An earlier version of this article was first published in Raiot. Soon after, the Facebook account of Professor Mohmmad Rafi was taken down. In order to archive more of his thoughts, concerns, and ideas, this version has been updated to incorporate additional materials from the now-deleted-profile that were recorded in author’s research notes. Some sections of the story have also been updated in the light of additional reporting.
Dr. Mohmmad Rafi Bhat is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Kashmir. He has been working in the Department for the past year-and-a-half and teaches a graduate course on Sociology of Religion. He successfully defended his PhD dissertation entitled “Globalization and Emerging Trends in Consumerism: A Comparative Study of Rural and Urban Kashmir" in November 2017. Earlier this year, he published a paper on “Stone Pelting: A New Form of Protest in Kashmir.” In all, he has 29 publications to his credit. He has also written opinion pieces for Kashmir based dailies. Dr. Bhat cleared the National Eligibility Test (NET) twice, he has been a recipient of the prestigious Junior Research Fellowship (JRF), and topped the Jammu and Kashmir State Eligibility Test (JKSET).
Something like above would have read as the brief academic profile of thirty-two-year-old Dr. Mohmmad Rafi Bhat till Sunday 6 May 2018. Now, he shares an additional prefix—Shaheed, Martyr—on his gravestone along with a hundred thousand others in Kashmir.
On the morning of Friday 4 May, Rafi lectured at his department as usual. He informed his students that he was leaving soon for an interview at the University of Hyderabad. He had been shortlisted for the post of assistant professor, and his name topped the list. The students did not see him again even as he was supposed to deliver a lecture after the Friday prayers. Back at his home at Chunduna village in Central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district, Rafi’s family was expecting him to return as usual in the evening. He had called them earlier in the day and asked to keep the dinner ready. He never arrived. On Sunday morning, around 7:55 am, Abdul Raheem Bhat received a call to hear his son’s final words: “I am trapped in a cordon. I am sorry if I have hurt you. Please forgive me for my mistakes. This is my final call. I am going to meet Allah.”
Rafi was trapped in a cordon in South Kashmir’s Shopian district along with four well-known rebels of the Hizbul Mujahideen. The latter included: senior commander Saddam Padder who was also the final living member of the ‘Burhan Wani group’; Tauseef Sheikh; Bilal Moulvi; and Adil Thoker. In a short time after Rafi’s call to his father, all five were killed in the gun-battle with a combined posse of the Indian Army’s 44 Rashtriya Rifles (RR), 34 RR, and 3 RR battalions, along with contingents of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), and the Special Operations Group (SOG). The latter also shot dead six civilians and injured more than a hundred in protests during and after the encounter. Most had bullet injuries above waist and pellet injuries in eyes. Just a day earlier, the Indian armed personnel had killed three rebels in the capital city of Srinagar, while one civilian was killed during protests after being deliberately over run by a Jammu and Kashmir Police vehicle.
Rafi had probably left home to join the rebels, but his tryst lasted only some thirty-six hours.
A university student addressed the gathering of thousands at his funeral: “Our beloved teacher was strict in maintaining discipline, optimistic about freedom, and used to advise students to keep spirits up.” Another was reported as saying: “He was a brilliant teacher. Before leaving he advised us to study hard.” His neighbours remember him as a “pious and down-to-earth” man who “was loved by everyone” and “never raised his voice with any of the villagers.” Youngest among his three siblings, he was married since October 2012.
“Human being first then a Muslim,” notes the Intro on Rafi’s Facebook profile. Much of the profile is public. His last Facebook post on Friday 4 May, hours before he went missing, is signed in with the tag ‘feeling blessed’ in ‘University of Kashmir.’ It has two pictures of a farewell poem in Urdu, and another one of a Fastrack watch on his right wrist. The accompanying text are his final publicly written words: “Gift from my students. I will remember your love and respect. Allah bless you all.”
The following is an excerpt from the poem written by his students that was published in a local daily along with the news of his death:
Dhoop me chhawoun sa
Thandi thandi hawaoun sa
Ap ki yaad sab ko aayegi
Mat jaon aap, bahut rulayegi
Humara jahan rahega adhoora sa
(You are) Like a shade in scorching sun
(You are) Like a cool breeze
We all will miss you
Please don’t go, it will make us cry
Our world will be incomplete
Popular among his students for “his jolly nature, a unique style of teaching, and a habit of exchanging ideas, gifts and books,” Rafi took a selfie with some of his students before heading out.
