July is the month of Burhan Wani. A 22-year-old freedom fighter, who was shot dead in a brief gunfight in South Kashmir on July 8, 2016, followed by a civilian uprising in which over 120 civilians were shot dead. The uprising didn’t end within a few weeks or months. It continued, and still continues, only in different shades. The impact of Wani’s killing is perhaps the most significant change in Valley since the late 1980s, when an armed rebellion erupted against Indian rule in the region.
Burhan Wani was a simple boy from a modest yet educated Kashmiri family. His elder brother Khalid Wani, who was an under-graduate student of economics, was abducted by the Indian security forces and was brutally tortured to death in April 2015. The only crime Khalid committed was that he was the elder brother of a teenage boy who wanted to achieve freedom and liberty. The frustration inflicted on the hearts and minds of Kashmiri people due to the oppressive and suppressive rule of India had to result in an outburst and Wani’s decision to leave his books and comfortable school-life was a clear indication of his motivation.
Kashmir continues to be volatile even after hundreds of killings in the last few years and oppressive measures against dissenting civilians – who found prominent space after the killing of Wani. It was once said that Wani will be more influential from his grave than alive. The current situation vindicates that statement; his popularity has risen exponentially since his death. Burhan Wani was not an ordinary militant commander. He not only redefine the concept of defiance against the Indian subjugation, he also displayed extraordinary inventive character to engage the new generation of Kashmiris through his public diplomacy. In addition, he restored the humanity of the Kashmiri freedom fighters – who had lost their identity as saviours and had become part of the oppressive architecture that they sought to challenge.
A large segment of the Kashmiri rebels of the 1990s and 2000s engaged in extortion, kidnappings, threats and outright murders against their kindred for they felt overwhelmed by the trappings of an uncontrolled and unsupervised power they wielded. Aadil Mir, Burhan’s mentor and cousin – after whose death in June 2014 Burhan rose to the ranks of the commander – changed the public perception of resistance fighters and deliberately discouraged the use of violence that had become synonymous with pro-freedom fighters.
Wani use to communicate with masses through social media and became a well-known face of resistance. He openly announced his acts of defiance against the occupation forces. I still remember Burhan Wani’s video messages in which he said that, ‘Kashmir belongs to Kashmiris; we are fighting for our basic right of freedom and self-determination’. Though Indian media portrayed Burhan Wani as a terrorist – same as Che Guevara of Latin America was declared terrorist by western media – but both the names would never die. Burhan Wani would remain a symbol of resistance for the Kashmiri youth, same as Che Guevara is a symbol of resistance for the youth all over the world.
21-22 years old was a symbol of fear for the entire Indian army and security forces. What if there is thousands of Burhan Wani ready to sacrifice their lives in the name of liberating Kashmir? Now the time has come that Pakistan must start to support Kashmiri people openly in the name of moralism, freedom and justice, since Kashmiri Muslims have given their verdict in Pakistan’s favour. Apart from the propaganda of Indian media, the Kashmiri Independence Movement is still alive at large and will meet its desired outcome. Like the Sons of Liberty, Kashmiri educated youth is pretty determined and adamant to liberate their land from Hindu India. The destiny of Kashmir and Pakistan is inseparable and utterly intertwined.
Indian Occupied Kashmir has been under a state of strict lockdown for the past ten months, not in some severely paranoid early anticipation of a highly contagious pathogen, but to quell the justified outrage of the people of the region after revocation in August of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution that gave them the status of a semi-autonomous state, which was successfully operationalized in October last year. Despite multiple calls from human rights groups and Western countries to ease restrictions, there is still no freedom of movement, a communications blackout persists and widespread detentions of politicians, business leaders and residents of Jammu and Kashmir continue unabated. India has instead upped the ante, killing 36 freedom fighters since late March, most significantly, the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Riyaz Naikoo, a former math teacher and a close aide to Burhan Wani who was killed in 2016 leading to severe unrest and rebellion in in the valley. Naikoo’s body will not be handed over to his family but will be buried by authorities at an undisclosed location to avoid the sort of funeral processions and anger that was seen following Wani’s killing. The cowardly decision shows how India realizes that it has taken the conflict too far and another significant trigger could very well result in a lot more bloodshed on both sides.
Simultaneously, in order to peddle its unsubstantiated self-serving narrative of ‘cross-border terrorism’, India continues indiscriminate firing along the LOC resulting in civilian deaths, all the while claiming that Pakistan initiates such attacks. Last year the two nuclear-armed countries came to the brink of war following a suicide bombing in Pulwama district of Jammu and Kashmir, even though the attacker was a local. India should heed the call of the international community to lift the inhumane lockdown and let the people of IOK realize their right to self-determination. Short of this, by keeping them caged in their homes and in detention centres, India is providing a breeding ground for more freedom fighters who will take that right through force.
-The writer is Editor at Daily Country News, can be reached at syedapa[email protected]