To bury a martyr is not a thing to be forgotten

Irfan Meraj

 A beautiful winding stretch of road leads to Atta   Mohammad’s home in Boniyar, Uri. The beautiful landscape is in sharp contrast to what it holds beneath. Atta Mohammad died a week ago at his home after a prolonged illness. The sole gravedigger of his village for several decades till his death, Atta was carried to the bosom of the earth plaintively by his loved ones, who include the whole village and the villages after that.

Beneath the earth where the roots of three Walnut trees meet, Atta Mohammad lies buried. I offer him a fateha in my broken half-remembered Arabic.

A short uphill walk away from where Atta Mohammad lies buried is the graveyard of the unknown martyrs of Kashmiri struggle. 235 of them, Atta Mohammad had counted and preserved. On some of the identified graves, name plates have been installed. Javed Iqbal Khan, Shopain. Bashir Ahmad Dar, Baramulla. Farooq Ahmad Sufi, Pulwama. All of them laid to rest by Atta Mohammad.

How did they remember the graves of the identified men when their families came searching for them. “We kept their details in our memory. Their physical description, the clothes they were wearing or some articles they were carrying,” Atta’s son Manzoor Ahmad Khan told me.

“We could not have forgotten. To bury a martyr is not a thing to be forgotten,” says Manzoor, who vividly remembers the nights when his father and he dug graves for the martyred men brought to them by police and Indian soldiers.

“They always came in the silence of the night with torn bodies of one or more men,” he says. The oppressor fears the light of the day, I wonder. The oppressor is afraid of being found.

There is no faltering in memory when memory is the sole weapon of the oppressed. This is demonstrated by Manzoor when he recounts the first time and the last time he helped his father dig graves for the martyred men. He doesn’t falter. He remembers it like yesterday. It’s interesting how memory, which is often fragmented, stands as the greatest affront against occupation of Kashmir.

As we solemnly speak of the bodies underneath the mass graveyard, an oft repeated phrase Khoon diy Baarav meaning Blood will speak comes up. It occurs to me that in the struggle for Azadi, we are not alone – the dead are alongside us. The disappeared too, for the disappearance of the man is proof that he existed, that he resisted the occupation. The mass graveyard of the martyr’s in this small village of Tchahal in Bomiyar is the living challenge to the occupation which it cannot ever wipe out.

In his modest home at the edge of a road, little children mill about with roosters. The mourning of their grandfather lost on their innocent minds. A tall bearded man greets us as we enter Khan’s living room. Atta Mohammad’s legacy is talked about.

“His name will be remembered alongside the martyr’s. While living he earned himself a place in Jannah by offering last rites to the martyr’s and gave them an honourable burial,” the neighbour says.

Manzoor speaks of carrying forward the legacy of his father by remaining true to the Kashmiri struggle. “My father is a great example before me. I would be honoured to carry forward his legacy,” he says.

Atta Mohammad was the last dead person to be buried in his village. The role of the new gravedigger seems unmistakably to be taken by Manzoor, Atta’s young son.

Irfan Meraj is a journalist based in Kashmir.

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