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Kashmir’s 500 martyrs’ graveyards are testimony to India’s brutal rule

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In the heart of Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir, in a corner of a vast ground popularly known as Eid Gah, those killed by the Indian army are buried. This has been a tradition since the beginning of the armed rebellion in Kashmir Valley in the 1990s. It became known as Behist-e-Shuda or Heaven for the Martyrs. Later, the place was popularly known as Martyrs’ Graveyard. More than 1500 young and old are buried here, with the youngest of all being a two-year-old boy, Saquib Bashir, who was hit by a bullet in the chest while his mother was breastfeeding him. The oldest of the buried is 102-year-old Ghulam Mohammad Magray. The graveyard has two empty graves -- one of JKLF founder Mohammad Maqbool Bhat, hanged in Delhi’s Tihar Jail on February 11, 1984 and another of Afzal Guru, a parliament attack convict hanged in the same jail on February 9, 2013.

Mohammad Shafi Khan, whose house is located a few yards away from the cemetery, says that many times the graveyard had to be extended due to the increasing number of “martyrs”. However, as time passed, people from far off areas found it difficult to bring the corpses here and this led to a mushrooming of martyrs’ graveyards in Kashmir. At present, there are more than 500 martyrs’ graveyards scattered across the Kashmir Valley.

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  1. Grave of Noor Mohammad Tantary -- commander of a militant outfit Jasih-e-Mohammed, wrapped in a Pakistani flag. He is buried in one of the many martyrs’ cemeteries in south Kashmir’s Pulwama, a hotbed of militancy. Noor had become a major headache for the Indian Army in Kashmir as he was instrumental in reviving his militant outfit. He was killed in a firefight with army on December 26, 2017.

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  1. A view of the Martyrs’ Graveyard located on the banks of the world famous Dal Lake. The majority of those buried here are militants hailing from Pakistan. The epitaphs with Urdu inscriptions hail them as Mehmaan Mujahid or Guest Martyrs.

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  1. Mehbooba Mufti, leader of one of the pro-India regional parties, paying tribute at the martyrs’ graveyard in the old city of Srinagar on July 13, 2017. In this graveyard, 22 Kashmiris killed by the army of a Hindu king of Kashmir on July 13, 1931 are buried. July 13 is marked in Kashmir history one of the excruciating chapters that awakened the nation which had gone into slumber due to centuries of slavery.

The pro-freedom as well as the pro-India leadership in Kashmir have been observing July 13 with reverence. Leaders of both the groups highlight the contributions of the July 13 martyrs in shaping the revolutionary movement that led to an end to the despotic Dogra rule. However, the BJP has been critical of the July 13, Martyrs Day holiday. Several of its leaders openly called the 22 martyrs“traitors” who rebelled against the Maharaja’s government and who deserved capital punishment. Even when the BJP in alliance with Kashmir’s regional Peoples Democratic Party formed a government in Kashmir, in contravention to official protocol, it kept skipping the official function on July 13 to pay tribute to the martyrs. On August 5, last year, when India’s federal government removed Kashmir’s Special Status, with it the July 13 Martyrs Day was trashed from the list of gazetted Holidays in Kashmir and no official tribute was paid to the martyrs this year. 

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  1. Mohammad Ashraf Mattoo, father of Tufail Ahmad Matoo at the grave of his son in Srinagar’s Martyrs’ Graveyard. Tufail, a 17-year-old boy from Old Srinagar was killed by police in 2010 when a teargas shell struck his head. Mattoo died on the spot as the shell broke his skull. His killing sparked a wave of anti-India demonstrations in Kashmir that continued for six months and resulted in the killing of more than 120 people. Since, 2010, Mohammad Ashraf Mattoo has been fighting to punish the killers of his son but justice seems a distant prospect.

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  1. Grave of prominent militant leader Burhan Wani in south Kashmir’s Tral area. Burhan was killed on July 8, 2016. More than 90 people were killed and 11,000 injured in clashes between protestors and government forces. Curfew was imposed for five months, considered as the longest ever logjam in the region’s modern history.

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  1. Kids reading the epitaph placed on Burhan Wani’s grave. The epitaphs here have Urdu couplets of renowned Pakistani Poet Mohammad Iqbal eulogizing the dead. Most of the epitaphs here have the inscription:

Nazar Allah Pe Rakhta Hai Musalman-e-Ghayoor;

Mout Kya Shay Hai, Faqt Alam-e-Maani Ka Safar

Un Shaheedon Ki Diyat Ahle-e-Kalisa Se Na Mang;

Qadar-o-Qeemat Mein Hai Khoon Jin Ka Haram Se Barh Kar.

 

(For Muslim true, death has no dread,

To realm of souls, he straight is led

Their blood is precious and divine

Like precincts of the Holy Shrine.)

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7. Kids playing near the graves of the July 13, 1931 dead at Martyrs Graveyard in the old city of Srinagar. On that day in the year 1931 against the anarchic rule of the Hindu king Mahajara Hari Singh, the oppressed people of Kashmir, otherwise, crushed by military might, the heavy load of taxation, discrimination in government services and on a plethora of other grievances rebelled in unison. 22 of them received bullets on their chests just outside the Central Jail in Srinagar.

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8. A view of the militant graveyard in Gantamullah, Baramulla. In this cemetery,army and police bury unknown militants and instead of names, graves are identified by numbers.

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  1. Except for two small rocks placed at each end of the grassy mounds, rudimentary graves in several rows are mostly unmarked. Little is known about the dead foreign militants buried in this cemetery which is located on the banks of river Jehlum.

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  1. A man watering the grass near the grave of Burhan Wani. Wani is still considered as the most popular militant who lured Kashmiri youth to militancy by a wide use of social media. He was known to be the poster boy of Kashmir’s armed rebellion.