How India avoided unrest at funerals of militants

SRINAGAR, 14 Dec 2022:

In the last three years, Indian police have secretly interred more than 560 militants in the hinterland of the Kashmir Valley to prevent mass funerals of slain rebels and keep calm in the troubled region with popular separatist sentiments.

As part of Covid19 protocols, the government ceased turning over the remains of militants to their families from March 2020. However, the practice has persisted since the pandemic’s end.

An anonymous police officer explained such action was taken to prevent people from gathering at the funerals of fallen militants – which would stir more turmoil in the region that has been battling an armed insurgency for over 3½ decades.

Thousands of people would assemble for militants’ funeral processions before burying the remains in designated “martyrs’ graveyards” until mid-2019. Some funeral processions would usually end in anti-government demonstrations.

According to police records, 203 militants were killed in 2020, 184 in 2021, and 180 in 2022.

Military operations have been ongoing in the Muslim-majority area since August 2019, when India revoked the erstwhile state’s semi-autonomous status and partitioned it into two federally governed regions.

Sources said the authorities designated five locations in the backwoods of Kashmir to bury dead militants.

A resident, who lives close to one such graveyard, noted family members frequently visit these burial places to offer prayers for their loved ones.

“Small gatherings of mourners have become a common sight,” said a villager in north Kashmir’s Handwara. “Mothers can be seen crying over and hugging the graves of their sons.”

Handwara houses two such burial places.

Despite claims by Hindu-nationalist prime minister Narendra Modi’s government that Kashmir has been more normal than ever in the previous three years, violent counter-insurgency operations have continued unabated.

“There is certainly a huge decline in violent incidents,” a police officer admitted.

He stated that police documented 417 violent incidents in 2018, 229 in 2021, and 123 this year.

In 2022, according to police records, 31 security officers and 31 civilians were killed in the violence. Last year, the security forces and civilians lost 44 and 41 lives, respectively.

“Law and order situation has vastly improved with stone-pelting incidents and separatist-sponsored strike calls almost disappearing,” the federally-appointed lieutenant governor Manoj Sinha said during a function a few days back.

Despite the “normality” claims, the valley has witnessed several targeted killings in the last couple of years.

The central government told the Indian parliament on Dec 7 that as many as 14 civilians from minority communities, including three Kashmiri Hindus, have been killed this year so far.

However, Kashmiri Hindu leader Sanjay Tikoo said seven members of their community were killed in 2022.

The separatist Hurriyat Conference, an umbrella organisation of various groups that seek an end to Indian rule in Kashmir, has condemned “all forms of rights violations, whether by the state or by the killing of members of minorities and non-local communities.”

The amalgam condemned “arbitrary arrests, especially of young boys, under draconian laws, harassment of journalists, dissidents, employees, or anyone who challenges the writ of the state.”

The authorities have detained hundreds, including activists, members of civil society and political leaders.

“Dozens of journalists and members of civil society have been questioned and harassed in the last three years,” a lawyer said. “Constant monitoring is in place to ensure that everyone follows the official line.”

A police officer said militant sympathisers and overground workers of militant groups were among those arrested for providing logistical support to rebels.

“They (the authorities) have created different categories to label every Kashmiri as a terrorist,” the lawyer said.

“They kill or imprison people by labelling them as terrorists, terrorist sympathisers, hybrid terrorists, OGWs, narrative terrorists, or separatists.”

The armed rebels, who India says are sponsored by Pakistan, have been fighting for more than three decades for full independence or Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan.

The armed rebellion and counter-insurgency have claimed at least 75,000 lives, mostly civilians, according to rights watchdogs.

The Himalayan region is divided between India and Pakistan and both neighbours claim its complete sovereignty.