Showkat Ahmad Bhat lived by the sword. He died by it too.
This assistant sub-inspector in the Jammu and Kashmir police courted danger fearlessly. On earlier occasions he had come away unscathed. But on October 4, 2006, battling armed militants who had taken a Srinagar hotel, he did not. At 28, he was brought home wrapped in a shroud.
As a police constable at 22, Bhat was part of a team sent out to tackle militants who had captured the Regional Passport Office in Srinagar in January 2005.
“At one point, disregarding the orders of his superior, he entered the building while the fidayeen were still holed in there,” said his father Somaullah Bhat. “Again everyone feared for his life. But he came out carrying the corpse of one militant on his shoulders.” His daring saw him promoted to head constable, and later to assistant sub-inspector.
Thus when news reached headquarters that a couple of heavily armed militants had first attacked a CRPF camp at Budshah Chowk and later taken over the New Standard Hotel, near Srinagar’s Lal Chowk, Showkat immediately volunteered and joined the team led by inspector Vishal Singh.
“We were told the militants were on the top floor,” said Singh. “We entered the hotel and began evacuating civilians from the lower floors.”
One of the militants, hiding behind a staircase, fired at Showkat as he was escorting people out. The bullet struck home.
“He died with his head in my lap,” said Vishal. “We never thought this would happen to Showkat. He seemed invincible.”
What prompted Bhat to join the police at a time when so many of his age and background were joining the militants? His family, Srinagar-based Kashmiri Muslims was poor – his father a gardener who tended the private gardens of the wealthy, his elder brother unemployed. Showkat dropped out of school after Class IX. As a child he was happy-go-lucky, completely apolitical, mad about cricket.
“But then his uncle, my brother-in-law, was killed by militants in the 1990s,” said Somaullah. “Showkat began to hate militants after that.”
The tipping point was a midnight knock at his door by the Ikhwan, the government sponsored volunteer force set up to counter the militants. “They insisted my boys join them,” said Somaullah. “Showkat felt it was better to join the police.”
Knowing well the risks, Showkat’s mother, Saja, tried hard to dissuade him, to no avail. “He told me life and death are in Allah’s hands,” she said. He was inducted into the Special Operations Group, primarily engaged in fighting militants.
But once he had a job, Showkat did agree to his mother’s suggestion that he get married. Days after he became head constable, his wife Shaheena delivered a baby boy, Adnan. “He was so happy that day,” said Shaheena.
He had promised to buy her a sweater after his return from the New Standard Hotel. Shaheena has never bought a sweater since; she only uses pherans and shawls.