On the day when a prized insurgent leader fell to the counter-insurgent operation along with his associate and aide, the Nallamar Road gave glimpses of the nineties when it would witness frequent massive funerals. But the departure of the commander who shared his last name with one of the pioneers of the armed uprising in Kashmir brought home uneasy memories and some hard truths.
At the twilight of October 17, as the commander along with his associate and confidant was taken to Srinagar’s Eidgah in a massive caravan for burial, a mourner blurted out: It’s a glimpse of our haunted past!
Some hours before, their safe house at a stone’s throw from a temple paramilitary camp—overlooking one of the seven bridges of the Old City, was busted with midnight offensive. By the daybreak, as the last gun fell silent, the smouldering rubble had left four bodies—not far from the spot, where Palhallan’s Hilal Molvi was gunned down on May 23, 2013.
Among the fallen was Lashker’s top gun Mehrajuddin Bangroo, his brother-in-arms, Faid Waza, and his friend Rayees Sofi.
But what exactly happened in the frozen night is still wrapped in smokescreen. However, for the military apparatus, it did turn out to be a ‘big shot in the arm’, despite ‘losing one of the boys’ in a gunfight.
By sunrise, the old city was mourning the demise of its sons, who till yesterday were part of its restricted rhythmic routine. But now, they had suffered a fatal end for seeking the ‘gun solution’ to Kashmir’s dogged dispute.
On its way to the city’s default martyrs’ graveyard, the funeral on frequently-barricaded Nallamar Road witnessed massive mourner march, invoking slogans and folksongs.
Women beat their chests on windowsills and sidewalks. Dirges drowned in intense cries for Kashmir’s solution to the lingering problem. The old men and the former sparkplugs of downtown watched in acute powerlessness. Three more sent to the soil, they sighed, too young, too soon.
The young men formed human chains around military installations: discipline amidst death.
The troopers had long retired to their barracks — some of them taking turns to glimpse the sea of sentiments on the streets through narrow bunker holes. The funeral seemed to have no end. Its ‘sea’ strength reminded many of JKLF’s first commander-in-chief Ashfaq Majeed Wani’s last ride to Eidgah in the early spring of 1990.
28 years later, as Bangroo became the talk of the town, his young associate’s mother at Khanyar’s Kaw Mohalla was numb with grief and shock. She was still asking—the way she asked early this March when her son left home for rebellion—‘Why did you lie to me, Faid Souba?’
The son was too quiet to answer his mother’s heartbreaking queries. The teen militant’s brief homecoming ended when he was mounted on a vehicle that soon took him for his final ride.
At Fateh Kadal, the curls of smoke and burnt air emanated from the residence turned rubble. The entire neighbourhood was stunned and sorrowful. The pre-dawn fireworks that they woke up to on Wednesday morning were too intense to be confused as some banned firecracker sounds in the city. It brought home the memories of those harrowing days of the nineties when such sudden gunshots would be a routine affair.
As the funeral entered the Eidgah, the fallen commander’s neighbour would tell people how the rebels used ropes in one last ditch effort to come down from the upper-storey during the gunfight. By then, the RPGs were already booming, he told the captive audience pouring in the chilly and dusky ground for prayers.
As daylight showed its face, DG police Dilbag Singh along with the top brass had turned up for the fallen counterinsurgent’s wreath laying ceremony in Srinagar. Singh hailed the operation as a “major success” for the military apparatus. Commander Bangroo, he said, was a big catch, given “his involvement in number of militant activities in Srinagar”. His demise “will give relief to the City from militancy”, the top cop said.
At Eidgah, even as the wave of restlessness gripped the mourners, the funeral prayers were taking time to begin. In small groups, the mourners were detailing the operation and its consequences. The tales of valour and violence were widespread.
Bangroo’s neighbours sat on the dusty ground under the dusky sky, rent with slogans, mainly coming from parched throats. They recalled the commander’s ties with the rebel ranks from early nineties, when “he had joined Mushtaq Zargar’s Al Umar”—the old city-centric militant outfit whose graffiti has resurfaced in the recent time. Later, they said, he joined Masrat Alam’s camp.
Eventually, as Bangroo surrendered and faced a decadal prison time, he came out as a commoner. “Then suddenly, in the spring of 2016, he left home to become an insurgent,” his neighbours said. His second time joining put him in the league of the fallen militant commanders, like Qayoom Najar and Yasin Yatoo—who had returned to the gun, after giving it up earlier.
As Lashkar-e-Toiba’s city commander, Bangroo regularly fared on the kill list of the army and its allied forces. In the last two years, the son of a well-to-do family from Fateh Kadal had become a militant catalyst—who for the police was the rebel recruiter in the city, and a trigger behind the Srinagar’s shifting sands on the militancy front.
Early this year when a “no-nonsense” son of a Kashmiri Wazwan chef disappeared from his Khanyar home and announced his Lashkar joining through a social media post, Bangroo was thought to be his potential recruiter. Their final end and subsequent farewell to arms vindicated that view.
“Bangroo’s family own two shopping complexes in Fateh Kadel market,” his childhood friend told the mourners inside Eidgah. “Even if he wouldn’t have done any work, he was well placed in life. But then, he had some other plans.”
Then as the commotion erupted from the funeral assembly, one of Bangroo’s tearful friends took a long look at the nearby cemetery packed with the fallen dreamers, cricketers, hippies, clerics, leaders, students, rebels…
“How much will this cemetery take for Masla-e-Kashmir,” Bangroo’s young friend wondered, and broke into tears. “It has apparently run out of space now. They’re possibly looking for some vacant corner to bury these three new grave entrants there. That’s why they’re perhaps taking time to start his funeral prayers.”
Finally when public addressing system came alive, the funeral prayers concluded and the fallen were lowered into their freshly dug-up graves amid shrieks and slogans.
The martyrs’ cemetery that early this year lost its age-old custodian—who had buried over 1500 bodies in it since early nineties—only fattened with the new arrivals.
Far from the jostling crowd in the cemetery, a group of women mourners walked back home on the deserted and dark Nallamar Road.
Their haunting dirges echoed with downtown’s murky and weathered structures housing the battered natives. The residents responded with an unsettled, haunting silence. Perhaps, the mourner was right. It was indeed a glimpse of their haunted past!
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