Burhan Muzaffar Wani's funeral procession on July 9 in his native town Tral of South Kashmir. Photograph by Fahad Shah
The political narrative of Kashmir has been taken over by its tech savvy youth, which is visible in the on going uprising that erupted after the killing of 22-year-old local popular rebel commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani. The Valley is prone to demonstrations and months long uprisings but the parameters of this uprising are largely distinctive. Equally, it seems the impact will be stronger and unique.
Since 2010 when 15-year-old Wani had become a militant of Hizbul Mujahideen outfit and later its commander, his popularity swelled at high pace. Wani’s charm for his generation and use of new means to run the armed rebellion had made him a household name in Kashmir – a hero of the new-age militancy. He vehemently used social media and recruited local Kashmiri boys, turning the rebellion into homegrown movement.
In his death, Wani turned into a Kashmiri leader when tens of thousands of people gathered for his last rites on July 9 despite curfew. The spot where his body was found became a demarcated holy spot – with visitors showering flowers, and people taking handful of soil from his grave to preserve it in his memory. People were visiting to see where did his physical journey ended and spiritual one began, to strengthen their own political journeys. Wani has become soul of larger political sentiment among young Kashmiris.
The effects of his absence are immortal. The youth’s rage that has filled tear-gas smelling deserted streets of Kashmir for more than three months now shows where does people’s hearts lie. It is a failure of India’s mission to “win hearts and minds” of people. In the uprising, government forces have used live bullets and lead pellets, which killed 90 civilians, injured more than 13,000 and still continue. At least 1000 youth have received pellet injuries in eyes; many of them lost eyesight in both or one eye. All this loss and anger is for a local militant whose impact on people – mostly youth, intensified after his death.
Wani leaves behind Kashmir filled with viral anti-India anger and a large section of youth who are ready to face bullets, if it means defying Indian rule. In the current wave, even the pro-freedom leaders like Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Yasin Malik and Syed Ali Geelani had earlier visibly lost control over spontaneous demonstrations. It was after they issued protest calendars and structured the protests that people are following them. However, with continuous shutdowns some sections of the society demand an alternative to shutdowns. The government tried to talk to these leaders to stop the demonstrations but failed to achieve any goal.
The lack of political will to deal with Kashmir, as a political dispute is one major reason why there is no peace. People of Kashmir are out on streets not because Wani was killed, who was on a path that leads to death, but for the political aspirations pending for decades. It is a new generation, unlike the one in 1990s, which has taken the task of countering Indian narratives. At this time, the government has continued with its policy of crushing the dissent with the highest possible force, including shooting at civilians. Nearly 7000 people have been arrested. Prominent human rights activist Khurram Parvez has been booked under draconian Public Safety Act and put in jail. Many leaders are booked under the same and sent to prisons. The government’s brutal policy was obvious when they banned the daily newspaper Kashmir Reader, citing reasons that its content could incite violence. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out government led by Mehbooba Mufti has reached to a point of dictatorship. Such a policy has only yielded more distrust, violence and anger among the masses.
There is no absolute end to people’s sentiments by policing, blaming Pakistan and war mongering. With Kashmir’s situation and history, India has to start talking to people of Kashmir sooner or later. By denying political space India is anyway piling up the wood for its coffin in Kashmir. On ground one could sense, the current uprising is believed to be a prelude to a much stronger wave of defiance, including new-age militancy, in which bloodshed is inevitable.
It is Wani who has become a symbol for this defiance – a hero, who epitomizes each individual’s struggle. Streets of the valley resemble that of a war – the people’s war for nationhood and homeland. Without a political resolution to this war one could only expect symbols of state up in flames in near future. For people here, the regional government, police and soldiers, represent a State structure – the power, which is hated and distrusted for, that is what precipitates rebellion.
Ahead of this uprising, anger was brewing within people since the regional People’s Democratic Party (PDP) twice joined an alliance with the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) after 2014 elections. People have not forgiven the PDP for opening floodgates of communal politics, which is represented by the BJP across India. The coming years seem to be the post-prelude period for Kashmir, when the uncontrolled youth will decide how to deal with this complex politics.
Kashmir may be a heaven on earth but ignoring its people’s political aspirations has lit the heaven on fire. It has to be seen how much will this fire turn into ashes before India, Pakistan and the world starts finding a political solution to this post-partition lingering conflict.
Fahad Shah is the Founding Editor of The Kashmir Walla magazine. Follow @pzfahad