Many of those who knew him in Kashmir have been writing about their memories of Rafi on his timeline and posts such as his playing cricket on the University campus, discussing Marx’s perspective on religion, or his advice as a teacher. Many, including those who have come to know about him only after his killing, have been paying their respects. On the other hand, many in India, who support Indian military’s actions in Kashmir, have also been writing abuses, posting morphed pictures, and celebrating his killing.
A number of Rafi’s public posts provide a peek into his life—a partial archive of his scholarly, social and political concerns; ideas and anxieties; a keen interest in Urdu poetry; and perhaps also a sense of foreboding about his impending death.
The cover picture, uploaded on March 6, notes a verse from the Quran, 6:162: “Say, Indeed, my prayer, my sacrifice, my living, and my dying are for Allah, Lord of the worlds.” This is also one of the five “Featured Photos” which includes a picture of Malcolm X, uploaded on December 12 2016, with the quote: “Don’t be in such a hurry to condemn a person because he doesn’t do what you do, or think as you think. There was a time when you didn’t know what you know today.” Elsewhere, there are photos of Martin Luther King. One of them, uploaded in September 2015, is with the quotation: “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” The other, uploaded on April 6 2016, notes: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”A picture of the young Palestinian girl arrested by the Israeli military in December 2017 has the words: “Free Ahed Tamimi!” There is a picture of the map of Kashmir, uploaded on 16 January 2013, with the words Insaan dosti (Friendship for humanity), Khuda Parasti (God’s worship) and Akhirat Pasandi (Love for the hereafter).
The next cover picture, uploaded on 2 March 2018, notes a verse from the poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz:
Dil na-umeed tou nahi, na-kaam hi tou hai
Lambi hai gham ki shaam, magar shaam hi tou hai
[Heart might be unsuccessful, but hasn’t lost hope
The sad night might be long, but it shall pass]
A re-post earlier on the same day, of the text originally posted on 2 March 2015, is a Friedrich Nietzsche quote from Die Götzen-Dämmerung – Twilight of the Idols: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
Faiz features frequently on Rafi's Facebook timeline. On 11 November 11 2017, Rafi posted the following lines with the caption “Haq farmaya Faiz g, [You speak the truth, Faiz ji!]”:
Nisaar mein teri galiyoun key aey watan ki jahaan
Chali hai rasm ki koyi na sar utha key chaley
Jo koyi chahney waala tawaaf ko nikley
Nazar chura key chaley, jism-o-jaan bacha key chaley
[I offer myself to your streets, my land, where
The custom doesn’t allow people to walk with heads held high
Any lover who goes about
Must hide his gaze; save his body and soul]
On 20 January, he posted the opening verse of Faiz’s poem Subh-e Azadi (Dawn of Independence):
Ye daag daag ujaala, ye shab guzeeda sahar
Wo intezaar tha jis ka, ye wo seher tou nahi
This stained light, this night-bitten dawn
This is not that long-awaited day break
On 24 January, he posted the picture of Urdu text of Faiz’s poem Kuttay [Dogs] about the depredations of the poor and oppressed, who, provided they realize their worth, could rise to rule the world. On January 28, he posted the text of Aey khaak nasheenou uth baitho [Arise, children of the earth] in which Faiz exhorts the masses to rise in revolution and force reckoning upon the oppressive ruling classes.
The poet-philosopher Muhammad Iqbal also features prominently to articulate Rafi’s concerns.
