When 25-year-old Sajad Ahmad Gilkar stepped out on the morning of June 29, 2017, his family did not know he had deliberately left behind his cell phone and watch at home. “He had to go to court for a hearing that day,” recalled Naseema Bano, Gilkar’s mother. “He had got so tired of these court appearances that he joked about renting a room near the court complex in Tengpora.”
Gilkar had to attend regular court hearings in a slew of cases against him. According to police records, he was a “chronic” stone-pelter and participant in pro-freedom demonstrations that routinely broke out in Nowhatta, a neighbourhood close the Jama Masjid in Srinagar’s old city. His family still live in an old-fashioned mud and brick townhouse in Nowhatta.
Gilkar did not return from his court hearing that day. The next morning, his family filed a missing complaint at the Nowhatta police station.
Thirteen days later, they heard from him. Gilkar had joined the Hizbul Mujahideen and was holed in a house in Radbugh village in Budgam district. It was surrounded by army and police troops. A gunfight was breaking out. Desperate to talk to his mother one last time, he had called on his father’s phone. “But his father was not home, he was at work,” said Naseema Bano, breaking down. Later that morning, he was killed in the gunfight.
“I will not deny that he was a stone-pelter but it was the police harassment which forced him to become a militant,” said his mother. “He had even stopped joining protests due to the continuous harassment by the police and PSAs.” PSA is shorthand for orders under the Public Safety Act, a preventive detention law where prisoners can be held without trial for months.
Gilkar is one of the many youth in the Valley who made the transition from protests and stone-pelting to militancy, after doing the rounds of police stations, prisons and courts for years.