It’s Business: Funeral procession of militants in Kashmir

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Mourners at the funeral procession of a militant in Kashmir. (Representational picture)
Mourners at the funeral procession of a militant in Kashmir. (Representational picture)

Large crowd turnout at funeral procession of militants, killed by security forces in Kashmir, makes news headlines at a regular frequency. Recently there was news of a large body of people attending the funeral procession of three local militants killed in the Keran Sector of Kupwara, Kashmir in April 2020. It was then that I decided to write about the Jinaza-e-Karobar—the underlying machinations of the funeral procession of terrorists in Kashmir.

Sometime during February this year, I developed a desire to get first-hand experience of attending the funeral processions of a militant. I had heard all kinds of stories about these funeral processions that ranged from “death of a militant causes martyrdom frenzy among people across age groups” at one extreme, to the extreme where it was being said that “it’s just one of the many businesses in Kashmir such as protests and stone pelting that thrive during conflicts”. Between these two extremes, there were plenty of explanations and question such as Why was a particular methodology adopted? Why is the dead body draped in green? Why always do 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 a majority of these questions and explanations therein were beyond the scope of my logic, I shared the desire for attending a few of these processions with my close friend Iqbal. Iqbal lives in Kashmir Valley, is an activist by nature but a critique of violence and conflict. He empathised with my interest to know and understand these issues. Iqbal advised that I grow my beard. Iqbal also said that in the intervening period before I could actually attend a funeral procession he would explain me about the various contributing components in the procession.

A few weeks later, on 13th March, after hearing the news that Mudasir Ahmad, a militant from Shutloo, village Rafiabad in Baramulla was killed by the security forces, Iqbal told me that he will take me to another village Rahama which is in the vicinity of Shutloo, this was the village from where the slain militant belonged.

I was anxious and curious to understand about what I would witness. Iqbal explained that we would go to the house of Mukhtar (name changed), one of the locals who was his close family friend and who would not mind sharing facts and truth. Few hours after we reached, a Jamat-e-Islami activist called Nasir (name changed) came to his house and informed that Namaz-e-Janaza of the martyr will start and at least two members from each family must attend.

Pakistan flags being waved at the funeral procession of Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani. (Photo: PTI)

Soon after the Jamat-e-Islami activist left, Mukhtar told us as to what was the diktat given by him. I asked him whether he would abide by the directive. Mukhtar said that he can’t avoid because someone sitting at a shop next doors or at some another corner will be taking note of who is going to attend the procession and who is not.

“Those who don’t attend the funeral procession of the militant, will face retribution,” Mukhtar said.

I got curious and tried to seek more information about the credentials of the messenger. I soon learnt that this “activist” from Jamat-e-Islami was some sort of a contractor who had been paid to generate crowds from the village.

“These contractors or persons on payroll of Jamat-e-Islami use threat and action by militants, religious punishment or social pressure against the people to mobilize them for funeral procession,” Mukhtar explained.

There was a network of hundreds of other Nasir(s) who work like the parts of a well-oiled machine to ensure that crowd gathering at funeral procession of slain militants in Kashmir Valley looks like a natural and voluntary phenomenon. I was startled at the revelation. “But who pays for it and why?” I asked. I was promptly told that the Jamat-e-Islami is a key element of the Kashmiri separatist movement. Processions being an extremely vital part of the effort to keep the Azadi sentiment alive, it was very critical that this ‘cause’ is seen as just and youth keep getting incited to join militancy and above all, an element of honour is attached with Jihad.

These efforts are well funded by the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) of Pakistan, local religious bodies and even business community that owes allegiance (either forced or coerced) to the cause.

