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I'll never forget the day Burhan Wani was killed

Updated Feb 05, 2017 10:26am


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This blog was originally published on October 29, 2016.

The news first broke when I was in the north of Kashmir in Vijbal, a town of less than a hundred households.

My cousins had invited me for dinner as I was scheduled to leave for New Delhi right after Eid.

One of my friends from Tral, south of Kashmir, informed me through a Whatsapp text: Burhan Wani has been killed.

I didn’t believe him. It was just a rumour, I thought. Half an hour later, the Indian media erupted in celebration, announcing victory.

The party immediately began on Twitter and continued on television. “Burhan Wani elimination BIG NEWS,” tweeted Barkha Dutt of NDTV.

Abhijit Majumdar, the managing editor of Mail Today, chipped in: “with Burhan Wani's killing, Indian forces have eliminated entire gang of Facebook terror poster-boys of #Kashmir one after the other. Salute.”

Cars, trucks, and motorcycles began to honk mindlessly. My aunt worriedly asked her son to check if everything was alright.

Burhan gove shaheed (Burhan has been martyred), I told them.

They looked back at me in shock.

My aunt began to wail.

Ye kusu tawan cxunuth khudayoo (what tragedy did you send upon us, oh God), she lamented.

The heavens opened up at the same time and the sound of rain hitting the tin-roof of the house got louder.

I looked at my cousin, red-faced, eyes welling up, his body shivering.

His phone rang and he finally noticed on the fifth ring. It was my mother calling.

By the next morning, the internet was blocked. People were expecting mobile networks to be shut by the government as well in order to restrict communication in the valley.

People know how the state functions. The Indian state’s oppression is as routinised in war-time as it is in peace-time.

In-depth: The pursuit of Kashmir

People knew that in the coming days, the only way to communicate and find out what was going on would be to travel, on foot, from village to village. They knew that they had to avoid the highways which are constructed to allow smooth movement to Indian military convoys only.

'They know everything'

Rafiabad, the place where I live, is as militarised as any other place in Kashmir. Indian army camps are located every five kilometres from one another, allowing them to bring every village and its people under the army’s view.

The army knows the number of people in each household, including how many males and females, educated and uneducated, where they work, newborns, adults and old.

They have numbered our houses and categorised the localities. They have marked our streets, shops, playgrounds, even the apple orchards.

They know the size of our courtyards and backyards, as well as the the shape of our cowsheds.

They know everything.

As the protests and stone-pelting began, so did the congregational funeral prayers.

People began to count the dead. And the numbers kept rising.

The protest demonstrations kept swelling.

The campaign of killing, blinding, maiming and torturing people continued.

For more: Dispatch from Srinagar: Our nights are becoming longer and darker

The Pakistan bogey

The protests were a sign of the Indian state losing all ground. The divisions that they had constructed — Shia-Sunni, Muslim-non-Muslim, Kashmiri-Ladakhi, Tableeghi-Salafi, majority-minority — to obfuscate the truth went up in smoke as the air was now incensed with songs of freedom.

But in the newsrooms in India, it was the perennial threat that was being accused of fomenting the trouble. Pakistan, they said, was responsible for causing unrest in Kashmir.

Sometimes, one imagines, if Pakistan were to tectonically shift from here to Antarctica, where would the Indian state and its jingoistic media derive their narrative from?

Who will they blame for their own failure and guilt, their own deception and debauchery?

A confrontation

Soon after (dates have lost their significance) the death of Burhan Wani, people of Rafiabad assembled near the Eidgah in Achabal.

The announcement was made through the mosques’ loudspeakers. People from adjacent villages poured in as well. As the numbers kept rising, so did the volume of the slogans, causing panic inside the Indian army camp nearby.

As the protesters neared the army camp, two armoured vehicles blocked the way on one side.

Rest of the road was sealed with barbed wires. The demonstration came to a halt, but the sloganeering did not.

Soon, there was chaos.

Read next: What pellet guns have done to protesters in Kashmir

As stones were hurled at the armoured vehicles, more army men from the camp arrived and started moving toward the protesters with guns and lathis. A few protesters started to turn back.

A direct confrontation with the Indian army, we are told by our elders, should be avoided. But some among the protesters didn’t relent and stood their ground firm.

Several of them were later picked up. All security installations in Kashmir are equipped with high-quality surveillance cameras to keep watch on the people's every movement.

From the footage, they identified the persons who were at the forefront of the march. They knew who these men were. They knew their addresses. They could pick them up from inside their bedrooms.

Inside the camp, they were tortured. One of the boys later told me about how they were made to stand naked, abused, spat on, and beaten with guns, sticks and belts till their bodies bled. They were given death threats and some were even made to jump naked in the river. Yet, after he came out of the prison, he was determined to protest again.

Another boy, in his pre-teens, lying flat in his room, smiled as I entered to see him. He didn’t appear to have been affected by the torture at all.

He was waiting for a bandage to be removed from his back. “I remember the face of the army man who beat me up”, he said, “I won’t spare him”.

He was clearly enraged. He wanted to avenge what was done to him.

It is this anger and this sense of revenge, especially among the youth, which the ‘experts’ on Kashmir amplify and manipulate to present the issue as a problem of inteqaam (revenge) alone.

They also see in the youth a rage informed by religious extremism.

