MIR HUSSAIN’S FAMILY was not a wealthy one, and they did not have a large house, but they made do. His eldest son, Noor Ahmed, had joined the Border Security Force—the paramilitary force patrolling India’s porous frontier with its Muslim-majority neighbours—assuring the family a stable income. For everything else, the octogenarian Hussain and his 76-year-old wife, Zainab Bi, depended on their second son, Safeer Ahmed. Safeer spent much of his day managing small-time construction contracts for the panchayat in Topa Peer, a tiny isolated village in Jammu and Kashmir, one of the most militarised regions in the world and mere kilometres away from one of the globe’s most tenuous borders. The jobs were not that glamorous, though, mostly involving getting firewood from the surrounding thick forests, cleaning snow off the sagging rooftop or taking the corn he grew twelve kilometres downhill to the town of Bafliaz, in Poonch district. Hussain is terminally ill, and, when his maladies would get severe, Safeer would carry him on his back down a treacherous path, a three-hour hike, to the nearest hospital.
Safeer had also walked the thin line that was required for a Muslim family to have some sense of security along the border. The village of around sixty ramshackle houses had an army post nearby, in which were stationed the 48 Rashtriya Rifles. Army men—many of whom Safeer was on a first-name basis with—used to often roam in the village, asking locals for cigarettes, groceries or other essentials they lacked at camp. Safeer, well-trained in the treks to and from Topa Peer, was asked to work as a porter and informer for the army unit, an offer he had refused, much to the chagrin of military men. They occupied a part of his house, for which they paid no rent. Noor, who was with the BSF’s intelligence unit along the Rajasthan border at the time, recalled that in August 2023, a horse the army had tied there caused significant damage to the rented room. “When Safeer complained about the damages, he was summoned to the army post,” Noor told me. “But, that day, I called the police station house officer, the army’s junior commissioned officer and the special-operations group commander.” Safeer was released, though the security personnel kept his phone for a few days.