The news of large crowd joining the funeral procession of three local militants out of five killed in Keran Sector of Kupwara district of Kashmir made me inquisitive to know as to how the funeral procession of a militant who has not even been operating in Kashmir was attended by such a large number of people. I had heard of all kinds of stories about these processions ranging from "death of militants causes frenzy of martyrdom among people from across the age groups" at one extreme to "it is one of many businesses such as protests and stone pelting that thrive in the conflict industry" on the other extreme. Between these two poles, there were plenty of explanations about why a particular methodology is adopted, why is body draped in green, why always a particular group of youth or maulvis are visible, why women beat their chests in a particular manner or sing songs of blood and valour? Since majority of explanations were beyond the scope of my logics, I decided to get the first hand experience of one or two processions. I shared this desire with a Kashmiri youth who is an activist by nature but critique of violence and conflict. He suggested to me that before I attend a procession proper, he will expose me to the various contributing components of the procession and also that I must grow my beard.
At the first go, on 13th March, on hearing the news of Mudasir Ahmad, a militant from Shutloo village, Rafiabad in Baramulla getting killed by the security forces, he told me that he will be taking me to another village Rahama which has considerable Jamat-e-Islami influence, in the vicinity of Shutloo - the village from where the slain militant belonged. I was very inquisitive about what was I going to witness that day. He explained that we will be going to the house of one of the locals who is a close family friend of his and who will not mind sharing certain truths. Few hours after we reached, a Jamat-e-Islami activist known as Nasir (name changed) appeared at his house and informed that Namaz-e-Janaza of the martyr will be starting and atleast two members per family must attend. When Mukhtar (name changed) told us as to what was the diktat given by the visitor, I asked him whether he would abide by the directive? He told me that he can't avoid because someone sitting at a shop next doors or at another corner will be taking a note of who is going to attend the procession and who is not. Those who don’t, will face retribution. Trying to seek more information about the credentials of the messenger, I learnt that he is some sort of contractor who has been paid to generate a portion of the crowd from the village. He uses the threat of action by militants or religious punishment or social pressure against the people to mobilize them for procession. There would be a network of hundreds like him who would work like a well oiled machine to ensure that crowd generation looks like a voluntary phenomenon. My natural response was as to who pays for it and why? I learnt that Jamat-e-Islami is a key element of the Kashmir separatist movement. Processions being extremely vital means for keeping the sentiment alive, ensuring that the cause is seen as just, inciting youth for joining militancy and above all for attaching the element of honour with Jihad. These are funded by Pakistan, local religious bodies and even business community that owes, is forced or coerced to submit allegiance to the cause. During yester years, when sentiment of Azadi was genuinely high, the crowd in procession was natural. But, with passage of time, people are no more interested in wasting time on a youth who has gone astray and try to avoid. Moreover, this has become lucrative business because there are contractors and sub contractors, there are funeral brigades and groups of women who serve well to beat their chests and cry out loud, thereby presenting a good sight for videos to be recorded and fed to Pakistani handles for propaganda. Learning all this multiplied my curiosity for going through the entire motion of funeral procession of one or two militants.
Then came the occasion when I was indicated by Iqbal (name changed) that he would be taking me to Shutloo where the procession of Mudasir is due to take off from. We reached the village well before time when even the dead body had not been handed over to the family by Police. So, as a mourner, I got a chance to sit next to the father and mother of Mudasir and could listen to the conversation filled with sadness and remorse. Like any other parent who lost their son, they too went through the life time of their son. How he grew as a child, how the environment played on the psyche of youth, how radicalisation in society was affecting the minds of young impressionable minds, and so on. In between, the mother starts blaming the father on how he failed to check the son when he started getting attracted towards fundamentalist thoughts of some ulemas. She also quoted an instance when she had picked up a fight asking the father to stop him from meeting the separatist leaders who were corroding sanity from his mind. The mother started blaming the father wishing that if he had played the role of strong father, the son would be alive. She even quoted the instance when the son had broken the news that he wished to join the Azadi tandem. How she had pleaded to the son and father to leave Valley and settle down somewhere else but they didn't pay any heed to her calls. Listening to the talks, there was no doubt in my mind that a parent is a parent, so what if the son is a militant. Their hearts bleed for the child and they are as helpless as anyone else. There was also no myth left in my mind about the reasons for young guys picking up guns. It had to do nothing with the movement, it had nothing to do with the conscious call, it was rather all to do with emotional fallout of what is played before them, it is all to do with false sense of manhood that they acquire by holding guns and it has all to do with lack of hope and dream.
Slowly, the people trickled in and the sense of loss prevailed in the environment. Thus far, there was no Azadi, no martyrdom or even religious purpose of death. It was pure mourning because those who were around were real well wishers, genuine friends and relatives.
It was time for the body to arrive. Minutes before the Police brought the body, a group of 15 young and adult youths arrived. They carried a special aura around them, a feel of professionalism. Few of them reached out to parents, whispered into their ears (which was learnt later that parents were being directed as to how they have to behave and what they have to say during the course of preparation and actual procession), few reached out to friends and relatives while the rest got into the act of making a makeshift platform high enough to be visible to maximum people who congregate. My friend Mukhtar explained to me that these people were part of the Funeral Brigade meant to orchestrate the entire proceedings, adding the effect and emotion of Azadi.
