A million deaths might be a statistic, but each one is a tragedy. Syed Shahriyar poignantly captures the agonising funeral of a civilian in the village of Shah-Gund in Kashmir.
Crossing villages in the dark is not unusual for a journalist, especially in Kashmir. But the all-pervasive fear is such that it almost feels that you are out there for the first time, walking in unknown regions. As a photojournalist working in the grief torn valley of Kashmir, I have covered the conflict and its effects on people and society. This was one such funeral; one more funeral in conflict-ridden Kashmir. Farhat Ahmad Dar, a civilian was allegedly killed during a firing incident after protests in the Naid Khai area of North Kashmir.
As young photographers going to cover the tragedy, we constantly kept talking to each other to lift our hopes up. Driving through the deserted roads during the night, we reached the martyr’s village. We entered the small one-story house where people were mourning. Women were lamenting; Farhat’s relatives thought we were there for them, to get justice for Farhat, whose body was kept covered in a red blanket.
As a photojournalist I have shot stone-pelting, police firing and other incidents in Kashmir. But shooting a boy with a stone in his hand taking the moral high ground against armed personnel, and shooting a martyr’s funeral are quite different. On other assignments we quickly pull our camera out and start the shoot. Things were different that day. We sat with the mourners for a moment. I forgot what I had come for. It dawned on me a little later that I was mourning too.
The next morning, looking through the window of the house, I took my first picture of the funeral. People were carrying the body amid pro-freedom slogans: “Shaheed gow, shaheed gow, Farhat shaheed gow” (Farhat is a martyr). The tears in their eyes of the mourners merged with the tiny drops of rain, which were falling from a dull spring sky. The procession moved through the muddy lanes carrying the body on their shoulders. The body of a lone son to his father and a dear friend to his neighbors moved towards the ultimate site of rest.
The bereavement cannot be described in words. Everyone was in tears – the men, the women and the children. Each had his own story of sorrow. The death was mourned in many ways – while some had lost a friend, a little boy his brother, an old woman her grandson, and the entire village, their Farhat. People took turns, carrying the coffin on their shoulders. The funereal prayers for Farhat were to be held at a local school compound.
While the school doors remained shut and people waited for the doors to open, the heavens waited to take Farhat in, one of the mourners said.