Updated: Aug 7, 2020
Author : Ranjit Borthakur
The article was also published in Brighter Kashmir Newspaper on July 25, 2020.
If I ever get an opportunity to visit Jammu and Kashmir again, I would like to look for Sanjay Kaul alias Sajjad Khan, who if alive (which I sincerely hope), would be approximately forty years old. As three decades have passed by, I’m sure he wouldn’t recognize me; but I’m also confident that he will definitely remember the day when he was rescued by army troops operating in Anantnag district of South Kashmir.
During the latter part of 1990, our Headquarter was located in a small agriculture institute at a place called Melangpora, very close to Awantipur Air Force station. In view of rapid deterioration of the situation in the Kashmir valley, our formation was moved at short notice (and as a temporary measure) from Zakhama (near Kohima) to Kashmir valley. Initially we had tremendous logistical problems, especially for accommodating such a large number of troops and so we all shared the ‘poverty’. I vividly remember sharing a small room (of the agriculture institute) with three other officers. However, the lack of space was more than made up by the ambience-with apple, walnut and almond trees all around, it gave a heavenly feeling. We could pick the choicest of apples from hundreds of apple trees planted in a systematic manner and the saffron fields located close by also added beauty to the location.
But, otherwise, situation was grim. Large number of local boys who had gone to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) for arms training had returned to Kashmir Valley with arms and ammunition to fight the Indian Security Forces and our troops were on the lookout for these militants. By then, most of the Hindu families had left the Kashmir valley and taken shelter in Jammu region and elsewhere due to threat from militants as well as to some extent as panic reaction.
On a particular extremely cold November night, when show fall was at its peak, we received inputs regarding the presence of a group of two-three militants in a small village, approximately 40 kilometers from our Headquarters. An operation to nab the militants was launched and we were able to apprehended three militants and recover two AK47 rifles. The third militant didn’t have a weapon and this was very surprising because at that time there were more weapons than militants in Kashmir. So, the third militant being without any weapon was perplexing.
Being in-charge of the intelligence setup in the Headquarters, my responsibility was to interrogate these apprehended militants and get more information about other militants, their leaders, the Pakistan connection etc. However, what was intriguing me at that time most was the mystery of the ‘unarmed militant’ so I decided to question him first. Normally, apprehended militants do not divulge information very easily. They are trained and instructed not to reveal any actionable information for as long as possible so that by the time security forces come to know about the location of other militants or caches of arms and ammunition and launch an operation, their colleagues can shift their weapons from hidden place and getaway prior to arrival of security forces.
So, I was mentally prepared for a long haul, but what followed was something absolutely unexpected. The militant caught without a weapon gave out his name as Sajjad Khan and thereafter broke down crying inconsolably and I must admit that despite having interrogated hundreds of militants and their sympathisers, never before had I faced such a situation. But a bigger shocker came subsequently when Sajjad told me about himself and how he ended up picking up the gun.
I learnt that the young lad calling himself Sajjad Khan was actually a Hindu boy named Sanjay Kaul belonging to a Kashmir Pandit family. Whereas his entire family had fled to Jammu in the later part of 1990, Sanjay was unlucky as he was abducted by militants, just a few days before his family fled the Valley. Forced to convert to Islam, he was circumcised and given a new name- Sajjad Khan. Thus, Sajjad Khan, the militant was born. He was given arms training in a nearby forest.
What perplexed me was that even though we had an exhaustive database of militants, none from the village to which Sanjay belonged went by the name of Sajjad Khan. This mystery was soon solved when Sanjay revealed that fearing that he would run away, an AK-47 rifle was only given to him whenever he was taken for an operation against security forces, and that’s why he was ‘unarmed’ when apprehended.
After he told his story, I could perceive a sense of calm on Sanjay’s face. But, being a young boy of about sixteen years of age, the fear of being booked as a militant was clearly visible in his eyes and by the trembling of his frail body frame. His revelations touched everyone in our Headquarters and so, we handed other two militants to the police for further action, we kept Sanjay with us to corroborate his story and ascertain the whereabouts of his parents.
A few days later, we could contact his family at Jammu and handed over Sanjay to his parents. Since the increasing intensity of militancy made life extremely busy, I never got an opportunity to meet him again. But I still vividly remember the shy boy who was terrified to face us and how happy he was on learning that he would be reunited with his family and not be persecuted for being forced into militancy.
Being part of the team who rescued him gives me immense professional satisfaction and I’m sure he would have overcome the trauma and is prospering in life.
Good luck Sanjay!