Hizb-ul Mujahideen recruits poor Hindu youth to carry out acts of terrorism in Kashmir
Perched at 7,000 ft and approachable only by a two-hour arduous trek from the nearest road, Zihand, a tiny hamlet of 30-odd mud and wood houses, is a mere speck on the map of the vast, mountainous Doda district in Jammu and Kashmir.
Yet, it figures prominently on the anti-militancy grid of security forces and has a company strong post of Rashtriya Rifles looking over the houses out of which only five belong to Hindus.
While the hamlet quietens at dusk, the army men fan out, combing the nearby Deodar forest, laying ambushes on the winding tracks on the steep, rock-strewn slopes and conducting surprise raids. Ironically, while their task is to protect the Hindu families from militants, their prime target is also a local Hindu youth. His pictures are all over.
MANOJ KUMAR, 18
The wall posters, faded and frayed, pronounce Kuldeep Kumar Sharma as the Most Wanted militant. The 23-year old, known as KK to security agencies and locals, is an area commander of the dreaded outfit Hizbul Mujahideen, which is wedded to fundamentalist Islamic ideology and Jammu and Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan.
Of half a dozen militant groups operating in the Doda-Rajouri area, Hizbul is the dominant one.
Initiated into militancy five years ago by his school friend Javed, the Brahmin youth, a class VIII dropout, has had a meteoric rise in the Hizbul hierarchy and now heads a group of half a dozen Muslim militants.
Involved in more than a dozen attacks on security forces, he figures on Hizbul’s wireless network by the codename of Kamran. Police records show him as a “hardcore terrorist”. “KK spells terror in this area,” says Doda’s SP (operations) Varinder Sharma.
TORN: Lal’s wife next to his
SHAM LAL, 36
He is not the only Hindu foot soldier in the so-called jehad waged by the terrorist outfits in Jammu and Kashmir. There are 13 other Hindu militants on the wanted list. Apart from them, three of the “active Hindu militants” have surrendered, while one was killed in an encounter in the past one year. Security officials see a sinister strategy in Hizbul’s recruitment of Hindu youth into its ranks.
“It’s worrying,” says Satvir Gupta, DIG, Doda-Udhampur range. “The Pakistan-backed militant group can twist the facts to claim that even Hindus are part of its so-called jehad in Kashmir.”
But the Hindu youth’s dalliance with the terror groups is more to do with compulsions than conviction for the jehadi cause. The underlying motives bring home the subtle but stark truth-that militancy has lost its moorings in ideology and faith and turned into a money-minting business, at least in the hotbed of Doda-Rajouri in the Jammu region.
Security officials attribute it to the lure of monetary benefits, ideological brainwashing and the awe and adulation the gun-wielding militants evoke among locals. Added to such allurements are poverty and unemployment- the overriding factors which blur religious identities in the sparsely populated villages in the far flung mountainous areas.
KULDEEP SHARMA, 23
Security officials point out that the Pakistan-based militant mentors have been pumping massive money to enlist support as part of their design to spread terror in areas south of the Pir Panjal range. A Hizbul militant gets Rs 50,000 on induction and Rs 2,500 as monthly wages which are sometimes directly paid to his family.
On the other hand, special police officers, the only employment option-and a temporary one at that-the state Government offers to youth with a little education, get Rs 1,500 a month as salary for fighting militancy.
This compares poorly with the Rs 4,000-5,000 a month that a militant earns after a stint of four years or more. The family of a local Hizbul militant gets a compensation of Rs 50,000 to Rs1 lakh if he is killed. The families of some top slain militants get regular financial help from Hizbul. But according to both surrendered militants and the security forces, the finances of militant outfits have more or less dried up.
Terrorists operating outside the Kashmir Valley are not getting their wages regularly. This has caused disillusionment among many militants and made them surrender.
Another factor which draws Hindu youth to terrorism is that the power of the gun makes them, in the words of an army official at Doda, “local lords”. “It gives them a licence to earn fast money through extortions and exploit the women folk,” says P.R. Manhas, SSP, Doda. Militant groups are known to patronise the timber mafia and unscrupulous civil contractors.
Poverty is what drove Sanjay Kumar, a.k.a. Munnu, a class VI dropout, into the arms of terror groups when he was barely 13. Son of a poor coal miner, Om Prakash of Kheri Teryath village in the remote Kalakote belt of Rajouri district, he disappeared into the forests four years ago.
Code-named “Talwar”, he is now listed in police records as an active militant of Hizbul’s Pir Panjal range and wanted for killing a Hindu a few months ago. “I wanted Munnu to be in the school, not in the jungles,” says Om Prakash, wistfully clutching his son’s abandoned school books. He insists that Sanjay was kidnapped by militants and forced to pick up the gun.
STRICKEN: Sanjay’s parents with his photograph
SANJAY KUMAR, 17
It is not difficult to understand why the rabidly fundamentalist Hizbul accepts Hindu youth into its fold. Being locals, they are familiar with the terrain and help in finding safe hideouts in Hindu houses which are least suspected by the security forces.
The very fact that most Hindu youth who joined Hizbul have stayed on in its ranks testifies that it trusts them. In most cases, the persuasion of Muslim friends who had become militants was a factor which made them opt for terrorism.
After their induction into militant ranks, the Hindu youth are trained and given a weapon, mostly an AK-47 rifle, when they cross the hump of reliability. Anyway, they know that even an iota of suspicion would earn them and their families the wrath of their masters. They perform all sorts of armed activities alongside their Muslim fellow travellers. These range from attacking security forces and laying mines to killing informers and surrendered militants.
ON THE RIGHT SIDE: Guddi Devi has joined the police
The presence of a Hindu in a terrorist outfit does not insulate his community in and around his native place from militant attacks. For instance, several massacres of Hindus have taken place in the Kandi-Budhal belt, from where four Hindus have joined militant ranks.
The last major incident was in October last year when 14 Hindus were killed in Kandi area. Sometimes, Hindu terrorists attack people from their own faith to settle personal enmities.
The trend of Hindus joining terrorist groups is confined to Doda, Udhampur and Rajouri districts located south of the Pir Panjal range that separates the Kashmir Valley from the Jammu region. Ironically, these areas, with a mixed population of Muslims and Hindus, have seen scores of massacres of Hindus in recent years.
These incidents had sharpened the communal divide in this belt and were part of the militants’ campaign aimed at ethnic cleansing beyond Kashmir. Hindu terrorists made their terror debut between 1999 and 2002 when militancy was at its peak in the region. However, their number has not increased considerably in the past year and the police attribute it to dwindling terrorism in the Jammu region following a major setback to militant ranks and a spate of surrenders.
Hindu militants often take Muslim code names, but rarely do conversions to Islam happen. In fact, reports with the police point to Muslim and Hindu terrorists respecting each other’s religious sentiments by eating separately.
While the Muslim militants shun liquor, the Hindu ones abhor beef. The freak phenomenon of Hindu youth raising the outcry of jehad has little to do with faith or ideology. Propelled more by poverty and unemployment, it could well be the last hurrah of the fake crusaders of a lost cause.