Reminiscent of early ’90s, thousands of mourners including women and children carrying the bodies of three militants killed in a 10-hour-long firefight with army troops marched through the streets of Tral in south Kashmir.
Chanting pro-freedom and anti-India slogans, locals Tuesday carried the bodies around the villages before their burial at the ancestral cemeteries. Women were seen wailing and beating their chests as young men jostled to touch the faces of militants who they saw as martyrs.
The three militants – Syed Shahnawaz of Dadsara, Shabir Ahmad of Hyna and Aijaz Ahmad Laway of Lorigam – belonged to indigenous militant outfit Hizbul Mujahideen.
On Tuesday, local news portals described the scene of the funerals in which people – old and young alike – abandoned their house and the whole villages seemed to have swelled at the local cemeteries to say goodbye to young heroes.
For folks my age, it a deja vu moment as they have grown amidst such funerals – which were a routine during nineties. The only difference this time is almost every second person is recording the pictures and video in his smartphone that ultimately ends up on social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter.
Since the start of this year, especially after the secretive hanging and burial of Indian Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru in Delhi’s Tihar Jail, Kashmir has not only witnessed massive anti-India protests and the subsequent crackdowns by Indian forces, but also seen daring militant attacks on army convoys and police parties.
Just last week, Hizb militants attacked an army convoy with guns and grenades on the outskirts of summer capital Srinagar killing eight soldiers and wounding more than a dozen others- seven of them critically. The attack came just a day ahead of the visit of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi to the picturesque Himalayan state.
While people in India see the spurt in violence as another Pak attempt to increase the tempers in the Valley, the discourse in Kashmir is something different. While locals don’t have any doubts that people having been pushed to the wall, especially after years of non-violent methods to highlight their issues, are again taking recourse to cartridges, pro-India politicians are playing shocked card as to why educated youth are joining the ranks of militants.
The killing of two youths by army on Sunday didn’t make headlines in Indian newspapers but in Kashmir, it has already given the pro-freedom leadership a big reason to galvanize the masses. In fact, the leader of his faction of Hurriyat Conference (G) Syed Ali Geelani has already issued a protest programme.
Kashmir may not see another round of non-violent agitations like it did in 2008 and 2010 when hundreds of thousands of protesters rallied for freedom. However, the Indian response, usual, was armed action and hundreds of youths including teenagers were killed in the firing by armed forces.
Against this background, it seems unusual that Kashmiris will again see peaceful agitations as a means to make heard their genuine political aspirations. Irrespective of the hatred they might have for taking to gun again, the situation, it seems could lead them to choose the latter route only.
A number of experts have already raised concerns that the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan could affect the Kashmiri landscape and when a year before that you have militants taking the fight to the armed forces, one can only imagine how the situation might shape up if the support from across the border matches up to that of ‘90s!
A tourism season is in full bloom in the Valley and thousands of Amarnath Yatra pilgrims are making way towards the Holy Cave. Nobody, especially the people associated with the tourism industry, wants the situation to deteriorate, but the attacks on the Indian installations in the Valley, if they can be seen as a pointer, tell a different, but ominous story.