By Adil Lateef | Photographs by Shahid Tantray | Palhallan, Kashmir
Among thousands of people including men, women, and children of all ages, the body of a local militant, lies on a bed and wrapped in a shroud. They (people) are desperate to have a glimpse of the Shabir Ahmad Shiekh, who is now a “martyr” for the people of his ancestral village.
The elders of the village announce that Shabir’s face would be shown to all people. “Sit down and stay calm, you will be shown Shabir’s face.”
Hailing from Palhallan village of North Kashmir, Shabir alias Tamim alias Shaka was in early thirties. He died in an encounter battling Indian troops and the police on Thursday evening in Krankshan colony of Sopore, 53 kilometres from Srinagar- Kashmir’s summer capital.
Shabir, who had recently joined the ranks of armed militants, was associated with the Pakistan based Pan Islamist Lashkar-e-Toiba group, which is among leading anti-India militant groups fighting in Kashmir.
Since early in the morning, people had gathered in large numbers, while many were still coming from nearby villages to attend his funeral. According to the locals he had strong sentiments for freedom since his childhood. “He was highly sentimental, freedom loving and a fearless boy,” said a man, who was waiting for the funeral.
Shabir’s body was kept in the Eidgah (an open ground, which is meant for prayers on the Muslim festival of Eid). The Eidgah, inside and outside was crowded by men, women, and children. The slogans in favour of Kashmir’s freedom, Islam and in praise of “martyr” and against India were reverberating in the village, whose entrance was blocked by the Indian paramilitary forces and police.
On November 1, 2012, Shabir left his home and didn’t come back again “It was first day of November, last year, when our son left us and till last night we had never met him,” recalls Abdur Rehman Shiekh, father of the slain militant. “Now we have his dead body,” he adds.
He alleged that Shabir was continuously harassed by the Indian Army and Special Operations Group (SOG) of the police. “Before joining armed militants, Shabir was continuously picked up by Army and SOG. He was fed up of the forces’ harassment,” added Sheikh.
As his funeral concluded, people lifted his body and started marching towards the local “Martyrs Graveyard,” which is barely half a kilometre from the Eidgah. The men, who were leading the procession, were followed by the women, who were shouting Pro-freedom and anti-India slogans. “Go India Go Back, Aiwa Aiwa Lashkar-e-Toiba (Here comes Laskar-e-Toiba),” they shouted.
“We are under tyranny. They harass our boys, who in retaliation pick up guns,” said a local elder, Muhammad Ismail. He claimed that Shabir became the target of forces ‘harassment.’
Shabir, before joining ranks of militants, was a stone thrower, who like hundreds of youth participated in the mass protests of 2008 and 2010 in which more than 200 people were killed in the firings of police and paramilitary forces, mostly among the dead were teenagers. Shabir was arrested in 2010 for his involvement in stone throwing. He was released after a span of ten months.
“Whenever protests took place since 2008, we collectively used to throw stones on police in the area,” whispers a group of youth present in the march.
This is not for the first time in Kashmir that a stone thrower has turned militant. In the past, many such cases came fore. One such case was of a Sopore teenager, Atir Ahmad Dar, 19, who initially was stone thrower and later became a militant following alleged harassments by police.
Atir was killed last year in an encounter with the troops and police.
Palhallan, the ancestral village of Shabir, is counted among the volatile areas of the Valley in terms of anti-India protests. More than half a dozen people have lost their lives since 2008 in this village.
Shabir was laid to rest in the local “Martyrs Graveyard”, where as many as ninety people are buried including local and three Pakistani militants.
“We are happy that he achieved martyrdom,” says Fehmeeda Akhtar, Shabir’s sister-in-law. But his mother was unable to speak because of the trauma of losing her youngest son.