At around 9 am on 10 May 2017, the body of 22-year-old Lieutenant Ummer Fayaz Parray reached his home in the cluttered village of Sarsuna, in Kashmir’s Kulgam district. Ummer had been abducted in Shopian village the previous night, and early that morning, his body was discovered in Hermain village. His death was widely covered by the Indian mainstream media. Many politicians released statements condemning Ummer’s killing, and others paid tributes to him for his service to the nation. Before burial, the army officer’s body was draped in the Indian tricolour. Soldiers offered a gun salute to their slain colleague, and lay wreaths by his body.
These were extraordinary sights for the villagers of Sarsuna who attended the funeral. The ceremonies at the funeral were a declaration that the young man was an officer of the Indian armed forces—a fact that many of them had, until then, been unaware of. “Nobody in the village knew that he was in the army,” Ummer’s uncle, Manzoor Ahmed Parray, said. “They believed he was studying outside.” “We knew he [had earlier] studied in army school but we did not know he was working with the army,” a villager, who asked not to be named, later told me.
The road to Sarsuna—located around 65 kilometres from Srinagar—passes through green fields, with a canopy of apple and cherry trees. The village comprises over 100 households, and a majority of its residents run or work in apple orchards. I reached the village at about noon on 15 May. It was quiet; the only people in sight were young boys returning home from school.
At Ummer’s home, the dull silence remained. In a dimly lit room on the first floor of the two-storey house, I spoke with the slain officer’s family—his parents, Jameela and Fayaz Ahmad; his uncles Mushtaq Ahmad and Manzoor Ahmad; and his grandfather, 73-year-old Mohammad Ashoor Parray. Through our conversations, I had to repeatedly encourage his family to speak—they were hesitant, and worried about what would happen if their statements were published. Their accounts—and my interactions with other Kashmiri security personnel—offer some insight into the fraught relationship these officials share with their own communities.
On 30 April, Manzoor told me, Ummer arrived for a 15-day leave of absence from his posting, in Aknoor, in Jammu. Close to six months earlier, Ummer had been posted there with the infantry unit of the 2 Rajputana Rifles regiment in the Indian army.He had taken leave to attend the wedding of his cousin—one of the daughters of his maternal uncle—which was scheduled to take place a few kilometres from Sarsuna, in Batpora village in Shopian district, on 11 May.