On 20 February 2017, he posted a picture, with an anonymous verse about attacks on worshipers in mosques, followed by few verses of Iqbal’s poem:
Masjid me bam bandh kar kood padha hamlaaawar
Na’ara-ey Takbeer kehkar namaazi udaa diye
[Strapped with a bomb, the attacker jumped into the mosque
While saying Allah-u-Akbar, killed the worshippers]
Allah sey kare door tou ta’leem bhi fitna
Imlaak bhi aulaad bhi jaageer bhi fitna
Na-haq ke liye uthe tou shamsheer bhi fitna
Shamsheer hi kya Na’ara-ey Takbeer bhi fitna
[If it diverts from Allah, knowledge is a mischief
Nations, children, property, all are a mischief
If lifted in favor of un-truth, sword is a mischief
What say of just a sword, even Takbeer is a mischief]
On 20 October 2017, he posted Iqbal’s following verse:
Nishan yehi hai zamane mein zinda quomoun ka
Ke subha-o-sham badalti hain in ki taqdeerain
It is the sign of living nations
Their fate changes day and night
Following three verses of the same poet were posted separately on 8 November 2017:
Utho! Meri duniya ke gareeboun ko jagaado
Kakh e umrake dar o dewaar hila dou
[Arise! Awaken the poor of my world
Shake the doors and walls of the mansions of the rich]
Azad ki doulat-e-dilroshan, nafs-e-garam
Meh koom ka sarmay afaqt didah’ay namnaak
A free man’s wealth, a shining heart and warm breath,
That of slave, only moist eyes
Nikl kar khanqahon seada kar rasm-e-Shabeeri
Ke faqr-e-khanqahi hai faqat andoh-o-dilgeeri
Come out of the monastery and play the role of Shabbir
For monastery’s faqr is but grief and affliction
On 29 November 2017, he posted the following poem by Habib Jalib:
“Ab gunahou sawaab biktey hain
Maan lijiye janab biktey hain
Pehley pehley ghareeb biktey the
Ab tou izzat ma’aab biktey hain
Sheikh, wa’iz, wazeer, aur shair
Sab yehan par janab biktey hain
Daur tha inqalaab aatey the
Aj kal inquilab biktey hain”
[Nowadays, sins and good deeds are saleable
Think, people themselves are saleable
Earlier, poor were saleable
Now, the respected are also saleable
Chief, preacher, minister, and poet
All of them are saleable
There was a time, revolutions arrived
These days, revolutions are saleable]
On 5 December 2017, he posted the following verse by Amir Uthmani:
Me jaanta tha daar sey qareeb waadiye wafa
Usi dagar pe le chala junoon mujhey kashaan kashaan
[I knew about the Valley of fulfilment near the gallows
My spirit took me on that very path of hardship]
On 22 December 2017, he posted a verse by Ghalib:
Hum kahaan ke daana they, kis hunar meñ yaktaa they
Be-sabab hua ghalib dushman asmaan apna
[I wasn’t among the wise, nor unique in some skill
Without any reason, the skies turned my enemy]
One more by Ghalib from 23 January is posted with the signed in caption ‘feeling heartbroken.’
Bas ki dushwaar hai har kaam ka asaan hona
Aadmi ko mayassar nahi insaan hona
[It is just not possible for all things to be easy
Man does not get to be human]
On 6 January, he posted a picture of the following verse by Momin Khan Momin:
Karta hai qatl-e aam wo agyaar ke liye
Das bees roz martey hain dou chaar k liye
[He kills with impunity for the strangers’ cause
Scores die everyday for a few]
On 3 February, Mir Taqi Mir’s following verse:
Kab is umr me aadmi sheikh hoga
Kitabein rakhe saath gu ek kharbaar
[How will a person be wise at this age
The books are like the donkey’s burden]
Few days later, on 9 February, which is also the anniversary of Afzal Guru’s hanging, Rafi reposted the following text, posted originally in the year of Guru’s hanging in 2013:
Mout ko samajhtey hain gaafil ikhtitam e zindagi
Hai ye shaam e zindagi, subhi dawam e zindagi
Death; fools perceive it to be end of life
It is the end of life, but (also the) dawn of an eternal life
Shahaadat ki mout, s’aadat ki mout”
[The death of martyrdom, the death of blessing]
Elsewhere he has posted a picture, uploaded on 8 March 2013, with the following words below the images of Maqbool Bhat and Afzal Guru:
Shaheed tumse ye keh rahey hain
Lahu humara bhula na dena
[The Martyrs are telling you
Not to forget our blood]
Like many in Kashmir and elsewhere, Rafi’s posts are an indication of his thinking about the dynamics of oppression and possible ways to resist.
