Braving heavy rain, defying curfew, clashing with the police and Army, screaming slogans of azadi and shouting Burhan Muzaffar Wani’s name, people from across Kashmir streamed into Tral through Friday night and all of Saturday, walking dozens of miles to attend his funeral.
The ceremony was to start at 11.30 am Saturday. But by 10 am, every inch of the Eidgah in Tral, a ground measuring 18,500 sq m, twice the size of a soccer field, was filled. Outside, the roads were packed with more people struggling to get in.
Four big funeral prayers and nearly two dozen smaller ones were eventually held for the 22-year-old Wani, to accommodate the mourners. As at least two groups of militants joined the prayers, people crowded around them to provide them safe passage.
Wani was finally buried in the “martyrs’ cemetery” at the Eidgah at 3 pm.
Firdous Alam, 24, said he had left for Tral from Kokernag, 70 km away, the moment Wani’s death was confirmed. He took a lift to Awantipora, where a heavy contingent of police and the Army was blocking people from moving to Tral.
The thousands gathered there, including him, Alam said, took on the police, throwing stones and breaking the cordon, to continue to Tral. He had a smashed face and a bleeding nose by then, he said.
Wiping the blood away, Alam said, “Wani was our hero. Even if they had fired at us, we would not have stopped. We are ready to die for him and for azadi.”
“I have seen many militant funerals, of top commanders, but I have not seen anything like this before,” said a 28-year-old youth, who had come from Srinagar, 40 km away. “This is a carnival of martyrdom.”
Mosques along the route to Tral blared songs on loudspeakers eulogising “martyrdom” and jihad, while temporary stalls offered the mourners food and water for free.
Protesters in masks, some appearing as young as 10, guarded the tyres that were burnt to light up the roads after dark set in on Friday night and strong winds and rains snapped electricity.
With stones in hands, many set up own “checkpoints”. “Switch off your headlights, switch on cabin lights and move slowly,” they instructed the mourners who sat in vehicles, crawling through the crowds. Another one shouted, “Don’t throw a stone on any civilian vehicle.”
Nearer to Tral, the checkpoints disappeared, both of security forces and protesters. At one point, from atop a hillock where there is an Army camp, there was stone-pelting at some vehicles entering Tral.
The town spent all of Friday night awake, waiting for Wani’s body, with youth marching the streets and women preparing food for the mourners. Around midnight, the more than 4,000 people already in the town were served tehri, a mixture of rice, turmeric and oil.
At 2.25 am, Wani’s body arrived at his Shariefabad house, in a cavalcade of cars. The gathering burst into slogans of azadi. “Tum kitney Burhan maroge, har ghar se Burhan niklega (How many Burhans will you kill? Every home will produce a Burhan)”, “There is only one solution (to Kashmir issue), gun solution, gun solution”, they shouted.
People kept coming to pay their respects. At 6 am, Wani’s body, draped in a green flag, was taken in a procession to the Eidgah grounds. While men shouted slogans, women lined the road wailing, showering flowers and sweets.
Even after Wani had been buried on Saturday afternoon, people kept coming towards Tral. A large number of men, women and children took a longer route to the town through paddy fields, small alleys and streets to avoid the Army and CRPF.
Raja Begum, 70, walked with the help of a stick, stopping every five minutes to take a breath. “Look around, there are people older than me,” she said. “I want to have a last glimpse of Burhan sahib.”