They are my martyrs and I am their custodian


Arif Nazir


Habibullah Khan, the keeper-poet of the martyr’s graveyard opening the gate

Habibullah Khan, the gravedigger and custodian of Mazar-e-Shohada at Eid Gah Srinagar has passed away. He left for his heavenly abode on July 19 2018.  Khan Sahab leaves behind two daughters and a son and a touching legacy of his service to the Kashmiri nation. In the early 90s as the state violence escalated in Kashmir, Khan Sahab devoted his life to dig graves for the martyrs and bury them. He gave up his hardware and electrical store business at Rajouri Kadal, Srinagar to be the custodian of the graveyard for rest of his life


Habibullah Khan, the keeper-poet of the martyr’s graveyard reciting prayers

Khan Sahab would spend most of his time, be it sun, shower and snow – cleaning the epitaphs, bird droppings, watering the flowers and repairing graves. For almost 3 decades the martyr’s graveyard had become a second home to Khan Sahab. His single story home was only meters away from the cemetery. In an interview,  some 10 months back Khan Sahab told me: “I must have buried almost 1500 people and I remember most of them. We have a 105-year-old man buried here who was killed at his home and also the grave of 2-year-old Saqib Bashir”.


Habibullah Khan, the keeper-poet of the martyr’s graveyard reflecting on the martyrs he has buried

Khan Sahab has dug graves for some top resistance leaders including Mirwaiz Maulana Mohammad Farooq, Abdul Gani Lone, Advocate Jaleel Andrabi, and militant leaders like Ishfaq Majeed Wani, Mohammad Abdullah Bangroo, Abdul Hameed Sheikh and many others. Khan Sahab also dug the two graves that are important for Kashmiris; these belong to Mohammad Maqbool Bhat and Mohammad Afzal Guru both of whom were hanged at Delhi’s Tihar jail in 1984 and 2013 respectively. They graves are empty and waiting.

Khan Sahab would never charge a single penny to anyone for his service even though he faced a lot of financial difficulties. He believed that he was chosen by God to carry this work and he was proud of it.  The work Khan Sahab did with such care and concern took a toll on his health. Even then as a routine Khan Sahab would always spend an hour at the graveyard and recite prayers for the departed. In my meetings with him, I would always see his face reflect some ‘beyond the comprehension’ bond with those martyrs. He would say: “they are my martyrs and I am their custodian.”

Even though Khan Sahab was unlettered he had written a eulogy to the fallen that he would recite often. I reproduce the eulogy below with translation:


Shohada, che lalliven mein naar-i-bissar

Zaani jigar meyoon

Balli katti, halli aam doulle khanjar

Zaani jigar meyoon

Haa aeshi matou, toeh kyazi roouthew

Rubban myen thewnav jantikyan baagan menz

Eas demav na chaak jaaman, pai taa sarr

Zaani jigar meyoon

Habib chukh na intizaaras

Khidmatgar chukh na che intizaras

Pyaraan chus yem shohada heath rasool-e-khudaisindis Deedaras

Deedar dettam teuttie chuma mein bass

Nanni waani chem paami dewaan

Zaani jigar meyoon

Shohada, che lalliven mein naari bissar

Zaani jigar meyoon

Balli katti, halli aam doulle khanjar

Zaani jigar meyoon

I cradle the martyrs,

a burning fire within me

My heart knows the pain


I will not be healed

the dagger has wounded me badly

My heart knows the pain


Oh, romantics, why did you become upset?

Lord has placed you in the gardens of heaven

My heart knows the pain


Why should we not tear our robes

My heart knows the pain


Habib is waiting,

the helper is waiting

I am waiting with these martyrs for the vision of Rasool-e-Khoda (Peace be upon him)

Bless us with your vision, that is enough for me

The world has turned its back

My heart knows the pain


Arif Nazir is a Srinagar based journalist working with Free Press Kashmir. He has a Masters degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Kashmir University. Read an older feature on Habibullah Khan by him on Free Press Kashmir here


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