By Jehangir Ali
Songs of Freedom
In our town in central Kashmir’s Budgam, the songs of ‘Burhan tere khoon se, inquilab aayega’ (Burhan, your blood will bring about a revolution) and ‘Al-Jihad’ (The call for Jihad) were beamed at regular intervals from the Central Mosque following Burhan Wani’s killing.
Normal life has come to a standstill. The national highway, the only surface link of the landlocked Valley with the rest of the world, remains closed on and off. Trains are not running. Public and private transport is off the roads. Essentials, like milk and vegetables, are running out.
The end of the 22-year-old Hizbul Mujahideen commander, eulogised by a generation of young Kashmiris, has brought the Valley to the brink of anarchy. 45 civilians have already died in a wave of protests. Over 3700 protesters have been wounded in clashes with many of them facing the prospects of permanent disability.
Meanwhile, ordinary folks on the street ask: What next? Is it a la 2010 in the making? That dark summer when over 120 young boys perished in senseless violence on the streets?
While the anger in Kashmir earlier manifested in the form of clashes on the streets, it has now taken a dangerous form. Locals now come to the rescue of militants trapped in encounters. Weapons have been looted from a police station. Security forces’ camps and police stations are becoming prime targets of protesters.
Cost of Bloodshed
The songs beamed by the mosque’s loudspeakers, beseeching that revolution take place, transported me to the night of the funeral I attended some years ago, of a militant who was killed in an encounter. As his body was lowered into the grave, someone in the crowd moaned: ‘Gulzar tere khoon se’, to which the mourners attending the last rites responded in one voice with, ‘inquilab aayega’. In the yesteryears, it was Gulzar. Today it is Burhan. Tomorrow it will be some other name. Revolution, inquilab, meanwhile, hasn’t seen the light of the day. Not with Burhan’s blood! Not with the blood of thousands of Kashmiris who have perished in this beautiful state over the last three decades!
The ‘hearts and minds’ of the people of Jammu and Kashmir haven’t been won either. Not by the deployment of thousands of gun-toting forces on the streets. Not with the billions that have been poured into the state. Not with the seasonal calls of ‘insaniyat’ and jhumooriyat’.
Nursing the Wounds
The end of Burhan is, no doubt, a huge breakthrough for the security forces and the PDP-BJP coalition government led by the Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti. However, as a former J&K CM pointed out, in his death, Burhan will encourage more youngsters to pick up arms than he did in his occasional appearances on social media.
The operation to kill Burhan may have been a smooth affair but its aftershocks will be felt for a long time in the Valley. The killing has thrown up a bigger challenge for Mehbooba Mufti who is already in a shaky alliance with the BJP. Is she capable enough to steer the state out of the collision course in the aftermath of Burhan’s killing?
The Hizb commander challenged the contours of Kashmir insurgency by discarding the cloak of anonymity and used social media to reach out to the people. In a state where Facebook and Twitter has made inroads into places where even the government machinery is non-existent, Burhan’s tactics worked perfectly well.
His legend has captured the popular imagination of young Kashmiris who are now hitting the streets. “The death of Ashfaq Wani (a JKLF commander killed in early nineties whose popularity vastly supersedes the incumbent JKLF chief Yasin Malik’s) inspired my generation. Today’s younger generation will be inspired by Burhan,” a young Kashmiri wrote on Facebook.
Reaching Out to Kashmir
A generation in Kashmir has already been lost to the horrors of violence. History must not be allowed to repeat itself. The government at the Centre and the State must urgently take steps to reverse the tide of time so that the state doesn’t fall into an abyss.
We will do well to remember that the events of 2010 civilian unrest and the highhandedness of security forces turned a teenage boy like Burhan Wani into ‘most wanted terrorist’. Can we afford to do it again?
(The story was originally published in ‘The Quint’)