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At the break of dawn on Sunday, a mobile phone rang at Sheikh-family. Naseema Bano ran in excitement to pick up the unknown call, as if she knew who was on the other side.

“Theek chukha (Are you fine). Where are you?” she asked before the person from the other side would speak. She had guessed rightly. It was his son, Tauseef Sheikh.

But little did she know it was for the last time she was speaking to her son. “I am trapped in a cordon. There are no chances to escape…I had promised to meet you but that might not happen now. We will meet in hereafter. Pray for me,” Tauseef told his mother.

“Allah is with you. Be steadfast on your path,” she responded before the call ended.

Three hours later, the 21-year old militant was dead, his body riddled with bullets. He was one among the five rebels killed in a gunfight with government forces in Badigam village of Pulwama, in one of the major anti-militancy operations in Kashmir during past three months.

The Sheikhs of Qaimoh, in Kulgam district, have a long association with Kashmir militancy. Tauseef was the sixteenth member of the family who had picked up gun since 90s. On Sunday he became the 15th rebel from the family to lay down his life.

The short-statured Tauseef was just 16 year old when he left home in 2013 to pick up the gun. Two years later, his maternal uncle, Muhammad Abbas Sheikh, who had spent several years in jail for his involvement in militancy, picked up gun again.

Over the years Tauseef grew among ranks to become one of the senior commanders in the Valley. Naseema, his mother, talked proudly about it.

“He was their commander in the entire district and that is why at least 12 militants came in the groups of fours to offer him gun salute. He was a different militant, a thinking one,” Naseema told Greater Kashmir, with a smile on her face, at her home in Rampur. The village is also known as Shohdapur (village of martyrs).

“There will be no one like him now,’ she said, this time glaring from the corner of her eyes. “There is no purpose to this life now.”

Her sister Rafeeqa took over the conversation. Her son Asif Ahmad was killed in an encounter in Banihal in 2007. He remained active for four years with Lashkar-e-Toiaba militant outfit.

“Our sons and brothers have given their blood for this movement,” she talked about 15 slain militants from the family as a man in his mid 30s addressed a gathering outside and eulogized the sacrifice of Tauseef.

Tausfee’s uncle Muhammad Ibrahim Sheikh, who was married to maternal cousin Shahnaza Bano, with two children, was the first militant form the family. He was killed in a gunfight with the forces in late 90s.

In 1997, Shabir Ahmad Sheikh, Ashraf’s paternal cousin, inspired by him, picked up the arms. His stint as a militant was short lived as he was killed just months later same year.

Then, in 2002, Ibrahim’s second brother Muhammad Ashraf Sheikh who had faced jail for his links with militants married his brother’s widow. The couple had three children. The forces however continued to harass him and would frequently arrest him. 

One morning, in 2009, at a time when Kulgam district had very few militants, Ashraf followed his brother, vowing to revive militancy in the area. But he was killed in a gun fight in Thokerpora, just a kilometer away from his house, 40 days later.

Their third brother, Muhammad Ilyas Sheikh, has faced frequent detentions for many years because of the family’s association with the separatist cause.

Muhammad Ramzaan, in his sixties, and maternal uncle of the Sheikhs was released only a week ago after he was detained under Public Safety Act during 2016 summer unrest. He is a senior member of Jama’at-e-Islami.

“Four of his (Tauseef’s) cousins are under arrest for past few months only because they were related to him,” said Rafeeqa.

Today, 43-year old Abbas who has four children is the only surviving militant from Sheikh family.

His wife Rasheeda remains worried about the fate of her husband, but she has managed to carry his life on, to bring up her children.

Since Sunday afternoon when the body of Tasueef was brought home for last rites people from different parts of Kashmir have been swarming the house to pay their respect to the family.

The road leading to the village has been decorated with pro-Pakistan banners and flags. At the entrance of the house a collage of pictures of slain militants from Sheikh family and some top commanders have been pasted on the walls.

“There is no match to the sacrifices given by the Sheikhs,” said a young man who identified himself as Musadiq from Tral as he peeped into the pictures of the gun-wielding men.