Srinagar: The day 20-year-old Ehtisham Bilal, a Kashmiri student, was beaten inside Sharda University’s campus in Greater Noida, his father took a flight from Srinagar to meet his son.
Bilal Ahmad Sofi, anxious and worried, wanted to bring back Ehtisham, who is the only male child in the extended family of four brothers. “I met Ehtisham in the evening and went straight to the university. I talked to police and the university officials there,” said Sofi.
When he inquired from Ehtisham about the incident, his son told him that when he was returning from the class some students directed other students, who were waiting, towards him. He was beaten violently, he told his father.
The video of him being mercilessly beaten went viral on the social media and was seen by everyone back in the Valley the same way viewers watched a similar video of another Kashmiri student being thrashed. People across the political spectrum condemned this act and demanded the safety of Kashmiri students studying across the country.
Sofi was asked by the police to file an FIR against students who assaulted his son who was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in medical imaging technology. But he refused. “I wanted to solve the issue cordially. FIR would have spoiled the careers of students involved. Besides, it would have created animosity between other students and my son,” he said.
He remained with his son till October 10 and things seemed to be going as per his wish. “The students who had assaulted my son came to me and apologised. I was happy that things are going good,” said Sofi.
The students had told him that Ehtisham was beaten by mistake. He was told that there was a feud between Afghani students and another group which lead to clashes.
However, on October 28 Ehtisham went missing under mysterious circumstances. University authorities filed a missing report at the Knowledge Park Police Station. His father also filed a complaint at the local police station in Khanyar, Srinagar.
On the morning of the day he went missing, Ehtisham talked to Sofi on phone asking him for some money. “He called me at around 9:30 am. He asked me for Rs 1,000, saying he had to submit Rs 400 at the university for some trip they had to go on. I immediately called a friend and deposited Rs 5,000 in his account,” Sofi recalled.
But one week later, on November 2, Ehtisham shocked everyone when his photograph with an AK-47 rifle and an ISIS flag in the backdrop appeared on mobile phones across the Valley. Later, an audio also emerged in which he can be heard saying that he has joined ISJK--a militant outfit which shows affiliation to global terror outfit ISIS.
In the audio, he talks about how he was beaten up in Delhi. “This is a message to all who consider Jihad is a way of fighting,” he says in the audio. “Our blood is not white; we will give you tears of blood. I was looking into the eyes of those kufaar (non-Muslims) when they attacked me like dogs in groups. I felt I had delayed the task of being part of Jihad for long. But not anymore.”
Delhi police, as per different newspaper reports, stated that he was in Delhi till noon on Sunday. At 2.30 pm his location changed to Srinagar. “We found that he called up his father at 4.30 pm and told him that he was in Delhi. The phone has been switched off and untraceable since then,” a Delhi police had earlier told reporters.
Sofi said his son called him at 4:30pm and said that he is boarding a metro. “I called him later but his phone was switched off.” He said.
Sofi’s family is devastated after seeing Ehtisham’s photo and the news of him having joined militant ranks. They blame the beating incident for his decision. “He was a promising student with keen interest in studying science,” Sofi told News18, adding: “It was he who first told me about his desire to study outside Kashmir.”
Ehtisham was earlier enrolled in Srinagar’s Sri Pratap Singh college but left it after a year, telling his father that he is not able to study properly due to the prevailing situation. “The college used to be shut regularly due to the bad situation in 2017. So he told me he wanted to join Sharda University,” said Bilal. “He actually wanted to become a doctor but couldn’t qualify medical exams. But he was happy with what he was studying.”
Ehtisham had secured 85 percent marks in class 10. His father was proud of him. “He was the son of all our family, the only male child,” his mother Irfana, 39 told News18.
She is devastated ever since she learned that her son has joined militancy. Helpless and heart-broken, she has made desperate appeals to her son, asking him to return. “If you don’t want to come back, shoot us all dead first and then go,” she says, wailing and beating her face.
Police are probing the case and trying to bring him back. “We had militancy-related doubts regarding his case,” additional director general of J&K police (law and order/security), Munir Khan told News18. “We have also come across his pictures with a gun and the audio. We are verifying its authenticity,” Khan added.
A resident of Khanyar area in Srinagar’s downtown, Ehtisham was arrested by police from his house in 2016 for pelting stones. He was in police custody and was bailed out after few days. “The case went to court where it was dismissed later,” Sofi told News18, adding that he was falsely held in the stone pelting case. “My son wanted to live a peaceful life,” he said.
He even wanted his parents to move to Delhi for some time as he had completed his semester exams recently. His parents had scheduled to leave on 7th of this month. “He was insistent that we buy a flat in Delhi and move there for some years. He wanted us to move out of this conflict and I was working towards it,” said Sofi, pounding his chest with grief.
Cases like Ehtisham’s — of young and educated boys joining militancy — have become a norm in Kashmir. Recently, two PhD scholars who had joined militancy were killed.
Reacting to the photo of Ehtisham in which he is holding a gun, former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah called the situation “hugely worrying”. “If this is genuine, it’s hugely worrying. Sometimes seemingly small actions have huge consequences. If what happened to him at #ShardaUniversity has led him to choose such a destructive path, it’s even more tragic. One more life on the path to ruin & one more family in turmoil.”