May 30, 2017

India: The politics of funeral in Kashmir | Aarti Tikoo Singh

The Times of India - May 30, 2017

The politics of funeral in Kashmir
Aarti Tikoo Singh | TNN

SRINAGAR: Behind every spectacular mourning of a militant in Kashmir, there is a contest of politics and grief. To belabour the point, 17-year-old militant Faizan Muzaffar, killed along with Hizbul commander Sabzar Ahmad Bhat on Saturday, was buried quietly the same day in his village. But Sabzar's family waited for a day. Draped in the Pakistani flag, his body was exhibited for villagers while boys took selfies and pictures on their smartphones and circulated these throughout the night.

On Sunday morning, around 1,500 to 3,000 people, including an unidentified militant who pledged to avenge his comrade's killing, attended Sabzar's funeral in his native village in Tral.

In death, the stature of Sabzar, a school dropout druggie and thief-turned-militant+ , went up a notch. The strength of funeral processions of militants in Kashmir is a political metaphor that determines their place in history.

The big funeral phenomenon, which began with the outbreak of militancy in Kashmir in 1990 and waned by the 2000s, got a new life, police in Kashmir claim, after the Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru's hanging in February 2013.

Since Guru's execution, there have been 51 massive militant funerals in Kashmir, according to police sources. In 2014, a big funeral had around 4,000 people and in 2015, the numbers swelled to approximately 5,500 people at a funeral. But, by 2016, when Hizbul commander Burhan Wani was killed, the attendance in funerals had gone up by 40%. Wani's funeral was a spectacle in Kashmir with around 20,000 participants.

"Besides genuine anger among masses against human rights violations, there is a certain politics to funerals," a mainstream politician said. The underlying message is that more people in Kashmir are in support of militants rather than cops or mainstream politicians.

An intelligence officer, however, argued that the phenomenon is a result of people's fear that if they do not participate, they would be seen as police informers by militant sympathizers.

K ashmiris have a tendency to "singularly focus on outpouring of their feelings," a senior Kashmiri civil servant in Srinagar said. A person's societal worth is judged by the number of people who attend the three most sentimental events in a Kashmiri's life: birth, wedding and death. As a result, Kashmiri society has been traditionally inclined towards grandiose and exhibitive mourning .

Also, massive participation depends on ideological and political affiliation of the family of a militant. A militant from a Jamat-e-Islami-affiliated family will draw more mourners. Jamat is organised enough to mobilise people for funerals. Sometimes, funerals of militants, even if they're not from a religious family, are completely hijacked by separatists and militant sympathisers. And sometimes, families give in due to pressure from militants, an officer said.

Generally, funerals, cops claim, are huge in areas to the Left of Jhelum river while going from south to north in Kashmir, where the militants are concentrated.