Srinagar: At noon on Tuesday, Saima left from her house to visit a doctor. Her mother, who was unwell, didn’t ask her about where she was going, thinking she must be heading for her usual medical check-up.
“She had some skin alignments and I didn’t ask her where and which doctor she was visiting,” said Naseema, her mother who is in the early fifties.
Saima, 29, didn’t return till evening. Naseema was already feeling worried about her daughter when she got a call from her son, working in a nearby factory, revealing that Saima has been arrested by police.
Jammu and Kashmir police said they had recovered 20 grenades and 365 bullets from her possession. She was nabbed, a police spokesperson said in a statement, when a vehicle was stopped upon specific intelligence input about the movement of over-ground-workers (OGW) of militants.
The passenger car was travelling from north Kashmir and was searched at Lawaypora area of Srinagar. The ammunition and weapons come through LoC and are transported to the other parts of the valley. As per police, the lady was going to deliver the explosives and ammunition in south Kashmir.
The arrest of OGWs is usual news from Kashmir but the use of woman as couriers of weapons and ammunition is a new development.
Saima’s family is shocked by the news. They can’t believe that their daughter could be involved in this. Her two brothers were also arrested later by the police for the investigation.
The second oldest child, Saima was just three-years-old when her father, a militant commander, was killed. “He was commander of Hizbul Mujahideen and was killed in Saida Kadal, Srinagar,” says Naseema, who has brought up her kids in a troubled environment.
A college dropout, Saima took up religious education from a local seminary. After some time she began teaching there.
“My daughter would do household chores and then go out of the house to teach the nearly sixty girls and women Quran at the local seminary in the afternoon for over an hour,” says Naseema.
A religious lady who would hardly miss her prayers, Saima was mostly confined to her house, located 20 kilometers south-east of Srinagar city. Her mother and the entire neighborhood is riveted coming to know about her.
Her room, painted white, is empty. An Urdu anthology, Shabe Tanhaye, the night of solitude, lies on the dressing table against the mirror. A few Abaya, a full-length outer garment, hung behind the door with her two leather-made bags. Her belongings suggest she was an archetypal woman from a modest village family.
Why is it concerning for the forces?
As the militancy started in Kashmir valley in early 90s, boys and men started crossing over the Line of Control (LoC) to undergo arms training. Armed rebellion broke out in Kashmir but the militants were all male.
However, within a few years, females were also used to carry weapons and for logistic support. In 2005, even women set-off explosives tied to their body on the highway in south Kashmir’s Awantipora. The Jaish-e-Mohammad militant group claimed that she was its suicide bomber.
A number of women have been earlier arrested in militancy related cases; however, it is for the first time in nearly a decade that a woman has been arrested with so many explosives in Kashmir. Police and counter-insurgency forces see it as a matter of concern.
“We had information that women are being used as weapon and ammunition couriers but this is for the first time we have managed to nab a female OGW who used to ferry weapons,” said a top police official on the condition of anonymity.
After the surge in militancy in Kashmir, more checkpoints on the roads have propped. Every major road, even in the Srinagar city, is under the forces vigil and regular frisking is being witnessed.
“It becomes easy for militants to use females to carry ammunition and weapons. Women slip easily through checkpoints,” the officer said. “It is only after accurate information like in the recent incident that we managed to nab the women.”
Police said she was working for Hizbul Mujahideen.
During the 90’s the females have worked extensively for the militants. Even some have crossed the Line of Control for the arms training.
“There were four women at one point of time who crossed LoC for arms training. Two of them stayed there and two returned back. They were actively working for the militants at that time,” said a former militant who was arrested by the police and jailed.
“A woman was even the driver of a top militant commander,” he said.
After the arrest of this female militant courier, the police is hopeful that it would help them in cracking the network.
“We are questioning the lady. She has been working with the militants from some time. Her arrest is very important and it will help us in crack the network,” the police officer said.
The network of the OGWs is what sustains the militants. They are the lifeline of their survival. “I think there is no difference between OGWs and militants, rather they (OGWs) pose a bigger challenge,” said a counter-insurgency officer. “They are not active militants but do more work than the militants.”
Officers in counter-insurgency say that they are also exploring that how do these girls come in contact with the militant network.
“Mostly, the male OGWs are the relatives and friends of the militants. But in the case of the female OGWs we can’t say exactly,” the officer said. “Maybe they are their relatives of the male OGWs.”
Women working for the militants are also effective at intelligence gathering.
“A lot of reliable intelligence input is coming from females from the ground. Sometimes we receive very reliable and input which leads to successful information,” said an army officer who is not authorized to talk to media. “The concern about the women working for militants will remain there but we have mechanisms to crack their networks.”
(The author is a Kashmir-based freelance journalist).