Photo Essays | Security | South Asia

Kashmir: From Encounter to Funeral

Photos of rebels and civilians in disputed Kashmir, where violence continues to climb.

By Zafar Dar for
Kashmir: From Encounter to Funeral

A man looking at the debris of house that was destroyed on May 24 this year by Indian forces in South Kashmir’s Dadsara village.

Credit: Zafar Dar
Kashmir: From Encounter to Funeral

Kashmiri people carrying the body of Zakir Rashid Bhat, alias “Musa,” founder of a local rebel outfit Ansar Gazawatul Hind, who was killed in a gunfight with Indian forces on May 24, 2019.

Credit: Zafar Dar
Kashmir: From Encounter to Funeral

A women wails during the funeral of Burhan Ahmad at S.K colony Anantnag. He was killed along with his associate in a gunfight at Bijbehara.

Credit: Zafar Dar
Kashmir: From Encounter to Funeral

Ayesha sits with her mother inside the living room of their house, Her father Zeenat ul Islam, a rebel commander, was killed on January 12 in a gunfight with government forces.

Credit: Zafar Dar
Kashmir: From Encounter to Funeral

Kashmiri villagers visit the scene of a house destroyed during a gunfight at Pinglana village of Pulwama district.

Credit: Zafar Dar
Kashmir: From Encounter to Funeral

Muhammad Muqeem Bhat was a student of class 12 in Arts who was killed in a blast near an encounter site at Laroo village of Kulgam. , Muqeem’s younger brother, Adnan, pictured here — a student of 10th class — confided in a low voice that “around 10 a.m, Muqeem split his cup of tea into two and at the same time the news of the encounter being concluded broke. He along with other locals went to see the encounter site but returned dead.”

Credit: Zafar Dar
Kashmir: From Encounter to Funeral

Rebels appeared in the funeral of Hizbul Mujahideen’s top rebel commander, Sabzar Ahmad Sofi, at Sangam Village of Anantnag on October 24, 2018. He was a Ph.D. scholar who joined Hizbul Mujahideen after the killing of popular rebel commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani.

Credit: Zafar Dar
Kashmir: From Encounter to Funeral

A man injured by pellet shot showing the sign of victory at District hospital Anantnag on April 1, 2018. That day also marked the bloodiest day of the year, as 21 people were killed in a single day during three separate encounters between government forces and rebels.

Credit: Zafar Dar
Kashmir: From Encounter to Funeral

Indian forces moving toward an encounter site at Imamsahib Shopain on May 3, 2019. Three top commanders were killed in the encounter, including Latif Ahmad (alias Tiger) who was the last surviving rebel of Burhan Wani’s group.

Credit: Zafar Dar
Kashmir: From Encounter to Funeral

Civilians carrying an injured man during the funeral of a rebel at Sangam Anantnag.

Credit: Zafar Dar
Kashmir: From Encounter to Funeral

A scene of clashes between masked boys and Indian forces (not pictured) near the historic Jamia masjid in the downtown area of Srinagar.

Credit: Zafar Dar
Kashmir: From Encounter to Funeral

Locals touching the shoes of a local rebel at Pulwama village during a funeral.

Credit: Zafar Dar

The Himalayan region of Kashmir, one of the most militarized regions in the world, is claimed by both India and Pakistan, who each administer parts of it. On August 5, the Indian government withdrew provisions granting autonomy under Article 370 of the national Constitution and divided the Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories to be controlled by the federal government.

In Indian-administrated Kashmir, this conflict is taking a heavy toll on Kashmiri lives and the ever-increasing number of fatalities consists largely of Kashmiri youth. According to reports, more than 1,500 people were killed  in the last three  years, including 700 rebels, 430 civilians, and 388 Indian security personnel.

More and more young boys are joining the armed resistance against Indian rule, with some reports saying at least 300 youth have turned into rebels since the killing of Burhan Wani, a charismatic rebel commander, in July 2016.  Many believe it was his killing that triggered a wave of  protests and prompted many boys to pick up gun.

The encounters have taken a toll on the local populace, financially, mentally, and physically, as civilian deaths over the years near encounter sites has increased manifold.

Last year alone was one of the deadliest years in Kashmir’s recent history. According to data from the Annual Human Rights Review produced by JKCCS, a Kashmir-based monitoring group, violence in 2018 claimed some 586 lives, which included 160 civilians, 267 rebels, and 159 members of the Indian armed forces. In addition, as many as 120 civilian houses were either completely destroyed or partially damaged when set ablaze by Indian forces during the counterinsurgency operations.

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These counterinsurgency operations are shredding the very fabric of Kashmiri lives and turning out to be an absolute horror for the local populace.

Such operations are frequent.  Almost once in a week an encounter ensues between a well-equipped, well-entrenched counterinsurgency force (such as the Special Operations Group, Rashtriya Rifles, and the Central Reserve Police Force) and the rebels.

These encounters, which last from hours to days, generally end with the security forces using incendiary explosives to blow up the building in which the rebels are holed up. Some of these lethal explosives remain unexploded near the encounter site; locals allege they are deliberately left undefused even after the encounter is called off successfully.

Encounters between rebels and Indian government forces are daily news and the local population does not shy away from expressing its support for the armed struggle. People here say that a new wave of local rebellion is gathering strength in Kashmir.

Instead of creating fear, encounters enact the idea of martyrdom in the Valley. They are usually followed by the vast public funerals that have become a familiar sight by now. At the same time, the demonstrations have changed the dynamic between civilians and government forces. Some even say the burning down of houses is a statement to the public that they should refrain from sheltering the local rebels and stop supporting them. It is a violent message being delivered to the common public of Kashmir.

Zafar Dar is a freelance photojournalist based in Kashmir.