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Contesting Indian Sovereignty in Kashmir

Gendered Politics of Funerary Processions

On 8 July 2016, Kashmiri militant Burhan Wani was killed by the Indian army, setting in motion unprecedented funerary processional grieving. Using accounts of funerals of militants and civilians, gendered funerary processions and the transformation of gendered cultures of grieving in Kashmir have been analysed. It is argued that women’s participation in the militant and civilian funerary processions is a feminist political formulation in the Kashmiri context. This is understood through a review of the politics of funeral attendance and two specific actions that women undertake: publicising grief by bringing the private out into the contested public realm, thus outdoing religious law, and resisting the state’s sovereignty by grieving for lives that the state deems “non-grievable.”

In 2016, several huge funeral processions were held for a 22-year-old Kashmiri militant, Burhan Wani. Thousands of people walked several miles from different parts of Kashmir to the streets and alleyways of Tral (Wani’s hometown) leading to impromptu mass funeral processions (Qadri and Shah 2016). The mourners were fired upon by the Indian army, killing hundreds of funeral-goers, blinding thousands of mourners, and, in effect, criminalising public mourning (PTI 2016). The entire Kashmir Valley would be threatened by cyclical targeted violence for several months to come. The colossal moment of Wani’s death and many of these spectacle funeral processions that followed, raised questions about the nature, culture, and history of public mourning in Kashmir, and challenged the cogency of the Indian state’s sovereignty claim (Mathur 2016). Why were so many people willing to die just to be able to mourn someone whom the Indian authorities had declared a “terrorist?”

The answers that were offered by the Indian government were mostly inadequate. The national media kept circulating the state’s official stance of holding Pakistan responsible for a mourning that was essentially indigenous. The Indian media repeatedly informed us that Pakistan was implanting ideologies of terrorism, which created troubled and dangerous people like Wani and those who were grieving his death (Hindu 2016). The mourners were dubbed as misguided juveniles or deemed to be under the influence of foreign propaganda. However, these assertions were insufficient, because they offered no understanding of how such political figures were fashioned and why those grieving for them encountered fatal violence at the hands of Indian troops? Moreover, the complexity of the situation was visible when women too, in large numbers, attended these prohibited funerals. All this immediately pointed to the inadequacy of the official narratives.

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Updated On : 8th Dec, 2018

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