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What Made a Scholar Take Up Arms

Daanish Bin Nabi, tries to understand what made Dr Mohmmad Rafi Bhat turn to violence

In the last forty years, Ganderbal in Kashmir has broken peace two times. One, when young Muhammad Ashraf Sehrai, the childhood friend of Syed Ali Geelani and the present President of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, contested against the mighty Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah in 1975 elections (during those days, raising voice against the Sheikh mounted to blasphemy, let alone contest  an election against him). Second and the most recent one has been the killing of assistant professor turned militant Dr Mohmmad Rafi Bhat.

Barring these two incidents, the district Ganderbal has always been a citadel of pro-India party National Conference (NC). The pro-state sentiment can be gauged from thisthere is not a single police, army or any other paramilitary beat, leave alone a full-fledged forces camp in the interiors of the district, a rare sight in Kashmir.

But what happened on May 06, 2018, may change the district forever. It was the day when an assistant professor turned fresh militant, who was active for one and a half day, was killed some 50 kilometres away from Ganderbal, in district Shopian, along with a most wanted Hizb commander Saddam Padder.  

The Assistant Professor, Dr Mohmmad Rafi Bhat of Chundina village of district Ganderbal, would go down in the memory lane of many Kashmiris as one for whom “humanity” and “unity” always came first than religion. His cover photo on his Facebook account, which now has been deactivated by the authorities, says, “Human being first then a Muslim”.

What happened? What changed in him? Why did he take such a path? Why did he leave a lucrative job, his loving wife, his heartbroken parents, and his ever-caring sisters, no one knows, no one has the answers, the only question remains, why?

Even the Professor of International Relations at University of Westminster, Dibyesh Anand, in his Facebook post asked, “What would have driven a polite, critical and humble scholar to this?”

Born in 1988-89, Dr Mohmmad Rafi’s, finished his schooling in Ganderbal. He first decided to do a B.Sc but changed his major to sociology in the second year and eventual ended up moving to the University of Kashmir for his post graduation, where he finished his PhD. One of his friends from Chundina village, who wishes to remain anonymous, says, “He was a born genius. He always stood first at school and college level. He had achieved more than his life at such a tender age.”  

He says he Dr Rafi was always interested in societal issues. He also qualified Junior Research Fellowship (JRF) in first attempt. After JRF, getting admission in Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) was an easy cake walk for the professor and it was during his research that he also got associated with State’s Animal Husbandry Department. However, he was with the department, as a senior officer, only for one and half year after which he went back to his research.

During his research he also got admission at the Central University of Pondicherry. He did go to Pondicherry but came back one week later as he wanted to do research in Kashmir and for the Kashmiri’s, says his friend. After completing his PhD last year (2017), he went into a lucrative job. Chundina has 98 percent literacy rate and 96 percent employment rate.“He was the best among the lot. He was simply outstanding,” says a relative.

Dr Rafi

As a research scholar, Dr Rafi, along with his other associates had visited cities like Chennai, Hyderabad, Kerala, Uttrakhand, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Jamia Milia University in New Delhi to present his papers.

He had also been invited by a university in Netherlands however he refused to go to the Dutch city.

His long-time colleague and friend at University of Kashmir, Dr Suhail told Sbcltr, “In 2015, we were invited for a conference in Hyderabad. The conference was organised by MANU University and titled Muslim, Media and Democracy. “Najam Sethi of Pakistan, Rajdeep Sardesai and Shekhar Gupta were also present. When he (Dr Rafi) stood up to represent his paper; he introduced himself as Dr Mohmmad Rafi Bhat from Indian Occupied Kashmir,” says Suhail.

Dr Rafi had published almost 30 papers, both nationally and internationally. He had also published a paper titled ‘How USA, Russia, China and Israel are involved in Kashmir’. Suhail says, He was brutally honest and a dedicate professor who never missed a class. He was student-centric. He would help students even after 4 pm when university would close.

Apart from his studies and research, he would also religiously help the local Darasgah (Seminary school) of his village. Dr Rafi distributed his salary among the needy and poor. Dr Ayaz Mehmood (30) Senior Research Fellow at National Institute of Technology (NIT), Srinagar, says, “For him humanity and unity was top most priority. He was against all sort of sectarianism. He had a simple thought – ‘humanity first’. He used to say ‘the more you read, the more you learn. He was being human in literal sense. He gave away the major proportion share of his salary. He was always ready to help others. He had a second-hand alto car but sold it a month earlier.”

