Of Martyrs & Militants: What Earmarks Ummer Fayaz & Burhan Wani

Shrey’s words of encouragement motivated Ummer to strive to excel in every activity at the IMA.

Updated
Opinion
5 min read
Burhan Wani (L) and Lt Ummer Fayaz (R).
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(Excerpted with permission from Undaunted: Lt Ummer Fayaz of Kashmir by Bhaavna Arora, published by Westland)

The floods had taken their toll and the Valley was slowly recovering from the ensuing devastation. Communication lines were still down, and in this general state of disarray, Ummer’s parents could not make it to their son’s passing-out parade.

Ummer was eternally grateful, however, that his uncle from Delhi could come down to Pune and attend the ceremony. It was a proud moment for all cadets who had successfully completed three years of rigorous training and their parents and relatives. The passing-out parade was like the ultimate culmination of rigorous training the boys had gone through to become men. The values of an officer were ingrained in them irrespective of the services they chose.

The cadets were expected to showcase a drill that was supposed to be the bedrock of discipline and with everyone in sync it instilled a sense of martial discipline.

Uncle Rahmat, sitting on stands along with the other parents and relatives, wondered where his nephew was when bugles sounded the call and the gates of the Quarter Master Fort opened. A stream of smartly turned-out young cadets from all services began to fill the Khetarpal Drill Square, named after martyr Lieutenant Khetarpal who had made the supreme sacrifice and had been awarded the Param Vir Chakra in the 1971 Indo-Pak war.

The synchronised drill was a treat to watch, but the fog did some damage on that day (28 November 2015). Ummer, still not perfect at the drill, managed somehow and the fog helped as no one could notice if he did go wrong.

After the drill, the passing out cadets went past the quarter deck in a slow march with an Air Force fly past in the sky carried out by fighter jets flown over the Drill Square. It was a spectacular event that instilled a feeling of achievement and pride in every cadet.

The cadets could not leave the academy without paying their respects to the martyrs. On the day of the parade, all the cadets paid tribute to the war heroes in the Hut of Remembrance.

Bhaavna Arora’s ‘Undaunted: Lt Ummer Fayaz of Kashmir’
Bhaavna Arora’s ‘Undaunted: Lt Ummer Fayaz of Kashmir’
(Photo: Westland Publications)

The names of all the NDA cadets who have been martyred have been immortalised and enshrined in gold on black marble. It was after three years of rigorous training that every cadet became aware of the concept: sacrifice for the country. History sometimes can be a cruel companion of soldiers. At the ceremony, every cadet in the academy was inspired to honour the martyrs who made their great institution proud.

The cadets marched to the beat of the drums commemorating the end of the three memorable years spent at NDA. They were all looking forward to a new beginning, turning from boys into men—men of honour.

A month later, Ummer and his coursemates joined the Indian Military Academy (IMA), Dehradun, while those joining the navy went to Ezimala in Kerala and the Air Force cadets went to Dundigal in Telangana for the completion of their training.

Ummer Fayaz or Burhan Wani: The Valley’s Real Hero

From just ‘cadets’ in the NDA, they had now graduated to being called ‘gentleman cadets’ in the IMA. After having spent three years together in the NDA, they had developed a camaderie that would last for the rest of their lives irrespective of the services they joined. For cadets from the NDA, the IMA was a cakewalk and they were ready to face its challenges head on.

Ummer was delighted to find himself sharing a room with Shrey Avasthi at the IMA. One day, Shrey brought up the topic of Burhan Wani.

‘Is he from your town?’ he asked Ummer.

‘No, he is from Tral.’

‘Ummer, have you really attended a Jihadi camp?’

Ummer stared at Shrey for a moment, quite shocked.

Then he noticed the naughty smile on his friend’s face, and understood it was just a joke.

‘I’m only asking because you are so good with tactics in the camps. It makes me suspect that you have attended both sides of the training,’ said Shrey enviously before he burst into laughter.

Ummer realised that the brat was giving him a compliment, and laughed too.

‘Burhan Wani has taken the Valley by storm. He’s being hailed as the new hero of Kashmir,’ said Ummer.

Shrey wanted to hear what Ummer had to say about Wani, as they were both from Kashmir and about the same age, and yet had made such radically different life choices.

‘Burhan is seen as a messiah, someone who fights for the rights of the people of Kashmir. So he’s perceived more as a revolutionary on the lines of Bhagat Singh, than as a terrorist.’

‘But Bhagat Singh was fighting for India while Burhan is fighting against India, against his own people and against his own government,’ snorted Shrey in protest.

‘It’s not quite as black and white as that. You haven’t lived in Kashmir; you don’t feel the frustration of the youth who grow up in the Valley.’
Ummer Fayaz

As they were deep in discussion, a bunch of other cadets joined them.

‘But Ummer, you and Burhan share the same history. Both of you were manhandled by security forces while you were young, but you chose to be part of the solution. Whereas Burhan went on to become part of the problem. Kashmiris should be following you, not him! Your journey should be a source of inspiration for them. Burhan is just a coward, and he’s simply asking to be caught and killed by the armed forces one of these days.’

The others all chimed in with Shrey’s words.

For the first time in his life, Ummer felt a deep sense of peace and fulfilment with regard to the choices he had made so far. True appreciation is precious when it comes from your own kind. And by now Ummer realised that his ‘kind’, in the truest sense, was the Indian Army.

Shrey’s words of encouragement motivated Ummer to strive to excel in every activity at the IMA. He worked doubly hard on his weaknesses, including drill. He put in so much practice that the results began to show. Soon, the drill instructor moved him to the first row for the upcoming passing-out parade. By now, Ummer had also overcome his other Achilles heel. He was riding his bike like a pro.

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