On 4 March, he re-posted Howard Zinn’s following words, originally posted on the same date in 2015:
“Civil disobedience is not a problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of leaders…and millions have been killed because of this obedience…Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves… (and) the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.”
Elsewhere, he has shared the written text of Godfrey of Ibelin’s dialogue, from the movie Kingdom of Heavens, and tagged some of his friends:
“Be without fear in the face of your enemies. Be brave and upright that God may love thee. Speak the truth always, even if it leads to your death. Safeguard the helpless and do no wrong. That is your oath.”
His thoughts and concerns also move on to other things.
There is an Albert Einstein picture with the text of his quotation about the effects of technology, uploaded on 1 February 2017:
“I fear the day that technology will surpass the human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.”
An animated picture shows a small-lit house in the woods. The text hints at the contentment of a simple life, away from the mad race after money. A friend of Rafi’s suggests in a comment that they should have such a house in Baisaran area. He agrees.
There is a cartoon with three sections. In the first, a young man is running towards cash, which is out of the reach of his spread-out hands. In the second, he has collected some, which he holds with one hand, while the other hand reaches for more, all the while his gaze fixed towards money. In the final section, the man, grabbing all his money close to his body by his two hands, has turned old. His feet remain near the edge of the cliff, as his eyes look down in fear. A board right next to him says: “END.”
The following stand-alone quotes in English feature in various places, mostly in pictures:
“We all have this perfect picture in our minds of how things are supposed to be and that’s why we all end up being disappointed.”
“Emotionally I’m done. Mentally, I’m drained. Physically, I smile.” - Uploaded on 9 August 2017.
“Time is one luxury we do not have.”
“Hope is the only thing stronger than fear.”
The following one in Urdu:
Qabristan aesey logoun sey bhare padhe hain, jo samjhtey the ki duniya un key bagair nahi chalsakti.
“Graveyards are full of people who thought that the world would not run without them.”
An Arabic verse from Quran, 3:185:
Kullu nafsin zaayiqat-ul maut.
[Every soul shall taste death]
Uploaded on 16 December 2015 is a picture of some Urdu verses from the online page of Sha’oor magazine:
Nigaah-e ‘aebgeeri sey jou dekha ahl-e-aalam ko
Koyi kaafir, koyi faasiq, koyi zindeeq-eak bar tha
Magar jab ho gaya dil ahtesaab-e nafs par maa-il
Hua saabit ki har farzand-e-Adam mujhsey behtar tha
[When my gaze searched faults among the people of the world
Someone was an infidel, someone corrupt, someone the greatest heretic
But, when the heart was motivated to account for my own self
It was proved that every son of Adam was better than me]
On 19 March 2017, he posted a picture which has a quotation with the title Talkh Haqeeqat (Bitter Truth) besides the picture of Maulana Maududi. Below the title are the following lines:
Is beemaar mu’ashirey ka almiyah ye hai ki yehan sab ko apni ‘duniya’ aur doosroun ki ‘aakhirat’ ki fikr rehti hai.
[The tragedy of this diseased society is that while people seek worldly lives for themselves, they are bothered about other peoples’ hereafter.]
There are also many quotations from Hasan Al-Bana.
One of them uploaded on 4 February 2017 says: “Your real Eid will be the day when your lands are free!”
Another picture re-posted on 21 March, originally posted on 20 March 2016, has Al-Bana’s quote stressing the need for unity in the ranks of the faithful. One of his Facebook friends, apparently from Indonesia, had commented about opposition by secular parties to ideas of people such as Al-Bana, to which Rafi replied: “You can’t find single ideology in such a huge nation like Indonesia.”
Rafi was clearly well read, but that was no reason for arrogance. He was a careful thinker with eclectic concerns, and someone very hard to box into a narrow ideological description. However, in his dialogues and engagements with his friends, he consistently comes across as a kind and humble person, qualities his friends and family have been reporting. This is particularly evident in the following lines posted on 22 March, originally posted in 2016:
Agar haadi-saati tour par apne do chaar kitabein zyada padhli hain, tou dosroon ka jeena tou haram nakarein.
[If you have accidentally read a few more books that should not make you rub it on others.]
