It was 5:30 in the morning of 5 August 2017 and my sleep was disturbed by the continuous buzzing on my phone. At first I tried to ignore the buzzing of WhatsApp and Twitter notifications, but an inherent urge to check latest news updates woke me up. The news flashed across on one WhatsApp group, “An encounter has broken out in Amargarh area of Sopore and three LET militants are holed up.”
Upon reading the news closely, I was completely roused from my sleep and quickly got out of my bed. Police and other sources confirmed that the encounter was underway. What left me perplexed and gloomy was the fact that one of the militants holed up in the encounter was Abid Hamid Mir of Hajan Bandipora. Abid was only twenty years old and had quite recently joined insurgent ranks. The fact wouldn’t let my mind at rest. On that morning I neither had the inclination to sleep not could I take any breakfast. Abid Hamid Mir was from my native place.
I quickly left my home on a motorcycle. I was headed towards the home of the insurgent who was holed up in an encounter at Sopore. I carried with me my camera, a notepad and a press identity card; one most useful item in the present circumstances.
After nearly thirty minutes, the government snapped mobile Internet services in the entire district of Bandipora supposedly ‘to prevent any violent protests.’ Only the state owned BSNL broadband was working.
Police erected pickets on junctions to prevent people’s entry into the Hajan town. The phone services seemed to be not working either, as one could not even reach the police. Hajan towns electricity was also cut, presumably to keep people away from watching news of the encounter on television.
As a journalist, the only way left for me to acquaint myself with what was happening at the encounter was to visit the home of the insurgent.
The Hajan town, the hometown of the by now slain insurgent, is about 6 kilometers away from my house. Except motorcycles and horse carts, no other traffic was on the streets. The district administrations of Bandipora and Bandipora announced closer of schools as a precautionary measure. Somehow, I managed to reach the insurgent’s home, which lies on the main highway of Hajan-Sopore, on my motorcycle by passing through vast orchards, paddy fields and concertina wire.
On reaching the insurgent’s home, I didn’t find myself alone. A thousand people had gathered, men, women and children. Young and old, all shouting anti-India and pro-Azadi slogans outside the insurgent’s house. I immediately set to work and began talking to the insurgent’s family which included his mother and father and his relatives, friends and neighbours.
Amidst the crowd of people who had gathered there, there were a bunch of reporters also. Some people were weeping, while others were offering water to the mourners.
The news of killing of Hajan rebels was finally confirmed by Radio Kashmir broadcasting service on their regular news service at 9:30 a.m. The news brought in a sea of people to the rebel’s house. A flock of women had gathered also, raising slogans in favour of Kashmir’s azadi. The sloganeering was beset with feelings of loss, as many women and men’s tearful eyes could betray.
There were chaotic scenes at the home of Abid. A sea of people, from different parts of Bandipora district, had walked down to Abid’s ancestral village to offer funeral prayers for the departed rebel and to have a final glimpse of his face.
An elderly woman was seen carrying a basketful of candies, perhaps later to be showered on the martyr’s sacred body. His restless parents were sitting in a dark corner of a room, weeping but equally being proud of their son for laying his life for what they called a noble cause.
Soon, the body of the slain rebel arrived at his ancestral house in the form of a procession. The river of people carried his body to his home.
As Abid’s dead body reached his home on that lukewarm August afternoon, after his 89 days of rebel life, he was given a tearful, warm welcome. The elderly lady, who was carrying candies in her beautiful basket, showered the candies on Abid’s funeral. Tears kept trailing down her cheeks as she was doing so. No one dared pick the candies from the ground, except a few kids who had come to the funeral and didn’t know how to stop themselves.
Abid’s mother mixed with the mourners, and occasionally broke into sobs. Her sobs gave way to anger as she raised her fists and chorused with the crowd, “Hum kya chahtey? [What do we seek?” to which the women unanimously shouted, “Azadi [Freedom]. The talk among the women in the funeral was how Abid was the most religious guy in the locality, and how proud they were of him. Abid was an affable young boy, who used to help the poor and orphans of his village.
Abid’s neighbours said how he was staunch follower of his ideology. The neighbours remembered him as the Imam (he person who leads prayers in a mosque) of the local mosque. Abid would often lead prayers at the local mosque when he regular Imam wasn’t available.
When Abid was about to be taken for the burial, a bearded elderly man announced if anyone had missed seeing the face of the young martyr. At this, a jam packed courtyard of mourners could only weep as the man announced that Abid would soon be taken to the village’s lone martyr’s graveyard to be laid to rest forever.
I saw a teenaged girl in the crowd who was bitterly weeping and in her lap she had a toddler, who too was weeping. The scene was grim.
Finally, amidst slogans of Azadi and praises to God, the village’s young martyr was taken for the burial. The mourners included the martyr’s young friends, carrying his dead body on their shoulders. The weight of that body will be forever felt by them, I thought.
As the funeral procession moved on, the government forces swung into action and used brute force against the mourners and fired shells, pellets to disperse the protestors. But the people resisted and the procession kept on moving. Despite the information blockade put in place by the the government, with both internet and mobile services shit, thousands of people attended Abid’s funeral.
Back at his home, Abid’s mother was singing long and tearful dirges for her young martyred son. The house was crumbling with shrieks and cries of the mourners as Abid was no more in their midst.
At 7:30 p.m., I was back at my home – tired and exhausted. The gloom mixed with exhaustion made me feel disinclined to write anything. But after sometime, mustering some strength with a cup of coffee, I began scribbling the story down. I ended the day by finishing writing the story, which appeared next morning on an online news magazine.