Daanish Bin Nabi reports on what’s going on in the valley since news broke out that rebel commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani has been killed in an encounter
On July 08, 2016, while Kashmiris were still in a celebratory mood after Eid, at around 05:00 pm in the evening, news of an “encounter underway’’ started to spread. It was taking place in the remote village of Bumdoora in the Kokernag sub-district of south Kashmir. Everyone in the valley took the news lightly when they first heard it.
Encounters between the Indian army and the militants are commonplace in Kashmir. What most of Kashmir did not know then was that the young, 22-year-old, Hizb-ul-Mujahiddin commander, Burhan Muzaffar Wani was also trapped by the forces.
By 08:00 pm, the news of his killing spread like wildfire. Many did not believe that Wani was dead and rubbished the claims. By the time Jammu & Kashmir Police released the encounter pictures of Wani and his two associates on social media, Kashmir was already on the streets protesting against the killing of their hero. Not only was there stone pelting throughout Kashmir but also almost all mosques in the valley reverberated with “Azadi” songs on their loudspeakers long into the night.
The fear among my family members was quite visible. It was a difficult night for all as memories of the 2010 mass agitation and 130 young lives lost were still vivid in collective memory. We did not go to bed until 1:00 am, by this time, almost every public address system had fallen silent. An eerie silence prevailed and we felt haunted by the bloody ghosts of conflict. A light drizzle started and people spoke of the heavens weeping for Wani. In less than twenty four hours, Wani’s death was already part of folklore.
I had traveled to my hometown, the volatile Sopore, to celebrate Eid with my family a few days earlier. When I heard the news of the encounter, I tried to reach Tral, Wani’s native town, in the dead of the night. I called five drivers but everyone refused to travel as they feared getting beaten by the Indian Army. While I remained stuck in Sopore, a photojournalist colleague, Shauib Masoodi, who works for the Indian Express and resides in the Bandipora district was on his way to Tral. By 1 am, Masoodi was there. “All of Tral is on the roads. I have parked my vehicle five kilometers away from Burhan’s home and I am on foot. People are everywhere. Tral is reverberating with Azadi songs,” he said.
At 3:30 am I tried to call Masoodi again but to no avail. By this time, mobile services had been snapped in the entire Pulwama district.
I am yet to hear from my friend. Hope he is fine and out of trouble.
There were apprehensions that authorities may not give Wani’s dead body back to his family but all the speculations were laid to rest as his corpse reached Shareefabad (his hometown) at 4 am. It was decided that his burial would take place in the Eidgah ground, Tral.
Every road in Kashmir was leading to Tral.
The funeral ground was already full while Wani’s body was still at Shareefabad. People were raising pro Azadi, pro Wani and anti-India slogans. Women too joined the funeral and sang traditional songs eulogising Wani. The Nimaz-e-Jinaza was scheduled for 11.30 am but the situation soon turned out of control and many separate Jinazas were offered as people kept pouring in huge numbers.
Reportedly, more than 40 separate funeral prayers were offered while everyone was trying to have a last glimpse of the hero that was deemed a martyr. The news agency IANS reported that more than 20,000 people turned up for the funeral, the actual figure was much higher than the one presented, with at least 2,00,000 people in attendance.
Key separatist leaders including Mirwaiz Muhammad Farooq and Muhammad Yasin Malik were placed under house arrest to prevent them from relocating to Tral to attend the funeral or join the prayers in absentia announced in Srinagar and elsewhere in the Valley. Senior Staff Correspondent at The Tribune, Azhar Qadri, who attended Burhan’s funeral, wrote on his Facebook profile, “It was undoubtedly the largest in the last decade. My estimate: 1.5 to 2 lac attendance.”
At 2:00 pm on July 09, Wani was yet to be buried as the humongous rush of people kept on piling in.
Farewell to a Comrade
While the chaos at Wani’s funeral had just begun, his comrade friends, dozens of militants appeared in Eidgah to pay last respects to him. Rising Kashmir reported, “The armed militants appeared at the funeral venue to pay homage to their slain commander. People also jostled on seeing them. They also fired in air while his body was kept at his home. Three Nimaz-e-Jinazas have already been offered.”
However, this phenomenon of appearing at a comrade’s funeral is not new. In the past too when a militant was killed, many others came to have a last look.
