Manan Bashir Wani’s relatives wept inconsolably as they begged him to shun the path of militancy, a day after an image of the Kashmiri PhD student holding a gun surfaced on social media.
Wani, 26, who is from Kupwara district in Indian Kashmir, was pursuing a doctorate in applied geology at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in Uttar Pradesh state before he was reported missing from the campus last week.
A picture of Wani, wielding an AK-47 assault rifle and bearing a message that he had joined Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), began going viral on social media on Sunday. HM, the largest and the oldest of the armed separatist groups in Indian Kashmir, confirmed that Wani had joined its ranks fighting against Indian rule in the disputed Himalayan region since the late 1980s.
“His decision to join militant ranks has left me shocked and heart-broken. With folded hands I appeal to him to leave the path of violence and return home,” Shamima Begum, Wani’s mother, told BenarNews on Monday.
“He has been a top student since his childhood. We were expecting that he would enter the civil service and make the family proud. But his step to join HM has shattered us,” she said.
Bashir Ahmad, Wani’s father, said he too was shocked by his son’s decision to join the militant group.
“He always consulted me before he took every small decision. This time, he took such a drastic step without speaking to me even once,” Ahmad, a school teacher, told BenarNews.
His son’s move to join separatist ranks came as the Indian government struggled to bring back to the mainstream more than 100 Kashmiri youths who went over to the armed separatist side after the July 2016 killing of an HM commander.
“It is a negation to India’s propaganda that youth are joining militant ranks because of unemployment and economic problems. Educated youth are joining Hizbul to take the freedom movement forward,” Syed Salahuddin, HM’s chief, said in a statement while confirming Wani had joined the group.
Meanwhile, Indian security forces gunned down two separatists in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district on Tuesday, days after a bombing orchestrated by suspected militants killed four police in the region’s Sopore town over the weekend, officials said. On Monday, Indian forces killed three suspected militants during a gunfight in Budgam district.
Claimed in its entirety by India and Pakistan, the Indian side of Kashmir – known as the state of Jammu and Kashmir – has grappled with a separatist insurgency that has claimed over 70,000 lives since the late 1980s.
Last year, at an international conference, Wani won an award for the best paper on “Water, Environment, Ecology and Society.”
On Monday, as police conducted searches at his college in connection with the missing student, AMU officials announced that the university had expelled Wani, a PhD candidate in its geology department.
His expulsion followed reports of his alleged involvement in “highly objectionable activities, which can hamper the peaceful academic atmosphere and create disharmony,” the university said in a statement posted on its website.
The university said Wani had breached the campus’s code of conduct for students, and that it had sealed his room at one of AMU’s halls.
“Taking into account the gravity of the offense, the vice chancellor has ordered Wani to be expelled from the rolls of the University with immediate effect pending inquiry,” said Professor M Mohsin Khan, AMU’s proctor.
The proctor added that the University campus and its institutions were now out of bounds for Wani.
‘Humiliated by Indian forces’
Friend Javid Nasir said he believed Wani joined HM because he had been harassed by Indian soldiers recently.
“Last month, he had put up a Facebook post in which he described how he was humiliated by Indian security forces during his last visit to Kashmir in November,” Nasir said.
Wani alleged in the post that he was dragged out of a taxi he was traveling in at five checkpoints in his native district, Nasir said.
“This is slavery of the worst kind. I loathe this. Security personnel posed disgusting questions such as, why my hair was long, why I hadn’t trimmed my beard, why I wear ankle-high boots and a shawl at such a young age,” Wani said on his Facebook page.
On Tuesday, police said they were verifying the authenticity of Wani’s photograph.
“Investigations are on. It would be premature to say or confirm anything as of now,” Munir Khan, Indian Kashmir’s addition director general of police, told BenarNews.