Keepers of jehadi graveyard have not buried poll hopes
15 September 2002
The Indian Express
Kitchama (baramulla): In this North Kashmir village, the script for the classic J&K Assembly Elections 2002 story—of a lingering separatist sentiment mingling with the desire for change through the ballot box—lies buried in the graveyard. It’s the only graveyard in the Valley where foreign militants—59 in all—are buried. The jehadi graveyard committee is headed by the village sarpanch, who also happens to be a senior National Conference functionary. In fact, Mohammad Yousuf Malik’s eldest son was killed by security forces, and he has been arrested in the past on the charge of supporting militants. ‘‘The militants buried here are from places as far as Afghanistan and Sudan,’’ said 28-year-old Mohammed Yousuf, who looks after the graveyard. ‘‘Baramulla residents wanted to bury these militants in their town, but the local police accepted our request to bring them here instead since we would bury them silently, without creating trouble.’’ A J&K Government employee, Yousuf has been arrested in the past for his militant links. Yet, he said that the 2002 Assembly elections have his vote. ‘‘Because we don’t think voting harms our cause. Our sarpanch may be the NC’s deputy block president, but that hasn’t changed anything.’’ Sarpanch Malik is credited with having rehabilitated many village youths after they served their jail terms. His Personal Security Officer, 25-year-old Ghulam Mohammad Ganai, is a former Al-Jehad militant who was jailed for 14 months. Hope co- exists with anger among the 250 families here as the first phase of the Assembly elections gets set to roll. Anger because there’s hardly anybody in this village who doesn’t support the separatist cause, and because eight village youths who turned militants were killed by security forces. And hope, because of the emergence of proxy candidates on the election radar—supported by none other than Abdul Gani Lone’s Peoples Conference, a Hurriyat Conference member. ‘‘We didn’t vote in 1996 and look what happened,’’ said Kitchama resident Abdul Rasheed. ‘‘A government was formed but we got no benefits. How could we approach politicians for help after we boycotted the polls?’’ But isn’t there an inherent contradiction between the ‘‘azadi’’ demand and elections? ‘‘Azadi has nothing to do with these elections,’’ said Rasheed. ‘‘Dozens of village youths have no jobs. You have seen the state of our road. We also need somebody to help us deal with security forces. We are not for the National Conference, but we’ll vote because Malik wants us to. And we know he’s a good man.’’ To be sure, Kitchama has its fair share of anti- election sentiment. ‘‘I will never vote. Not even if the Hurriyat contests. We have not sacrificed thousands of lives for our leaders to grab power,’’ said Irshad Ahmad Sheikh, a 24-year-old private school teacher whose father and militant brother were reportedly killed by security forces. Another of his brothers is in prison. ‘‘But I have no grudge against anybody who wants to vote,’’ he added.