In South Kashmir's Kulgam district last week, a familiar sight: mourners massing around the body of a young man. This time, it was the body of 21-year-old Dawood Ahmed Sheikh, a Hizbul Mujahideen militant killed in a gun battle with security forces in Kulgam's Buchroo hamlet. The crowds braved restrictions to turn out in thousands for the slain militant. Six rounds of prayers were offered before he was buried in a graveyard for so-called martyrs.
Dawood was reportedly called "Chhota Burhan" because of his proximity to Burhan Wani, the new face of the Hizbul Mujahideen in Kashmir. Local people remember he was a stone-pelter before he took up arms.
Dawood is the latest casualty in a new wave of militancy that has been gathering force in South Kashmir. But the body borne along by the crowds could have been that of Mushtaq Ahmad Haroo, killed in Kokernag in January, or Raqib Bashir, killed in Pulwama last month, or Sartaj Ahmed Lone, Aadil Ahmed Sheikh and Tanvir Ahmed Bhat, killed in Anantnag in November.
The funeral processions that trailed behind the bodies of militants in the 1990s are back. Killed for being "dreaded" or "most-wanted" militants, they are celebrated as freedom fighters by the communities they belong to.
In Kashmir, mourning has become an act of defiance. First, because the crowds joining the processions have disregarded curfews and police restrictions to be there. Second, because, by mourning the dead as heroes, they subvert the government's description of them as militants.
The repeated scenes of grief could hold a troubling message for the government. They seem to signal a rise in popular support for the armed movement for azadi.
The crowds have contained large numbers of women. "In not so recent past, most Kashmiri women shared two notable traits," said anthropologist Ather Zia in an article in a magazine called Samar. "They did not like to buy meat from the butcher and at no cost would they make their grief public." But the militancy has meant that women in the Valley have entered a long and public bereavement. To show grief is to make the "disappeared visible" and perhaps reclaim the dead.