‘Come, I Miss You’: Story Behind Viral Video of Shopian Encounter

“Aaghaji, neabar near. Be chusai Afaan raje (Come out, father. I am Prince Afaan),” the voice booms out of a hand-held public address system, as security forces and relatives prod the five-year-old boy to go on.

“Wala nearu wyen neaber (Come out now),” the boy says, reluctantly. “Wala yim no karnai kiheen (Come, they won’t harm you).”

The scene unfolded in south Kashmir’s Shopian district, on the intervening night of 21 and 22 March, when security forces besieged a cluster of houses in Batpora Manihal village where a group of militants were hiding.

The action was captured on camera, purportedly by security forces, and the video was circulated widely on social media in Kashmir.

Among the four militants trapped in one of the houses was Aaqib Malik, father of Afaan.

“Wala mye chu chooun feraan (Come, I am missing you),” the boys says in the video, without evoking a response from his father.

Later that night, Aaqib was among four militants killed in the encounter. The other three militants killed were identified as Rayees Ahmad Bhat, Aftab Ahmad Wani and Amir Shafi Mir, all residents of Shopian district.

Officials said Mir had signed up for militancy only a month ago, while the other three had joined in the past few months.

‘A Midnight Knock’

As night fell in south Kashmir’s Ganopora Arash village on Sunday, 21 March, a masked man arrived at the gate of the single-storied home of Aaqib, a 27-year-old bank worker who joined militancy around three months ago.

Soon, the two young children, accompanied by family and neighbours, left in a relative’s car for Batpora Manihal village of Shopian where the encounter was underway, Haifa said.

“Once we reached, there were lots of army men. I got scared. Then, police took us to someone’s house. I don’t know what happened afterwards,” she said, oblivious to the tragedy that has befallen her.

As eerie calm descended on the village, as Aaqib’s wife reached the site of the encounter to convince her husband to surrender.

But her pleas apparently fail to move the trapped militant. Haifa said she was also asked to repeat the appeal. “I was scared. I didn’t go,” she said.

A Family in Gloom

The house of Aaqib in Ganopora is connected to the main road by a short, muddy path cobbled with stones. From a distance, loud screams of Aaqib’s wife could be heard emanating from the house. She is repeatedly crying out her husband’s name, asking who was going to take care of his children.

In a room with bare plastered walls, men comfort Ghulam Ahmad Malik, Aaqib’s old father, who is sitting in a corner. The screams of Aaqib’s wife can be heard in the adjacent room. Some women are sobbing quietly while others urge his wife to have patience.

“Aaghaji (father) used to bring me pigeons. But he didn’t listen to me,” says Afaan, recalling the night of the encounter. “He didn’t come out. Then we were told to go home.”

Trauma For Life

Security forces have been using the family members of militants trapped in encounters to offer them the surrender route. While there have been positive outcomes in some cases, it is for the first time that a child was used to make such an offer.

Dr Wasim Rashid Kakroo, a child mental health therapist at IMHANS, Srinagar, said the death of any of the two parents is “extremely traumatising” for a child, “especially if they are of young age.”

Another psychiatrist based in central Kashmir, who didn’t want to be named, said the child should be examined by mental health experts for at least a month for symptoms of PTSD.

“In this digital age, he will be exposed repeatedly to the last moments before his father’s violent death,” the psychiatrist said, adding that getting a child to convince someone who has already adopted a path where death is imminent is “morally and ethically wrong.”

‘Focus on Surrender’

In a press conference, the Indian Army said Aaqib’s family was brought to the site of encounter to convince him to surrender. Lt Gen Rashim Bali, the GoC of the Army’s south Kashmir based Victor Force, said his soldiers brought Aaqib’s wife and son to the encounter site to convince him to surrender.

IG Kumar said the J&K Police has been following the surrender policy for local militants caught in encounters for more than a year.

Kumar said 19 militants have been killed in nine operations in the Valley this year.

In January, two militants were convinced by security forces to lay down arms during an encounter on the outskirts of south Kashmir’s Kakpora village.

Earlier in December, two militants of Lashkar-e-Taiba surrendered before the security forces in the adjoining Kulgam district.

Stir in Village

The family of Aaqib rejected the claim that they were brought to the encounter site by the Army. “We reached the site of the gun battle on our own after learning that Aaqib was among the trapped militants,” said a cousin of Aaqib.

The killing of Aaqib has caused a stir in the village. “He had a good job, owned a car and a bike. What else could he have wished for? Despite all this, he didn’t listen to his family and gave up his life,” said an aged man outside the house, who didn’t want to be identified.

He added that the family also owns a small orchard that fetches 100-150 boxes of different kinds of fruits every year. (Courtesy: The Quint)

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