Soutik Biswas in Srinagar

From BBC: “Grim Harvest

“The “martyrs’ graveyard” in Indian-administered Kashmir’s capital, Srinagar, is again burying victims of conflict.

“There are over 1,000 martyrs here,” grave-digger Abdul Hameed says, matter-of-factly. “This year,” he says, “it’s looking bad again.”

We are taking a walk down a narrow cobblestone pathway running through rows of graves in the cemetery. Buried here are – mostly – men, women and children who have died in the bloody insurrection against India.

Mr Hameed is a middle-aged, sunburnt man who looks after this oasis of the dead. This year has seen one of Kashmir’s bloodiest summers in over a decade – more than 100 civilians have lost their lives in an almost equal number of days in clashes with security forces.

About 70,000 people have been killed in Kashmir since 1990.

The cemetery, in many ways, is a chronicle of death foretold.

When fighting broke out between stone-throwing protesters and the security forces in June, Mr Hameed and his men dug some 50 fresh graves anticipating a procession of the dead.

“We dug them up, just in case,” he says, looking away at the mountains. Death can come easily in Kashmir, so the good caretaker prepares for it in advance.

From a distance the graveyard looks like a park. As you approach it, the inscription on an ornate gate – ‘Lest You Forget We Have Given Our Today For Tomorrow of Yours’ – offers a reminder of its residents. The graves are neatly laid out in rows. Roses and irises bloom among the dead. Garlands of paper and plastic flowers are slung around some recent tombstones.

In the chaos and clamour of a troubled, bleeding city, it is a calm, orderly place.

The martyrs’ graveyard also offers a contemporary history lesson on the insurrection ever since the valley exploded into full blown militancy in the early 1990s.

There is an empty grave for Maqbool Bhatt, founder of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, a local pro-freedom guerrilla group. “The grave waits for him” says the tombstone. Bhatt was hanged and buried in a Delhi prison in the late 1980s.

There are some telling epitaphs that point to the sentiments of freedom and feeling of¬†subjugation in the valley: “When Slaves Are Martyred They Are Relieved of Their Pain,” reads the tombstone of 22-year-old Ashiq Hussain, who was killed on 20 August 1996.

“The youngest buried here is a two-year-old boy, Saqib Bashir, who, according to locals, was shot by security forces along with his mother over a decade ago. The oldest is 72-year-old Abdul Ahad Khan, who was killed in 1992.”


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