Police doesn’t turn up at the events to avoid further violent backlash.
The gun salute, militants firing in the air at funerals, is a particular crowd pleaser.
Though it doesn’t really please the Over Ground Workers (OGWs) of the militants. One of them we had spoken to a day ago, complained about these gun salutes, “they don’t know how hard we work to get these bullets and then they just waste them all away for public.”
That aside, militant funerals are also events where most of the potential recruits get their first inspiration from.
I met a family of a 14-year-old militant in a different part of the valley a few days later who had no idea why their child had abandoned his school and family to join militancy. His friends later said that the boy was a regular at militant funerals, and had attended funeral prayers of Burhan Wani and Dawood Sheikh. The same story, with some tweaks here and there, we heard from family members and friends of several other militants, we spoke to, who are right now on the run.
While the public speakers keep turning tighter the screws, the emcee interrupts time and again asking people to make way and clear the entry to the ground. Each time he says this, the crowd goes quiet in anticipation of militants.
Militant arrivals in funerals are usually preceded by public announcements in which people are told to make way, “Mehmaan aane waale hain.”
You can call for Jihad, ask people to take up guns, glorify militants, rouse people against India and no one will inform or object to your participation or your choice of words.
- A young journalists who has been covering militant funeral.
No such announcement is made here and the militants never come. But that doesn’t prevent people from spotting hidden militants here and there and running after them.
Photojournalists like Shehriyar are often mobbed and have an especially hard time at funerals because of their long hair and high boots.
“Once at a funeral an old man asked me why didn’t I have the 7 kilo, the Ak 47, in my hands instead of this camera. I told him bullets can be heard in just 1 km away, but photographs travel thousands of kilometers,” Shehriyar says.
It’s about 9:15 am now, and there are not less than 7000 people in front of the stage. They’ve come despite severe restrictions, evading police pickets by climbing over hills and walking through farms to reach here.
The sun is blazing now and Lelhari’s body is beginning to bloat. The organisers, basically a group of youth from Lelhari, are aware of this but wait as they see hundreds of people who’ve come from far to participate in his funeral prayers.
Every visitor who comes pays his respects to the brother of Ayyub Lelhari. His brother, and the rest of his family, will now become first among the equals in Lelhari.
A local resident of Lelhari says, “Look what a funeral he’s got. Not even 10 people would’ve come to the funeral had I died. This is what a send-off is. He took our tehreek [movement] forward. Everyone will offer salaam to his brother with respect now.”