The Funeral of Burhan Wani and The Unrest That Followed

On 8 July 2016, Burhan Wani, the divisional commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen, was killed after a brief gun-battle with Indian security forces in South Kashmir’s Kokernag. Danish Ismail / Reuters
10 July, 2016

On 9 July 2016, at 3 pm, a throng of men—young and old—stood around a freshly dug grave at a cemetery earmarked for martyrs in Tral, located in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district. They stood there, calmly praying for Burhan Wani, the divisional commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen. On 8 July, Burhan was killed after a brief gun-battle with Indian security forces in South Kashmir’s Kokernag.

A man in his mid-fifties recited the prayers loudly, to which the rest of the gathering responded with “Ameen” (may it be accepted) at brief intervals. During the proceedings, a boy, dressed in a pair of jeans and a gray T-shirt, broke down as he said “Ameen” when the older man prayed, “May Burhan’s martyrdom be accepted.”

Burhan Wani, a 22-year-old man from Tral, joined the militant movement in Kashmir when he was 15 years old. He is perceived to be the face of new-age militancy in the region, and his emergence coincided with a fresh phase of insurgency in Kashmir.

Early in the morning, on 9 July, Burhan’s body was handed over to his family. People, numbering in tens of thousands, were waiting to catch a final glimpse of the man. The first funeral was held at around nine in the morning. As visitors from different parts of south Kashmir continued to visit Tral throughout the day, Burhan’s burial was delayed until afternoon.

By the time Burhan was buried, next to his brother Khalid Muzaffar Wani, at around 2 pm, nearly 22 prayers had been held for him—a first, in the history of any such funeral.

Anticipating the magnitude of the gathering, the locals had made necessary arrangements for the people who had travelled to attend the funeral. Women, children and old men distributed water bottles, cooked rice, and biscuit packets, among other refreshments, to those traversing the roads within Pulwama to Tral.

In outlying areas of south Kashmir, personnel from the Indian forces and the Jammu and Kashmir police had barricaded the roads leading to Tral. Those who confronted them were beaten severely and sent back. Yet, some managed to reach the town by taking detours, boarding tractors, trucks and load-carriers.

Standing next to Burhan’s grave, Shakeel Ahmad, a resident from Tral, told us that that Burhan’s death has instilled a renewed sense of zeal among young boys who were already willing to pick up arms. “There are hundreds of more boys who are ready to follow Burhan’s path. This will not stop till Kashmir is freed,” he said.

Many of those in attendance were witnessing a funeral of this scale for the first time. Musadiq Mushtaq, a young boy from an adjacent village, sat on the fence of the graveyard. He had been there since Burhan’s body was brought to the site in the early hours of the morning, and told us that he had never seen an event this mammoth his entire life. His friends and him, Mushtaq said, were extremely angry over the death of Burhan, whom they referred to as their “hero.” “We are not going to let Burhan’s martyrdom be futile,” he continued.

After Burhan was buried, a crowd of people assembled to pour a handful of soil over his grave. They were jostling one another as they attempted to make sure that they participated in the last rite of the slain militant’s funeral.

The police have confirmed that 16 people were killed during the clashes that broke out between the youth and security forces in various parts of the valley. Many more, including those from the paramilitary forces, were reportedly injured. In an official statement, SM Sahai, the additional director-general of the Criminal Investigation Department of Jammu and Kashmir, said that three policemen had gone missing in south Kashmir.

Officials from the security forces also restricted the movement of media persons within south Kashmir. As we were reporting for this story, personnel from the Central Reserve Police Force near Pampore threatened us, pelted us with stones, and nearly beat us. The men checked our cameras, and were irked because they discovered we had captured pictures of Burhan's grave.

As the evening sky descended, people continued to visit Burhan’s home. They offered condolences to his family and prayed at his grave. In the rest of the valley, violent protests continued.