Change the name of building of Deptt of Sociology KU to "Dr Muhammad Rafi Building"
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A topper throughout, Rafi was enrolled at local Dastageeri Public School (DPS), at the age of four, and studied there till he finished his Class 8 exams. In Class 9, like other boys in the neighbourhood, he went to New Dreamland School, located in Ganderbal, some 9 kilometres from his home. “There he became everyone’s favourite,” said one of his childhood friends, who wished to remain anonymous.
After finishing college Rafi took admission in Ganderbal Degree College, for a three-year bachelors’ course in science. But within a year Rafi changed his mind and opted for arts, as he wanted to qualify Kashmir Administrative Services (KAS). He chose sociology, his favourite subject. “He was keen to know the social aspect of the conflict,” said his childhood friend Altaf.
Once he finished his bachelor’s degree, he took admission in Kashmir University (KU), for post graduation programme in sociology. Two years later, when Rafi cracked JRF exam in the first attempt, he had his eyes already set on a much higher goal, KAS. “I am not sure, but he cleared written test for KAS at least twice,” said Altaf.
A year later, Rafi was selected for an MPhil programme at KU. “He wanted to help his people in whatever way possible,” said Dr Ayaz Mehmood, 30, a senior research fellow at NIT, Srinagar. Dr Mehmood lives in the same neighbourhood as Rafi’s, and has been friends with him since childhood.
After almost 18 months of Mphil work, Dr Rafi, as he was called now by his friends and colleagues, got a job in the animal husbandry department. There he worked for one and a half year. “He could communicate with animals with ease,” said Dr Mehmood. “Even after he left animal husbandry, people still used to come to him with their cattle.”
In the meantime, Dr Rafi got admission in Central University Pondicherry in Tamil Nadu. He went to Pondicherry, stayed there for a week but came back. “He wanted to do research that will help Kashmir,” said Dr Mehmood. “That is why he came back.”
Once back home, he got selected for PhD in sociology from KU. He carefully chose his topic: Globalisation and emerging trends in consumerism, a comparative study of rural and urban Kashmir. “He completed his PhD in 2017,” said Dr Mehmood.
Unlike his colleagues, Dr Rafi’s style of teaching was different, as he would engage students and treat them like friends.
A few days before he went missing students gifted him a watch worth Rs 3500, while another wrote a poem dedicated to him.
Dr Mohammad Rafi Bhat
Five days before his disappearance, Dr Rafi told students that he has been offered a job as Assistant Professor at Central University, Hyderabad. “I might be going in a day or two,” he told them. “We started crying as he was our favourite teacher,” recalls one student. “Everyone in the university mocks and looks down at evening shift students. But he used to treat us at par with regular students.”
But to everyone’s surprise, the next day Dr Rafi came and announced in the class that he has changed his mind. “Now I am not going to Hyderabad,” he told them.
On Friday, after Dr Rafi offered prayers at the University mosque, he met a few students from sociology department. As they walked back towards their department Dr Rafi told them that he will go to Hyderabad for a job interview tomorrow. “I will not come for two days,” he told Azam (name changed), one of the students from evening classes. “He didn’t talk much as he was lost in his thoughts. We thought it is because of the job interview in Hyderabad.”
At 3:15 pm, Dr Rafi switched his phone off and vanished in the maze of a parallel world. A world where every step is subservient to a piece of paper called the matrix.
Back home, once Bhat learned about his son’s disappearance, he rushed straight towards KU with a few relatives. “There Proctor assured us that they will try to find him soon,” said Altaf, who accompanied Bhat to KU. “Proctor called the local police station and told them about Dr Rafi’s disappearance.”
But both Altaf and Bhat knew they had to make efforts on their own to trace Dr Rafi. So Altaf and other friends, along with a few cousins of Dr Rafi, started scanning hospitals in Srinagar and its adjoining areas for a clue. But there was none. “Then his father filed a missing report in the local police station,” said Altaf.
Students offering funeral prayers in absentia for Dr Rafi at Kashmir University.
In the meantime, Bhat called his friends, relatives, acquaintances, and everyone he could recall in this hour of grief, to ask them about his son. “Nobody has even had the slightest clue,” said Bhat. “He had vanished literally.”
While Bhat was desperately looking for his son, the thought of Dr Rafi joining militant ranks never crossed his mind. “I had not even a faint idea about it,” recalls Bhat. “I was afraid he might have been picked up by Task Force or Special Operation Group (SOG) personnel.”
With each passing hour, the fear of losing track of his son completely started to take shape in Bhat’s mind. “But he didn’t give up,” said Altaf. “He remained on his toes for next forty hours, trying to find his son.”
But the early Sunday morning phone call dashed all hopes Bhat and his family had of getting Dr Rafi back.
After Dr Rafi’s killing, as Bhat sits silently in his house, surrounded by mourners, he tries to recall his son’s actions that could have given him a clue. But there were not enough. Given Dr Rafi’s philanthropic nature Bhat didn’t read much when his son sold his car, a second-hand alto, a month before his disappearance and donated the money to needy. “He was a sensible boy with a PhD. He must have known what he was doing,” said Bhat, as mourners shook hands with him on their way out. Like 110 odd households in Chundina, people across Kashmir struggle to understand what prompted a university lecturer to trade his promising career for a militant life.
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