A Young Woman’s ISIS-Type Killing Shocks Kashmir But Not ‘Leaders’
Late on the night of Thursday, 31 January, a 10-second video clip of an ISIS-type killing of a young Kashmiri woman, appeared and soon went viral in social media. It didn’t identify the victim. Some Facebook pages, perceived to be operating on behalf of militants, labelled her as “the informant responsible for (the top Al-Badar commander) Zeenatul Islam’s killing” in an encounter in January. On the following last three days, no militant group has formally claimed responsibility of killing the young lady in cold blood.
Police and the residents of Draggad area of Shopian, in southern Kashmir, spotted the bullet-ridden body of Ishrat Munir Shah (23) of Dangarpora, Pulwama, under a massive walnut tree in Cherbagh— exactly on the spot where Islam’s body had been placed on a dais before thousands of people attended the eleven back-to-back sessions of his funeral prayers on 13 January. Police and security forces had killed Islam— an A++ category militant, with fellow militant Shakeel Ahmad Dar of Chillipora, Shopian, in the encounter at Kathpora, Kulgam, late on 12 January.
Top officers in Jammu and Kashmir Police, Army and Central Reserve Police Force, while speaking to The Quint, confirmed that Ishrat had maintained “close liaison” with her maternal cousin, Islam, and his organisation. They, however, denied invariably that she had tipped off any of the security agencies about Islam’s movement or whereabouts.
“We had intercepted telephonic exchanges between Ishrat and Islam and put our sleuths on their track but every time we failed to get him. It was finally through our meticulous network of informers that we traced him to his hideout in Kulgam district where he got killed in an encounter”, said an officer.
Who Was Zeenatul Islam?
Zeenatul Islam aka Dr Usman was as old as the armed insurgency in Kashmir. Born in August 1989, he had a long tryst with militancy. According to his profile, compiled by Police and accessed by The Quint, militants of Al-Badar used to frequently stay at his home from 2002 to 2005. He was inducted into the organisation in 2006. Soon he moved to Lolab area of Kupwara where he operated in the company of top commanders like Yusuf Baloch, Sikandar and Tameem.
In 2008, he was installed as the Kashmir chief of Al-Badar. After most of his colleagues were neutralised, Islam was arrested in Sopore in 2008.
Years later, when Islam was released, he completed his B.A. degree from a college in Pulwama in 2014 and got married to a woman of his neighbourhood. Months after he became the father of a daughter, he was recycled into LeT in November 2015. On persuasion of top commanders, Waseem Malla and Saddam Paddar, Islam joined Hizbul Mujahideen. He was appointed as “District Commander” after Paddar got killed in an encounter.
Even as he claimed in his widely circulated audio message that he was shifting to Al-Badar to “strengthen” that organisation, on 5 November 2018, people in the area believed that he did not like the new Hizbul Mujahideen chief Riyaz Naikoo’s way of “spreading terror”. According to Police, he had escaped from as many as nine encounters— five times in Lolab and four times in Shopian. He was believed to be among the militants who escaped from a cordon-and-search operation in which seven militants got killed on 1 April, 2018.
Shockwaves in Traumatised Pulwama
Across the Rambiara rivulet at Ishrat’s Dangarpora neighbourhood in Pulwama town, a pall of gloom befell when a relative called one of Ishrat’s cousins to inform that she had been found dead at Cherbagh, not far away from Islam’s village of Malnaad, Draggad. Few of the family mustered courage to collect the body of the young woman allegedly responsible for Islam’s killing. Pulwama-Kulgam-Shopian triangle in South Kashmir is a traditional stronghold of Jamaat-e-Islami and a hub of the pro-Pakistan militancy.
Not more than three men carried Ishrat’s body, after medico-legal formalities, in an ambulance from Sub District Hospital of Zainapora, Shopian, to her home in Pulwama. Nobody dared to come out of home until Islam’s father, Ghulam Hassan Shah, came all the way from Draggad to lead her funeral prayers. Less than a hundred neighbours and relatives participated in her last rites.
Husband of her maternal aunt and father of the area’s most influential militant for years, Shah beseeched all militant outfits to explain “reasons of her killing, with proofs of her crime, if any, if anyone of them has shot her dead”. Unlike in many of such mysterious killings in the past, Shah or members of the bereaved family did not blame Police or security forces for the murder.
Ishrat’s Militant-Police Family Background
Ishrat’s father, Munir Ahmad Shah, has retired as driver and Assistant Sub Inspector in Jammu and Kashmir Police. While her brother Shaukat still works in Police, two more of her brothers, Javed and Ashfaq, are shopkeepers. Among the three sisters, one is married while as Raheena and the youngest of all siblings, Ishrat, were unmarried.
The family revealed to The Quint on condition of anonymity that after completing her graduation, Ishrat was pursuing a post-graduate course with Indira Gandhi National Open University. She simultaneously pursued a computer training course at the Degree College in Pulwama. As usual, around 9.00 a.m. on Thursday, one of her batch mates asked her what time she would leave the home for the College. Ishrat told her that she would move out around 9.30 a.m.
The family members got anxious when Ishrat did not return at her scheduled arrival of 5.00 p.m. They started looking for her without lodging a missing report with Police. Some of them believed that the woman in the video was none other than Ishrat but they decided not to create panic at the midnight. They reconciled to the reality after phone calls from Draggad next day.
Apathy from Political Leaders
In the bone-chilling video, Ishrat is seen folding her hands and begging for mercy from the gunman. She is silenced for ever with a single AK-47 shot straight in her chin. Next shot goes out only to confirm that she is dead. A stream of blood gushes out of her head and makes the snow red.
While none of the separatist parties or leaders came out with a statement, almost all the mainstream political parties and their leaders chose to be mute. Senior PDP leader and former Minister Naeem Akhtar was the one-odd politician who came out with his condemnation on Twitter.
“Strongly condemn this brutal murder. You can't do worse to criminalise the core of Kashmir. May God show us the right path”, Akhtar tweeted in the afternoon on Friday.
When the journalists in Jammu on Saturday grilled the PDP President Mehbooba Mufti on her 40-hour-long silence over Ishrat’s brutal killing, she retorted tersely: “I am not answerable to you. This is my decision what to tweet and what not to”.
In the face of a barrage of criticism from media, National Conference leader and former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah broke the ice at 1.50 p.m. on Saturday. With this he became the first among all the prominent mainstream politicians to condemn the killing.
While retweeting an Indian Express tweet, Omar posted: “Horrific murder & deserves the strongest condemnation. There can be no place for such brutal acts in a civilised society & apologists for these murders are just as guilty as the perpetrators”.
Hours later, Mehbooba too took to Twitter to register her condemnation.
“Women living in conflict areas like Kashmir have faced unimaginable pain & trauma. No words are enough to condemn her gruesome and barbaric murder”, Mehbooba said while retweeting the Tweet from Hindustan Times.
Even after Omar’s and Mehbooba’s condemnation almost all other mainstream and separatist politicians maintained silence. They did not react to questions in social media asking how the world would take their concern for the human rights abuse seriously if they remained selective in such expressions and just played to the galleries.
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