Which Kashmir file do we figure in, ask families of Valley's early victims of terror

Security personnel near the site of a gunfight in Srinagar. [Image for representational purpose only]
Security personnel near the site of a gunfight in Srinagar. [Image for representational purpose only] File: Habib Naqash for Greater Kashmir

Srinagar: The wounds have retreated deep into memory over three decades and more but every now and then comes along an event, a stray remark or even a headline to rip open the scars for the families of the early victims of terrorism in Kashmir.

They have struggled to reclaim their lives since the late 1980s when terrorism tightened its grip over their homeland, killing thousands of people, political leaders and innocent standers-by, Pandits and Muslims. But scratch the surface and the memories resurface.

Thirty-three years on, Haji Bashir Ahmed Wani remembers with affection but also anguish his brother Yousuf Wani, a National Conference leader popularly known as 'Yusuf Halwai' who became the Valley's first victim of terrorism on August 21, 1989 when he was gunned down in broad daylight in downtown Srinagar.

"For what did my brother die?" Wani asked as the spotlight shines yet again on the Valley and its polarised politics, this time because of a film. "The Kashmir Files", which grabbed national headlines, has focused attention on the plight of the Kashmiri Pandit community and also sharpened divides through a narrative many victim families say is skewed.

Wani, who is also with the NC and has survived three militant attacks and lived to tell many a tale after four bullets pierced his right jaw, said his brother had moved out of the house that fateful day to help a family being threatened by terrorists

"The Kashmir Files should have begun with him as he sacrificed his life for the people of this country," the 75-year-old told PTI.

Reliving the trauma of seeing his brother shot dead, he said the atmosphere created by the film, which saw unprecedented scenes of audiences across the country shouting slogans in theatres, has increased the gulf between communities rather than bridging it.

Discourse on Kashmir, a volatile, emotive issue through the decades, should not centre around a film but this time it has, he said. The wounds of terrorism are not about one community alone, said the families.

"The makers of the movie have walked laughing to the bank whereas an ordinary Kashmiri Pandit is still be suffering in Jammu's migrant camps," said Wani.

"We have always lived in brotherhood. If our Pandit brothers and sisters have suffered, we too have had irreparable loss."

As Kashmir hurtled towards violence in those unforgettable months, the kidnapping of the then union Home minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed's daughter Rubaiya Sayeed in December 1989 was the turning point that sent the Valley spiraling into an abyss of violence. Five terrorists were released in exchange.

Yousuf Halwai' was not the only one mercilessly killed.

As many as 16 prominent politicians and well known personalities were similarly killed from late 1989 onwards till the mid 1990s. These included legislator Nazir Ahmed Viloora from Wachi, who was shot dead along with his father Ghulam Qadir, Kashmir University vice chancellor Mushir-ul Haq and his personal assistant Abdul Gani Zargar as well as Doordarshan director Lassa Kaul and H L Khera, who headed the state run HMT unit. As another Ramzan comes by in the month of April, Haq's family looks back at the years that changed Kashmir and upended many thousand lives.

"Thirty-two years is a long time. Prof Haq was kidnapped and assassinated during the month of Ramzan, which had fallen in the month of April that year. This year again it has fallen in April. The family shall not have to relive the tragedy twice this year as they have been doing since then," said his son-in-law Furqan Qamar who teaches at Delhi's Jamia Milia Islamia.

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