Month Before The Last
On Sunday 1 April, when 13 rebels were killed in three separate encounters in South Kashmir, Rafi posted the following status on his timeline: “Every day people die but never Kashmir is interested who and how many. But few die and whole Valley cry. May Allah be pleased with them.”
On 14 April, the Professor reminisced about his own teachers who influenced and inspired him, right from his primary school to the university. He mentions some favorites and ends with a thanks and a wish: “I am indebted to all my teachers whose names I have not mentioned. May Allah bless all of my teachers.”
On 18 April, he wrote a post in response to the “Enforced closure of educational institutes” by the government in order to contain widespread students’ protests against ongoing killings in Kashmir: “Onus lies with the men/women in power who are hell bent to exercise the power to remain in power. Alas! This power game is putting students on trial who are now scared and unsafe even in the places where they should be at least safe and secure. By blocking all the peaceful means of expressing dissent, what remains there is self-defense against armed insecurity forces. It is existing circumstances, which is fueling student protests. The way forward is change in status quo. Where power won’t be exercised for the sake of power.”
On 25 April, he dedicated a post to his students. Signed in as ‘Feeling Proud’ he wrote:“As a teacher if you have such students to whom you really mean much more than mere something what else may you ask for. I am proud of you my dear students. I cannot forget your batch. You will be with me with utmost loving memories. May Allah bless you all. Today I really feel proud of being a teacher. (Sociology PG students (supplementary) University of Kashmir Batch 2016-17-18).”
On April 29, seemingly troubled by the recent protests by the Hazara community in Pakistan’s Quetta city, Rafi posted a picture and a video lecture of Mufti Muhammad Ishaq Madni, a Pakistani scholar who stresses the need for unity among the Muslim communities. A portion of the highlighted text in the picture translates as, “Those who make Shia and Sunni fight among themselves in the name of the companions, are ignorant clerics who worship nothing else but their own desires.”
During this month, he also shared a few other posts, including a video of a program by NDTV’s Ravish Kumar on the brutal gang rape and murder of 8-year-old girl in Kathua district of Jammu region.
On 30 April, Rafi updated his final profile picture.
On 1 May, he shared his final news post, a Washington Post article about the killing of two rebels, Sameer Tiger and Auqib Ahmad Khan, in Drabgam village in South Kashmir. At least fourteen other people were also injured on the same day.
Even from a distance, Rafi’s story and thoughts can be gleaned from his Facebook profile and the news reports that have been published exclusively about him. A greater attention to detail about his story also comes from the fact that he was known among university circles, which many more people might identify with. The stories of others killed along with him—rebels as well as civilians—perhaps may not be written with such description. Yet, they are no less adored, equally mourned, and fondly remembered by the people.
As it rained on Sunday, thousands of people rushed towards Heff village in Shopian to have a last glimpse of the thirty-two-year-old Saddam Padder (some reports mention the age to be 26), and forty-one-year-old Bilal Moulvi. Fifteen rounds of funeral prayers were not enough to accommodate everyone, and the burial was delayed by a day. The rains intensified by early morning on Monday, yet people continued to jostle for space as the nearby Eidgah grounds were filled to capacity. Some climbed the surrounding walls and poplar trees. The duo was finally buried after five more rounds of funeral prayers, but not before Saddam’s mother, Firdausa, participated in the gun-salute, the second time in two days, as she fired three shots in the air while standing on the terrace of a house overlooking the burial ground. His sister and brother also participated in the gun-salutes. Firdausa later told a reporter: “India is responsible for the political and humanitarian crisis in Kashmir. My son realized that it’s better to die once, than again and again, in the perpetual state of oppression.”
Saddam’s father, Mohi-ud-Din Padder, related the story his fun loving, cricketer son who began landing in jail once he started participating in pro-freedom protests. The police had tried to pressurize him into becoming an informer. Instead, he joined the rebels. However, the family did not have much clue about what exactly transpired. When Mohi-ud-Din asked his son about the reason during the latter’s secretive visit home, Saddam told him: “They wanted me to be their informer. That is why I was called twice at the camp… They wanted me to spy on my childhood buddies turned militants with whom I played cricket. It was out of question for me to follow their dictates.” He further added, “He can’t trade with the blood of his Shaheed Mujahid brothers.”
