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Kashmiri Shia mourn India patriot

By Altaf Hussain
BBC News, Dub, Indian-administered Kashmir

Shabir Ahmed Malik's funeral
Normally such public outpourings of grief are expressed only for dead militants

The funeral north of Srinagar in Indian-administered Kashmir was just like those of countless others who have died violently over the past 20 years.

A Muslim killed in the insurgency was laid to rest in his ancestral graveyard in the village of Dub, north of Srinagar, on Tuesday, surrounded by thousands of mourners.

What made the ceremony unusual was that this was no militant who had died fighting the Indian army.

This was a Kashmiri who served with the Indian army and died fighting the militants.

Shabir Ahmed Malik was among eight Indian soldiers killed in a gun battle earlier this week with separatist militants in Kupwara.

'Pained'

Over the past two decades, hundreds of Kashmiris have died while fighting for India.

Indian army and police officers carry the coffin of Shabir Ahmed Malik
Mr Malik was a dedicated soldier of the Indian army

Among them are police officials and Ikhwanis, or "renegade" militants who have been persuaded or coerced - depending on who you believe - to abandon militancy and instead work for the Indian security forces. Most Ikhwanis were or are pariahs.

But Shabir, 21, joined the Indian army after passing his 12th class examination. He studied at the Sainik (army) School at Ganderbal.

Shabir's family and neighbours are proud of his army service.

"He has become a hero. He died an honourable death. I am so happy, although I am also pained at his separation," says Mohammad Yasin, a neighbour and friend of the dead man.

Mr Yasin says he still regrets not being able to join the Indian army with Shabir.

"I too went with him that day. But only three boys were selected. I was not taken because I was over age. I still feel so bad about it.

"Even now, I have a passionate desire to do something for my country like Shabir has done."

Mr Yasin says that the moving send-off given to Shabir has inspired many more youths in the village to join the army.

'Fulfilled'

"I am 28," says Showkat Ahmed. "I have never in my life seen such a funeral. Such death is pride-worthy."

Mourners at  Shabir Ahmed Malik's funeral
Mr Malik's village showed huge pride in his army service

Such well-attended funerals are usually the preserve of militants killed by Indian troops.

Shabir's body was kept outside the "imambara" (Shia place of worship) and the villagers mourned beside it.

They beat their chests but unlike at the funerals of militants there was no slogan shouting.

The fact the villagers are minority Shia may in part explain their pro-India loyalties. Kashmir's insurgency over the past two decades has mostly been waged by Sunni militants.

Part of the Shia community has stayed away from the separatist campaign, although some leaders of the separatist movement do belong to the Shias.

The coffin was draped in India's tricolour before it was carried to the graveyard.

Shabir's brother, Ghiulam Mohammad, says: "I wanted him to become a doctor. But he had a passion for joining the army and was determined to complete his graduation so he could become an army officer.

"He was patriotic from his childhood. He wanted to do something for his country. His ambition has been fulfilled."

The villagers have been sharing the family's grief as well as its pride in what Shabir fought for.

"Every family here is bereaved. Every family is mourning," one villager said.



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