WHEN tens of thousands of people leave the comfort of their home to mourn a rebel’s killing, it is a political statement. A week ago when the popular commander of Hizbul Mujahideen, Burhan Wani, was shot dead, people in Indian-held Kashmir, as always, decided to express their anti-India sentiments and endorse the New-Age militancy led by the local youth.
Next day Wani’s hometown Tral — 30 miles from Srinagar — had people from all over the Valley waiting to offer funeral prayers. A few friends and I had left Srinagar for Tral at 3:30 in the morning. As dawn announced a new day, Wani’s body was lifted on shoulders and brought to the Eidgah grounds. The day went by, people arriving in hundreds, finding way to get a glimpse of his pale face, and by afternoon dozens of funeral prayers were offered. His fellow rebels, who were present in the gathering, fired a 21-gun salute during the burial at around 3:30 in the afternoon.
By the time he was buried, nine civilians had been shot dead in south Kashmir by Indian troops. The defiance had taken over the Valley. On our way back from Tral, electric poles, trees, tin sheets, cellphone towers and rocks were used to put up barricades on the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway. Cutting through the fog of troopers and rain of stones, we reached Srinagar.
The killing of Wani has brought Kashmir at crossroads, with an uprising unlike previous ones. It has been a week of Kashmir being under siege with paramilitary forces and police clashing with angry demonstrators. Ahead of last Friday, when protests escalate even in normal times, mobile phone services were also snapped in addition to mobile internet. Cable television has also been barred. Forty-three people have been killed so far and more than 3,000 wounded. Around 150 people have received injuries in eyes due to metal pellets fired by the paramilitary forces. A majority of them may lose eyesight.
At one hospital in Srinagar, a 12-year-old injured, wearing dark glasses and lying on a bed tells me: “Let me get well and come out of the hospital, I’ll pick up the gun and fight.” There are other such boys. Another one, in his late 20s, says: “We’ll sacrifice our every body part, our life, for Azadi. This won’t make them [India] stop us.”
The doctors who are treating the injured call this situation grave — a matter of concern that within five days two dozen civilians were shot dead and so many wounded. Yet, the intensity of this new uprising hasn’t turned cold. People defy curfew, take to the streets and vent their anger against India — represented by the regional government of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the People’s Democratic Party.
While Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, has called Burhan Wani a Kashmiri leader, the uprising has caused India and Pakistan to trade arguments over Kashmir at the United Nations General Assembly. Dr Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s representative at the UN, called Wani’s killing “extrajudicial killing of a Kashmiri leader”. In response, Indian envoy Syed Akbaruddin called it an attempt to “misuse UN offices by a country that uses terrorism as its state policy”. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said that the UN “stands ready to mediate peace talks between Pakistan and India”. The United States has said it wants dialogue between the two countries and Kashmir to help resolve the issue. “We want to see dialogue between India, Pakistan and Kashmir on how to resolve the conflict in Kashmir, and our policy hasn’t changed,” said Mark Toner, the US state department spokesperson.
But even if the talks between the two countries on Kashmir begin soon, it is believed this rage could turn into a surge in New-Age militancy and any future public uprising will be highly intensified — leading to weakening of India’s writ in Kashmir. In the current phase of uprising, protesters are mainly teenagers, who are up against the state structure despite possible harm.
In the last five years, anger has increased in the public but India’s only response to the local mass uprisings has been that of accusing Pakistan. Recruiting local youth was Burhan Wani’s forte and more than 100 rebels in south Kashmir are local Kashmiris. This trend shows that people on ground have decided to struggle against India — with or without Pakistan’s support.
India’s policy of ignoring to deal with the Kashmir issue politically has only made the situation worse. An Indian army general’s view, published recently, that they are losing the battle for a narrative. Senior analysts from India also opine that India should stop killings in Kashmir and have dialogue with the people. But nothing has come out of India-Pakistan talks on Kashmir. People in the Valley have come to believe that Kashmir has been turned into a bone of contention between the two countries, unable to look for a possible solution.
Whether a solution will be found or not but the ongoing uprising after Wani’s killing has changed the political situation in Kashmir, in which youth own the narrative.
Fahad Shah is an independent journalist, who is also the founding editor of The Kashmir Walla magazine.
Published in Dawn, July 17th, 2016