Since Friday evening, there have been 11 funerals of people killed in violent incidents in Kashmir. In Arawani, in the southern district of Anantnag, an encounter between militants and security forces claimed five lives: three militants and two civilians. As the guns fell silent in Arwani, separatist militants ambushed a police patrol in Achabal, also in Anantnag district. The militants killed and mutilated the faces of six police personnel.
The two incidents of violence have sent tremors across the Valley – the hometowns of the dead, in Budgam in Central Kashmir, and Shopian and Anantnag in South Kashmir, are still reverberating with the news of the deaths.
On Friday, thousands flocked to militants’ funerals in South Kashmir. Images and videos of militants performing gun salutes, amid cheers, for their slain colleagues went viral online. Top Hizbul Mujahideen commander Saddam Padder were among the 10 militants who appeared at a funeral in Heff, in Shopian district.
Meanwhile, the bodies of the policemen were dispersed to quieter funerals after a wreath-laying ceremony at the District Police Lines in Srinagar on Friday night.
The Valley remained shut as separatist leaders of the Hurriyat called for a shutdown in protest against civilian killings. Coincidentally, Kashmiri trade associations had also called for a shutdown to protest against the prospect of a good and services tax law for Jammu and Kashmir, a matter which was to be discussed in a special session of the State Assembly on Saturday. The session was washed out in the clamour over the bloodshed on Friday.
Soot and rubble in Arwani
On Saturday morning, children wove through soot and rubble in Arwani. A few local residents hovered around a large slab of concrete on the ground. Rumour had it that an AK-47 rifle was buried underneath.
This soot and rubble are all that remains of the houses where three militants of the Lashkar-e-Toiba were holed up the day before. The slab of concrete had once been part of a roof. As the encounter stretched on for hours on Friday, security forces had set off improvised explosive device blasts that reduced the houses to rubble.
The bodies of the three militants, Lashkar commander Junaid Mattoo, Nasir Wani and Adil Mushtaq Mir were later pulled out of the rubble. According to a press statement by the police, Mattoo’s group had allegedly been behind the killing of a policeman in Kulgam on June 15. He was also believed to have been involved in the attack on a police party in Mir Bazar, in Anantnag district, and the killing of two policemen at bus stand in Anantnag town in June 2016. “Junaid’s killing is a great achievement for us and a blow to the Lashkar-e-Toiba,” said director general of police, Jammu and Kashmir, SP Vaid.
Back in Arwani, women huddled under a tarpaulin sheet rigged up to shelter visitors. Others ambled around or lined up to go inside and inspect the blasted houses. Two neighbouring houses had also been damaged during the gunbattle, with wires ripped out from walls, window panes shattered and wooden frames charred.
Near the main road, neighbours collected donations for the families that had lost their homes. “You want to kill militants – but why did you need to pull down these houses?” demanded one lanky young man. More young men arrived at the spot from nearby villages to survey the damages. The destroyed houses have become the talk of the town.
Taranas (religious songs) emanated from loudspeakers strung up in the neighbourhood and the town rang with voices promising revenge, exhorting audiences to “make more sacrifices”.
The two civilians killed on Friday were 14-year-old Ahsan Mushtaq of Shamsipora village in neighbouring Kulgam district and 22-year-old Mohammad Ashraf of nearby Kharpora village. They were shot when the police opened fire to disperse protestors. “The forces had no option to retaliate, thereby resulted in the loss of two civilians, which security forces wanted to avoid,” said Vaid.
‘Maybe he thought he was safe’
There were fewer mourners for the policemen killed in the Achabal ambush. Among the dead was Feroze Dar, station house officer of Anantnag town, who lived in Sangam, a few kilometres away.
Despite widespread anger against policemen in the district, residents of Anantnag town remember him as a “humble and friendly” officer. “He held off FIRs for many minors involved in stone pelting. He would always respond to requests for leniency with minors,” said one man, who did not want to be named.
“Dar’s rapport with locals was such that he would be casual about security. He would take walks outside, and move around without caring much for safety. Maybe he thought he was safe,” he added.
In January 2013, Dar had posted a poem on his Facebook profile.
“Did you ever stop for a while and asked yourself,
what is going to happen to me the first night in my grave?
Think about the moment your body is being washed and prepared to (sic) your grave”
According to Vaid, Lashkar-e-Toiba militants led by Bashir Lashkari had laid the ambush, where they also made off with at least four police rifles. Vaid promised swift action against those responsible.
Fourteen regular police personnel and two special police officers have been killed in militant attacks this year. The police announced in a statement that all its personnel would donate one day’s salary to the families of those killed.