Wani’s comrades also participated in the last rites. The militants fired volleys in the air to honour their young commander who was seen as a poster boy of new age militancy. Such honouring ceremonies were a routine during militant funerals in early ’90s when armed insurgency was at its peak in Kashmir.
Absentia funeral prayers were also offered at Baramulla, Sopore, Srinagar, Anantnag, Shopian, Kulgam and Qaimoh.
“Exactly 13 rows of 37-40 people each offered nimaz-e-jinaza for Burhan at Bemina. Before these people got ready for the prayers, the soft-voiced molvi sahab reminded them of what a martyr means: ‘’Allah makes it obligatory upon himself to grant them the highest place in Jannat…..still, the martyrs are dissatisfied. When Allah asks them why, they tell Him that nothing is more rewarding than the fight against the untruth…’you send us to earth again so that we are martyred again and then again’….that a man is blessed if 40 people are present at his funeral and imagine how blessed Burhan is when the entire Valley is one big nimaz-e-Jinaza for him,” wrote senior journalist Mir Hilal on Facebook.
Burhan the New Hero
What does Wani’s death mean for Kashmir and its youth? I was struggling with this question when my uncle gave me an insight into the answer I was so desperately seeking. “Ashfaq Majeed Wani, the legendary Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front commander, was an iconic figure and inspiration for many Kashmiri youth in the 1990s. In the same manner, Burhan can be a catalyst for this generation to take up the arms against India,” he said.
Ashfaq Majeed Wani was 23 when he was killed by Indian forces. Wani was a year younger.
Even when Wani was alive, he inspired many Kashmiri youth to join the resistance against Indian rule. Son of a school principal, he belonged to a relatively well-off family and left home at the age of 15 to pick up arms against the Indian state. He was open about his views and very vocal on social media. He also didn’t hide his identity unlike the faceless militants of yore. He spoke of torture at the hands of the police and the Indian Army. Of lost dignity and the right to live free. All things that the young boys of the valley related to.
Will his death make matters worse? Only time will tell.
The former chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir wrote this on Twitter, “Mark my words – Burhan’s ability to recruit in to militancy from the grave will far outstrip anything he could have done on social media.” He also said that Kashmir’s disaffected people – dissatisfied in governing authority – got a “new icon” yesterday. “After many years I hear slogans for ‘Azadi’ resonate from the mosque in my uptown Srinagar locality.”
About 60 per cent of Kashmir’s population is below the age of 30. The situation is now in the hands of the government and security agencies of Kashmir, as well as New Delhi. What they do next to tackle the issue and how they do it is what determines the future. From what it looks like, Wani’s killing will fuel the deep sense of alienation that has only grown since 1947.
Authorities lock-down Kashmir
As the news of Wani’s demise spread, authorities tried to lock-down all of Kashmir.
The ongoing examinations of the University of Kashmir and Jammu Kashmir Board have been postponed for an indefinite period. There is a curfew-like situation in the valley and the ongoing Amarnath Yatra has also been suspended as authorities apprehend more protests. The entire Hurriyat leadership has been put under house arrest, or are lodged in different jails across Kashmir. Mobile internet services across the state have been suspended, while mobile telephone services have also been restricted in south Kashmir. The train services between Baramulla in Kashmir and Banihal across the Pir Panjal mountain range have also been suspended.
Clashes in Kashmir
Clashes between police and the people erupted in Baramulla, Palhalan and Bandipore in north Kashmir following Wani’s death. Thousands of youth took to streets in Baramulla town and tried to attack the Police Station. Situation turned worse in Bandipora, where Police resorted to aerial firing when a group of youth tried to attack a police post near Nishat garden. The situation was well defined by a colleague, Yusuf Jameel,who wrote the following message on Facebook, “deafening sound of exploding teargas canisters and stun grenades. Masjid loudspeakers blaring ‘Tresh ma lajji Burhano’ (Burhan, you may be feeling thirsty). Sights and smells reminiscent of early 1990s. May God have mercy upon us.”
As I file this report from my office in Srinagar, siren buzzing ambulances carrying the injured youth from different parts of bruised paradise are on way to Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital, or SMHS Hospital, or Headwin Hospital.
Kashmir is bleeding once again.
It is morning now and 15 more youth have fallen to the bullets of armed forces, while 200 have been injured. It seems the Burhan syndrome is showing its colours.