During yesteryears, when sentiment of Azadi was genuinely high, large crowd gathering for procession could have been natural. But, with the passage of time, people are no more interested in wasting time on a youth who has gone astray and tend to avoid funeral processions. Moreover, this has now become lucrative business because there are contractors and sub-contractors. So there are ‘Funeral Brigades’ comprising groups of men and women who coordinate crowd gathering, specific procedures, sloganeering, chest-beating and crying out loud, thereby presenting a good sight for videos recordings. These videos are then fed to Pakistani social media handles for propaganda. As these layers peeled off, my curiosity was multiplied manifold and I wanted to be a part of such funeral procession.

The occasion came soon. My friend Iqbal indicated that he would take me to Shutloo from where the procession of slain militant Mudasir was due to take off. We reached the village well before time, when even the dead body had not been handed over to the family by local 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. The air was filled with sadness and people were remorse.

Like any other parent who had lost their son, Mudasir’s parents also recalled the lifetime of their son. How Mudasir grew as a child, how the environment played on his psyche of Mudasir, how radicalisation in society affected his mind at an impressionable age, and so on. Mudasir’s mother blamed her husband about how he as Mudasir’s father failed to check him when he started to get attracted towards fundamentalist thoughts of some ulemas. She also quoted an instance when she had picked up a fight for asking Mudasir’s father to stop him from meeting separatist leaders who were corroding sanity from his mind.

Mudasir’s mother said that if he had played the role of a strong father, their son would have been alive. She even quoted the instance when their son broke the news about his wish to join the Azadi tanzeem. How she had pleaded with her son Mudasir and his father to leave Kashmir Valley forever and settle down somewhere else so that Mudasir gets out of the clutches of Azadi movement but they didn’t pay any heed to her calls.

Listening to these talks, there was no doubt in my mind that parents remain parents after all. So what if the son is a militant. Their hearts bleed for the child and they are as helpless as anyone else. By now, there was no doubt left in my mind about the reasons why young men pick up guns. It had nothing to do with the Azadi movement, it had nothing to do with the conscious call, and rather it had everything to do with the 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. 

Women mourners at the funeral of a slain militant in Kashmir. (Representational picture)

While I was engrossed in my thoughts, people kept trickling in slowly. A sense of loss prevailed in the environment and till now there were no Azadi slogans, 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.

Soon the time came for the dead body to arrive. Minutes before the police brought the body, a group of around fifteen youth and adults arrived. They carried a special aura around them, and there was a feel of professionalism. Few of them reached out to Mudasir’s parents, whispered into their ears (I later on learnt that the 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 others 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 had congregated. My friend Iqbal whispered into my ear that these ‘people’ were part of the ‘Funeral Brigade’ meant to orchestrate entire proceeding, while adding the effect and emotions about Azadi

The likes of Nasir were busy pushing people from the adjoining hundreds of villages and townships. The crowd started to swell. Soon the ambulance carrying the mortal remains of the militant arrived, which was duly escorted by police. The crowd made way for the body so that it can be taken to the newly built platform. Suddenly, a loud voice thundered “hamei chahiye”? (what do we want). “Azadi”,was the reply.The response was faint and this annoyed the leader of the “Funeral Brigade”.

Strong gestures were made by one individual, who looked like the gang leader of Funeral Brigade towards the other members of Brigade to ensure high intensity sloganeering. The effect was immediately visible in terms of pitch, intensity and the acerbic content. This was quickly followed by the arrival of a group of veiled women and some other young men. The body language of these newly arrived veiled women and the already present group of Funeral Brigade indicated that all of them were part of the same Brigade.

The men from this group pushed through the jostling crowd and reached the body of 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 quite evident that while the men were busy giving some kind of reverential treatment to the militant, the women were making it appear as a feeling of personal loss to those present at the funeral. Soon these women started chest thumping with loud cries that was so strong that even the most dissociated person like me felt some kind of an impact. 

The crowd continued to swell with every passing minute. Slogans of Azadi was turning more aggressive and with every passing minute, 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 had changed into a “celebration of martyrdom.”

