 years.
“International humanitarian laws expressly forbid armed groups from using children as combatants. It is primarily the responsibility of parents to keep a watch on their children but this (death of Faisal) needs introspection at societal level,” Prof Baba, who taught political science at the University of Kashmir, said.
(Jehangir Ali is a Srinagar-based journalist. He tweets at @gaamuk.)
(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)