In 2015, Dr.Rafi wed Iqra of Batakadal, Lalbazar, Srinagar in an arranged marriage. He has no children.

Dr Ayaz, who was Dr Rafi’s childhood friend and a companion from his home to Kashmir University, says: “During the 2016 unrest, Ganderbal was calm, there were hardly any or no protests. We used to take the Ganderbal, to Zakura, to University route daily. However, the deployed Special task Forces (STF) of Jammu Kashmir Police would harass and treat us badly. The harassment was both physical as well as psychological. Dr Rafi would always talk about the harassment and would say how can scholars be harassed in such a way. He would also talk about the killings as killing during those days was a routine.”  

Dr Ayaz says that he had always heard from Dr Rafi that, “They (forces) don’t deserve to frisk and check us.”

The district of Ganderbal has witnessed far less anti-India activities than the rest of Kashmir valley. Locals say that only seven militants have been killed since the 1990s in the district and this includes assistant professor turned militant Dr Mohmmad Rafi Bhat. The last militant that was killed in district was in 1999. The militant identified as Shabir Ahmad Magray was killed 100 meters away from Dr Rafi’s home. Unlike Dr Rafi, Shabir was unmarried and had received arms training in Pakistan. Shabir was killed along with three foreign militants.

Nicknamed  Sahab Baya, Dr Rafi went missing from the university campus on May 04 (Friday) at around 3:00 pm.  His family says that they went to the university on Friday evening and searched for him everywhere. But couldn’t establish any contact with him as his cell phone was continuously switched-off.  

One of his relative said that Police later informed the family that his last activity on the cell phone was tracked at around 3:15 pm inside the campus. The relative says, We went to the hospital, Nigeen Police Station and searched in the varsity as well. We also met the Vice Chancellor and Proctor and filed as missing person report in Police Station Nigeen.”

Dr Rafi’s father, Abdul Rahim Bhat, said that on Sunday morning the family received last and final phone call from the professor. At 7: 50 am he called. He only said that he is sorry and said goodbye to all of us. He talked to me, his mother and last he talked with his sisters. The call only lasted for two to three minutes,says Bhat.“He told me to start preparing for the funeral as he would only last for ten minutes,” says a calm Bhat at his residence in Chundina, which was swarmed by the people paying their respect to the Bhat family.

In his last call, he also informed his family about who would lead his funeral prayers. He chose Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) District President Bashir Ahmad Lone. By 8:15 am on Sunday morning, the entire Bhat family was on way to Badigam village of district Shopian.

The Funeral Procession


As the phone disconnected, the entire Bhat family let out loud wails, soon the entire village knew that Dr. Rafi was trapped in Badigam village. Bhat says that the electronic media which showed SSP Shopian calling Dr Rafi and his associates to surrender was all fake and stage managed.

“They did even let us to go near the gunfight site. We were stopped and detained at Zainpora Police Station which is around 10 kilometres from main town Shopian. The police did allowed us to move beyond Zainpora. Had they (authorities) really wanted to make him surrender they would have obviously allowed us to talk to him when he was trapped inside. They could have delayed the operations by at least few more hours and we could talked to him. But they didn’t allow us. And after detaining us they staged managed the ‘persuading drama’,” says Bhat.

“We then waited for his body. It was a long wait of my life,” says Bhat.   

On May 08, when this scribe visited the Bhat family, people from all walks of life had descended in Chundina village. There were fierce speeches against New Delhi and the government. People hugged, wept and consoled each other and the family members of Dr Rafi. Amidst huge outcry against New Delhi, however, almost every speaker concluded his speech saying that till New Delhi doesn’t hold a dialogue with stakeholders of Kashmir, educated people like Dr Rafi would continue to lose life to this unending conflict called Kashmir.

Dr Ayaz summed up the life and times of Dr Rafi aptly well. He picked up a gun but never taught violence to his students. He never educated them to pick up gun or throw stones.”

Hizb poster boy Burhan Wani’s killing had sowed the seeds of renewed militancy in Kashmir. What Dr Rafi’s death will bring to Kashmir only time will tell. Hours before Rafi had gone missing, he had posted a picture of an Urdu poem his students had written for him and gifted a wristwatch to him.

(You are) Like a shade in scorching sun
(You are) Like a cool breeze
Every word of yours feels like a prayer
Like a cool, soothing breeze
You held our hands at every step
You removed darkness by spreading light
Neither there was nor there will be anyone like you


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