I then drifted towards the place where the militant’s parents were sitting. I could clearly make out 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 funeral procession was being deliberately delayed, perhaps in the wait for more crowd to gather. The policemen on duty were constantly urging the slain militant’s parents to start the procession. Perhaps they had orders from their bosses to ensure an early funeral.

Finally, the funeral procession started. ‘Funeral Brigade’ was in full action. People mobilized by the Jamat-e-Islami keep joining en-route and the crowd kept swelling. I could clearly see the local village people making gestures and communicating through silent shrugs saying that who the hell wants to be part of such engineered events when they had their own issues to attend to.

Members of the ‘Funeral Brigade’ remained busy clicking photographs and videos that they forwarding to their masters for further propagation. A local villager who seemed to have insights about the conflict dynamics explained to me that “…these visuals are also the proof for Funeral Brigade to claim their remuneration for the job well done. They send them to masters within Kashmir, who in turn send these visuals to people sitting across the border as proof for payment and for propaganda to the audiences within Pakistan, OPEC countries and rest of the world.” Amidst these Azadi slogans, praise for Pakistan, abuses for the occupational forces and all sorts of filthy phrases for India the procession finally reached the burial ground. 

At the burial ground, a yet another strange activity drew my attention. 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, I learnt). Such stories of devotion towards those who lay down their lives for Azadi, draws a lot of media attention and sympathy from people. All the acts put together, enough mileage is generated among youth and they get drawn towards joining militancy. 

I verified from the near and dear ones of slain militant, this lady was not even remotely related to the militant biologically, yet she claimed that she had breastfed him when he was an infant. I also learnt 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 expressions indicating how tormented she was on hearing the news about the militant’s killing, add immense value to the Azadi propaganda.

As if the members of Azadi or funeral brigade knew about her and were waiting for her arrival, they lost no time and lifted her onto their shoulders and carried her to the militant’s bullet-hit 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 doctor?” she began, to which the angry crowd chanted back, No, we won’t!”
“Would you like to become a Police Officer?” she shouted, the crowd responded back “No, we won’t!”
“Would you like to become a militant?” she continued.
“Yes, we will,” the crowd roared back in response.
“Would you like to become Tiger?” she said, referring to an infamous 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!” the crowd responded.

Iqbal, my friend, helped me meet a few other reasonable people who explained that this was almost common to all the funerals undertaken anywhere in Kashmir, particularly South Kashmir.

The larger objective of the funeral processions into which ISI and Kashmiri separatists invest heavily is to create role models and heroes for imitation by the young generation of Kashmir Valley. This gives them courage to start defying 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 the security forces and then they resort to violence and agitations to obstruct the conduct of operations. Any untoward incident, generates further 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 Burhan Wani’s death in a gun battle with security forces in July 2016 initiated a long drawn violence in the Kashmir Valley. The impact of such processions is so quick that a young boy joins the militant rank and even gets killed in operation within few days of recruitment. One often hears or reads that a militant was just a few days old when he was killed, which was the case in this case as well. Mudasir had joined militancy just eight days back and was killed.

Everything that happens in Kashmir is twisted to suit the narratives of the Azadi nexus, be it political decision, social activity or a ritual. Everything culminates into a demand for Azadi. The machinations are well crafted and coordinated. But everything has a cost. It doesn’t matter who pays and for what. As long as the money flows, these mechanisms will continue to thrive. It’s for daily wage for those who execute and business for those who orchestrate. As long as the ISI is funding, lives and deaths will continue to remain a Karobar (business).

2 COMMENTS

  1. […] Several Sunni Muslim families with whom I have had detailed discussions denied extensive support for the likes of Burhan Wani. They explained that there were only a bunch of sangh baaz (stone pelters), who had created the mayhem. These anti-social elements, who are otherwise relegated to the margins of the society sense an opportunity whenever a terrorist killed in an encounter. These anti-social types then wander through the villages ordering everyone to come out for the processions and for stone pelting. They earmark those households who defy their diktat. […]

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