As a young boy, Saddam used to dabble in livestock trade, apart from helping out with his family’s timber business and maintenance of their orchards. Herding animals around the fields and hills near his village gave him a deep knowledge of the terrain. He would employ this experience well in meticulously evading the armed forces for more than four years. Saddam had a reputation for breaking cordons. In this, local villagers who rushed to protest whenever the news of him being trapped would spread often helped him.
The consequences of Saddam’s decision also meant routine harassment for his family. During a cordon on 17 May 2017, armed forces cordoned off his village and entered the courtyard of their house, where they got into an argument with his sister. Mohi-ud-Din remembered: “I had to rush to save her after one of them tried to hit my daughter… I asked the policemen to behave and leave, but suddenly, some 30 army and SOG men arrived to beat me, my wife and two daughters. They plucked a fistful of my beard, before I fainted… We’ve been harassed so much now that I also want to pick up arms.” He also recounted his anger when a police official asked him to motivate Saddam to surrender, an offer he refused at once. He had known the story of Bilal Moulvi, a former government official, who was arrested for six months for once hosting a rebel at his home. Mohi-ud-Din said: “After his (Bilal’s) release, as he started running his shop, he faced regular harassment, leaving only two options for him: suicide or militancy. Bilal chose the latter, at the cost of his two infant daughters, a young wife and a vast family fortune.” He last came home to see his family on Saturday night. A total of a hundred thousand people is reported to have participated in the combined funeral of Saddam and Bilal, the largest since Burhan Wani’s in July 2016. In a separate burial in Malikgund village of Shopian, Adil Thokar, also one of the senior commanders, was buried after six back-to-back funerals.
Early morning on Sunday, Tauseef Shiekh’s mother, Naseema Bano, picked the call from an unknown number in excitement. She had guessed the person right, but did not expect his words: “I am trapped in a cordon. There are no chances of escape…I had promised to meet you but that might not happen now. We will meet in the hereafter. Pray for me.”As the weight of her son’s final words dawned upon her, Naseema responded: “Allah is with you. Be steadfast on your path.”
Tauseef had joined the rebels in 2013 as a sixteen-year-old boy. He was also the sixteenth member of his family to have joined the rebels since the 1990’s, and the fifteenth to be killed. When Tauseef’s bullet ridden body was brought home in the afternoon, people started assembling to pay their last respects. Those who arrived walked through the village road decorated with a collage of top rebels including many from Tauseef’s family. Naseema spoke of her son proudly: “He was their commander in the entire district and that is why at least 12 militants came in the groups of fours to offer him gun salute. He was a different militant, a thinking one.” She added: “There will be no one like him now…there is no purpose to this life now.” His sister, Rafeeqa added: “Our sons and brothers have given their blood for this movement.”
Rafi, Saddam, Bilal, Adil, and Tauseef, all were buried amidst the mournful, yet musical chants of pro-freedom slogans and songs.
How does one end the mourning? How does one conclude the mourning? Perhaps by going back to the words of those who no longer need to mourn.
One of Rafi’s cover pictures, uploaded on November 10 2013, notes the following verse:
Jahaan me ahl-e-imaan soorat-e-khurshid jeetay hain
Idhar doobey, udhar nikley, udhar doobey, idhar niklay
[In this world, the people of faith live like the sun
They set here to rise there, set there to rise somewhere else]
Another one, uploaded on 2 March 2017, has the following lines:
Daayim abaad rahegi duniya,
Hum na hongey, koyi humsa hoga
[The world shall always continue to exist
We won’t be around, someone like us will]
Rafi had left his home possibly to join the rebels. Whether he formally joined remains unknown. He did not upload the signature picture with a rifle in his hand to announce his decision. But what remains certain is that the Professor did not leave them when the first shots were fired. Perhaps, he had foreseen this. One of his other cover pictures, uploaded on December 7 2017, reads as follows:
Hum dosti me darakhtoun ki tarah hain sahib!
Jahaan lag jaayein, wahin mudattoun khade rehtey hain.
[In friendship, we are like trees, Saheb.
We stay put for ages wherever we find root.] ♦