When he was awarded the PhD by Kashmir University in November 2017, professor Mohammad Rafi Bhat had proudly updated his Facebook status. He had also posted a newspaper clipping of the report of the university conferring the doctorate on him.
Rafi Bhat was awarded PhD after he had successfully defended his thesis on 'Globalisation And Emerging Trends in Consumerism: A Comprehensive Study of Rural and Urban Kashmir'. He, University sources said, had broken new ground with his research. His thesis had won him the praise of his guide professor Saleem Jehangir, and the university.
Recognising his capabilities, the University had appointed him as an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology.
He bonded well with the students. Rafi Bhat would often gift them books and research papers on Sociology.
Several students said he would spend extra time with them to help them in their studies after university hours.
''He was an outstanding talent,'' sources said. ''He had also qualified the National Eligibility Test twice and was also a Junior Research Fellow (JRF). The university was keen to retain him though he had may job offers.''
On May 5, he took selfies with some of the students after a lecture and exchanged gifts with them. One of the students gifted him a watch.
''He would always tell us to finish our semesters on time with good grades,'' a student said.
Bhat preferred research over teaching. His affluent family allowed him the freedom to scout for jobs without worrying about earning a living. He was seriously considering one such offer from Hyderabad University where he had topped the list of aspirants for a post.
On May 5, he left the university as usual and told some students that he might take up the offer from Hyderabad University.
''When he didn't show up the next day, I thought he might have gone to Hyderabad,'' said one of the five students who had reached his home at Chunduan in Ganderbal to offer condolence long before his body reached home from Shopian where he was killed along with four other Hizbul Mujahideen militants, including Saddam Paddar, the last of the surviving militants from the infamous 11-Burhan Wani group.
''I cannot believe sir (professor Bhat) has left us,'' said another student, sobbing. ''He hugged me after Friday prayers in the university and said he was going to Hyderabad.''
That evening Bhat didn't return home. His family lodged a missing per son complaint with police the next day morning.
On Sunday, (may 6) he called his father, Abdul Rahim Bhat, and told him he was trapped with a group of militants in Shopian. His father was stunned. “When did you become a militant,” he asked his son.
''I am sorry if I have hurt you and this is my last call as I am going to meet Allah," the young professor said. A shocked Rahim Bhat gave the phone to Rafi's younger brother, but Rafi Bhat hung up.
The police then took Rahim Bhat, his son, and Rafi's wife of four years to Shopian to persuade him to surrender.
Before that, SSP Shopian Shalinder Mishra had also made an appeal to the militants to surrender. “You stop firing and come out. For God's sake stop firing, you will get nothing from this. I am SSP Shopian talking,” Mishra said on a public address system.
The militants responded with a barrage of fire. In the ensuing encounter, all five militants were killed in less than an hour.
Rafi Bhat's 40-hour tryst with militancy had thus come to an end. He was the most educated militant ever.
Five hours later, when his body reached his village at Chunduna, hundreds of people had already gathered at there.
Peerzada Amin, head of the Department of Sociology at Kashmir University, was among the thousands of people who joined his funeral prayers.
Rafi Bhat's last Facebook post was a poem that one of his students had dedicated to him. "Gift from my students. I will remember your love and respect," he wrote. "Allah bless you all."
Rafi Bhat's relatives said he never betrayed any signs of joining the militancy. His neighbours said he was very humble and respectful towards elders and children.
In the 90s, the neighbours said two of his cousins took to arms. One was killed in 1992, and another disappeared while crossing the Line of Control in 1994.
A possible explanation for what led Rafi Bhat to shun a successful career could be understood from his social media posts replete with Quranic verses. One of the verses read, '' My life and my death are for Allah.''
Deep down, he was a very religious man and the daily killings in the state had left him depressed.
His Facebook profile read: “Human being first then a Muslim”. The timeline of his Facebook suggests that he was intellectually inclined towards the religion. Apart from Quranic verses, there are couplets by poet Allama Iqbal and Ghalib and noted Islamic scholars like late Israr Ahmed on his Facebook wall.
In one his Facebook posts, he had questioned the government for repeatedly closing schools. In another, he talked about daily killings.
Rafi Bhat's death has left his students, friends, and relatives pained. Most of them have expressed shock and dismay over the incident.