SRINAGAR, Jammu and Kashmir ― Clad in a long woollen cloak with a white cloth draped loosely over her head, soft-spoken Sarwa Begum described how her heart skipped a beat when she heard her son Saifullah Mir was the new chief of the Hizbul Mujahideen, a militant organisation born in Jammu and Kashmir in 1990 with the goal of merging Kashmir withPakistan.
It was a windy evening on 11 May, with Kashmir’s five-month long winter in full retreat, when Sarwa Begum heard the news from her neighbour. The 55-year-old woman, who had just finished her household chores for the day, knew then that she would spend every waking moment of the rest of her life tormented by the inevitability of her son’s fate.
In a recent video call with HuffPost India from Malangpora village, Sarwa Begum said she had not seen her son since August 2014, when he left to join the militant movement that has been raging in the bloodied yet stunningly beautiful Kashmir Valley for 30 years. She lies awake night after night, consumed by dread and anxiety.
In the hour-long video call over 2G network, the only kind allowed after the Narendra Modi government blocked the internet in J&K for six months, Sarwa Begum said that she did not understand why her son, who had garnered respect and accolades for his expertise in repairing medical equipment, chose to join the militancy.
His neighbours in separate conversations with HuffPost India described him as quiet, religious and, unlike one of his hugely popular predecessors Burhan Wani, not a big fan of social media. But he is like so many of his generation, they said, “a child of conflict” born into a never-ending cycle of violence.
Officials preparing background information on Mir say that sustained encounters by Indian security forces have “thinned out” the ranks of the HM, and its new chief—one of the top ten most wanted militants in 2019—would be preoccupied with guarding and growing its existing cadre.
“I protected my children...