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A Year After Burhan Wani’s Death, I See A New Life In Kashmir’s Freedom Struggle

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On July 8, 2016, a picture was released of the young local rebel commander Burhan Wani, blood soaring from his mouth. Near a butcher counter, where after July 8 last year, even ‘meat had become a luxury’, people were notified about the martyrdom of the slain commander with a warning: this was the dawn of a new war.

Out of the hush came an orchestral part, thundering with drums, as networks vanished from the phone screens. This farcical system acts with a restless hurry against any potential ‘plots’ and ‘betrayals’. Hours later, oppressed youth, who had found a spokesperson in Burhan, flocked the main hospital in Islamabad on trucks, bicycles, cars, two-wheelers – possibly everything they could find.

I mutely viewed the commencement of a new uprising as we raised our arms to the jingling slogans of these committed comrades. The entire night, people remained awake. On the roads, they agitated, sloganeered and wept the death of the 21-year-old rebel commander. The tidal wave of protests was an indicator of the frustration against an incompetent system and anger over its representatives, who are plagued by arrogance, misinformation and a lust for power.

Burhan Muzaffar Wani, the armed rebel who was martyred on July 8, 2016, was a young man in his early twenties and a brilliant student. He joined the Hizbul Mujahideen group to take part in the armed struggle in Kashmir, after being humiliated by Indian forces. Burhan became a poster boy for the movement in a very short span of time. He gave a new momentum to the armed struggle, using social media as an effective tool to get more young people to join.

His popularity among the youth of Kashmir became the biggest headache for the Indian security and intelligence establishments. Burhan Wani may not have been very effective in carrying out attacks on Indian forces but he was very effective in drawing more and more people towards the armed struggle. According to the government’s reports, several young men had joined armed groups after Burhan took arms. The Indian government, out of frustration, had announced a bounty of ₹1 million on him.

The 21-year-old commander redefined the armed struggle in Kashmir. Burhan was the only popular commander in Kashmir after Ashfaq Majeed Wani who was martyred on March 30, 1990.  The reports said that two lakh people gathered at his funeral and offered prayers to the slain commander. Most of the people who were present in the funeral procession of the commander termed him as a symbol of courage, fearlessness, religiousness, passion, and resistance against injustice.

Burhan Wani’s death infused a new life into the freedom struggle in Kashmir. The whole of Kashmir was up in flames after the news broke out of the encounter in south Kashmir’s Village of Kokernag in the Anantnag district. Curfew was imposed in all the districts. Kashmir saw violent protests – this new uprising started with his death. From north to south, people were chanting pro-Pakistan and pro-freedom slogans. The curfew lasted for over 50 days. At least 90 people were killed across Kashmir.

It has been a year now since the young commander got martyred. Hundreds of pro-freedom rallies across Kashmir were held last year. Hundreds of people who were participating in rallies are still behind bars, including the famous Sarjan Barkati. Scores of young men have joined the armed rebellion since last year. There have been a number of encounters since last year in which non-combatants have put their life at stake to save the armed rebels. The government, including security agencies, have failed to restore ‘normalcy’ in Kashmir since Burhan Wani’s death.

Image Credit: Waseem Andrabi/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

The uprising is now in the street corners, in the medical and legal centres, in the lyceums and in the podiums. It shows that the movement is gaining ground. The self-conscious repetition of terms like ‘anti-national’, ‘foreign funded’, ‘instigators’, and the deliberate division of society as 5% and 95% may be backed by a divisive plan. In any case, the alienation nurtures and swells and has visible outputs throughout southern Kashmir.  The ‘peace’ the Indian State is looking for is a delusion, as it is premised on brutal local governments that provoke rage and resentment. A stable Kashmir at harmony with itself and with its neighbours will be an embankment of stability in the south-Asian region.

The more carnage the conflict wreaks, the more the temper rises of those expressing antagonism to this atrocious slaughter. Cases like that of Rouf are not unique. The boiling streets of southern Kashmir are a witness to the growing anarchism of thousands of such harassed youth since 2011. The state has rejected to hear the sober pleas of the people dissenting against this ‘forcible marriage’, which has instigated an alternate mode of resistance.

The young commander lived up to his name ‘Burhan’ – meaning ‘proof’ or ‘evidence’. He left behind the proof that the idea of freedom is still there in Kashmir.

Kashmir always needed a spark and this time it was the young commander.

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