Likes of Nasir were perhaps pushing the people from hundreds of villages and townships. The crowd started swelling. Soon the ambulance carrying the mortal remains of the militant arrives duly escorted by Police. The crowd makes the way for the body to be taken to the platform. Suddenly, a slogan "hamei chahiye" (meaning what do we want), is raised and promptly comes the response "Azadi". The response was faint and this annoys the Funeral Brigade. Strong gestures are made by one of them, seemingly the leaders or commander, towards the other members of the Brigade to ensure high intensity sloganeering. The effect was immediately visible.
Within no time a group of veiled women arrives followed by some more youth. The jostling among previous lot from Funeral Brigade vindicated that the latest group of men and women too are part of the same effort. The men from this group push through the jostling crowd and reach the body of the militant to kiss the militant's forehead, touch his feet and rub their hands on their body while women started crying in loud voices with extreme emotional outpouring. It was evident that some kind of reverential treatment was being given to the militant by the men folk whereas women were adding to the feeling of personal loss. Women started resorting to chest thumping and cries so strong that even the most dissociated person like me started getting impacted.
The crowd continued to swell with every passing minute. Slogans of azadi started turning more aggressive and the environment was getting charged up. Soon a group of teenagers took to the microphone, exhorting mourners to continue their "azadi struggle" by singing songs of defiance. The mood was now changing into that of "celebration" of martyrdom. Soon I drifted towards the place where parents of the militant were sitting. I could clearly discern that the members of Funeral Brigade were constantly putting words into their mouth, thereby changing the entire line of expression. Poor parents were not even allowed to mourn the death of their child in peace.
The procession was being deliberately delayed, perhaps in the wait for more crowd to gather. The policemen at the place were constantly approaching the parents to start the procession. Perhaps they had orders from their bosses to ensure early funeral. Every time a militant is killed, the local police and civil administration gets concerned about protests and vandalisation. Procession finally starts with the Funeral Brigade into full action. People, mobilized by JeI keep joining enroute and the crowd keeps swelling up. Members of the Brigade remain busy clicking photographs and videos as also forwarding to their masters for further propagation. Another local person who was apparently more enlightened than the others about the conflict dynamics explained "these visuals are also the proof for Funeral Brigade to claim their remuneration for the job job well done. They send them to masters within Kashmir, who in turn send these visuals to people sitting across for propagation to the audiences within Pakistan, OPEC countries and rest of the world." Amid the slogans for Azadi, praise for Pakistan, abuses for the occupational forces and all sorts of filthy phrases for India, the procession reaches the burial ground.
At the burial ground, one more strange activity drew my attention towards a lady. A fat middle aged woman, draped in 'burqa' appeared at the funeral site of the militant. She had a green polythene bag under her arm and claimed to have come from some far off place just to say goodbye to her militant son (anyone who is a militant becomes her son). Such stories of devotion towards those who lay down their lives for Azadi, draw lot of media attention and sympathy from people. All the acts put together, generate enough mileage among youth and they get drawn towards joining militancy.
This lady was not related to the militant biologically, yet she claimed that she had breastfed him when he was an infant. I learnt later that this act was also part of the many machinations constituting the Jinazah-e-Karobar or the business of funeral procession. The optics such as withered plastic sandals, tired look justifying long distance walk and looks indicating how tormented she was on hearing the news about his killing add immensely to the propaganda related to the Azadi.
As if the members of Azadi brigade were waiting for her, they lost no time and lifted her onto their shoulders and carried her to the militant's bullet-riddled body.
Once there, she kissed his bullet-pocked, deformed face, took a handful of candies from the bag and threw them on his body, a tradition observed when Kashmiri grooms return home with their brides.
She then addressed the crowd.
"Would you like to become a police officer?" she began, to which the angry crowd chanted back "No, we won't!"
"Would you like to become a militant?" she continued.
"Yes, we will," the crowd roared in response.
"Would you like to become Tiger?" she said, referring to a famous Kashmiri militant Burhan Wani, also known as Burhan Tiger, who was killed in 2016.
"Yes, we want to!" the crowd responded.
"Then say it loudly," she shouted.
"Azadi! (freedom)," the crowd responded.
Interacting with some reasonable people suggested that this was almost common to all the funerals undertaken anywhere in Kashmir, particularly South Kashmir.
The larger perspective of the funeral processions for which ISI and separatists are heavily investing, is to create role models and heroes for imitation by the young generation. This gives them courage to start defying the law and order, pelt stones and stand in front of Indian Army vehicles to block their movement. They block roads and by lanes when militants are cordoned by security forces. Then, they resort to violence and agitations to obstruct the conduct of operations. Any untoward incident, further generates anger and violence. Often, an act of firing from among someone who is part of the crowd sparks and fuels the spiral of deadly violence.
Militant leader Burhan Wani's death in a gun battle with government forces in July 2016 initiated a long drawn violence in the valley. The impact of such processions is so quick that a young lady joins the militant rank with few days and even gets killed in operation. One often hears or reads that so and so was few days old militant which was also the case this time with Mudasir as he had joined militancy just eight days back and got killed.
By M S Nazki