Building a false narrative

For years now, these Kashmir ‘experts’ have dedicated all their energy and resources to maintain control over the Kashmir narrative that comes on TV screens and newspapers.

In April this year, when an Indian army trooper was accused of molesting a teenage female student in Kupwara, a group of reporters were dispatched from New Delhi to report the aftermath in which five protesters were killed, including a woman.

The Kashmiri reporters working for various Indian media organisations, barring a few exceptions, were asked to stand down or take leave of absence or just assist the reporters airdropped from New Delhi.

While the reporters filed contradictory versions of the actual incident, India’s Kashmir ‘experts’ were quick to process the information and construct a narrative which helped the government to systematically shift the focus from the molestation to the protests.

Praveen Swami, one of India’s leading Kashmir ‘experts’, a journalist who has the audacity to tell Kashmiris that he knows more about Kashmir than Kashmiris themselves, tried to historicise the violent protests. For him, “the underlying crisis in Kashmir needs to be read against the slow growth, from the 1920s, of neo-fundamentalist proselytising movements.”

He implied that allegations of sexual violence against an Indian army man do not merit any protests as per secular traditions and only religious movements, like the Jamiat Ahl-i-Hadith and Jamaat-i-Islami, can inspire people to take such a recourse.

Two more ‘experts,’ David Devadas and Aarti Tickoo Singh, whose writings have a clear streak of right-wing bigotry, indulged in victim blaming and in theologising the movement for self-determination in Kashmir.

Also read: Modi has become a prisoner of his own image

Devadas wrote that the different “narratives emphasise that unarmed ‘civilians’ were killed by armed forces, with no reference to the fact that the mobs attacked an army bunker and a camp before the army retaliated”. Four months later, Devadas said that “it still isn't clear what exactly lies at the heart of the current unrest.”

Aarti Tickoo Singh believes that in 2010 “stone pelting phenomenon that led to the death of over 100 youth during clashes with the forces was restricted to urban poor Sunni Muslim youth in Srinagar”. She also cites a study by Indian police officials that “lack of entertainment resources and Saudi-funded religious radicalisation” motivate the youth towards violence.

These ‘experts’ have time and again warned the people of Kashmir about the capabilities of the Indian State: you will be killed if you come out on the streets.

For them, the responsibility of Kashmiris getting killed by an Indian soldier is on the Kashmiris and not on the Indian state.

However, their ideological manipulations have been of little consequence to the people of Kashmir.

Men, women, young and old, come out daily in the streets of Kashmir with the slogan: Hum kya chahtey? Azaadi!

Freedom, self-determination and the right to live in peace are innate to a people. No matter how much violence the Indian state resorts to and no matter how much the country’s media manipulates the narrative surrounding what’s going on in Kashmir, the people of Kashmir will keep coming out on the streets to demand for their rights.


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Basharat Ali is Research Scholar at the Academy of International Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia New Delhi.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (77) Closed

Dr. Salaria, Aamir Ahmad Oct 29, 2016 12:11pm

An excellent article.

ak Oct 29, 2016 12:12pm

Burhan Wani is a phenomena, a phenomena that will be avenged. If india thinks that Pakistan will forget about Wani, they couldn't be more wrong.

Ahmed Oct 29, 2016 12:24pm

"Pakistan, they said, was responsible for causing unrest in Kashmir.

Sometimes, one imagines, if Pakistan were to tectonically shift from here to Antarctica, where would the Indian state and its jingoistic media derive their narrative from?"

Hit the nail on the head. So true!!!

Masood Oct 29, 2016 12:27pm

Very thought provoking Long live Kashmirs independence Struggle !' Free Kashmir! Free Kashmir ! Free Kashmir Say no to torture and supression !

true indian Oct 29, 2016 12:29pm

Please be objective

Az Oct 29, 2016 12:51pm

Added to the list of human rights abuses by India.

Raja Amer Khan Oct 29, 2016 12:55pm

What a grief to read about what you have been going through. This is a total barbarism by Indian army. I hope Kashmiris get their freedom soon.

Mohd Ashraf Oct 29, 2016 01:08pm

The problem with us Muslims is that where ever we go we create some problem. We are never satisfied. That is why we are in this state. I am a kashmiri and even if we get azaadi how will we operate with just one state and without Indian cooperation.

kashmiri Oct 29, 2016 01:08pm

Burhan Wani was one of the freedom fighters no more no less,we have lost hundreds of thousands in our freedom struggle, we kashmiri youths do not believe in glorification of anybody, we all youths are equal and we fight with same zeal for freedom, we love Pakistan and our only aim is to become Pakistanis once we get freedom, some people want to remain free but that is only foolish to do so, we will join Pakistan once we are free and that is the only outcome that is possible.

Shahzad Ikhlaq Oct 29, 2016 01:13pm

An excellent article, thanks to the author & dawn for showing real Kashmir issue.

Ajay Bhat Oct 29, 2016 01:58pm

Long Live India; Democracy Zindabad, imagine same type of article by anyone living in Pakistan. What would have been the reaction from State? Any idea?

Rai Oct 29, 2016 02:23pm

I will also remember the days Kashmiri pandits were brutally removed from their homes and lands in Kashmir.

awais aziz Oct 29, 2016 02:34pm

Well done Dawn

kamal Oct 29, 2016 02:35pm

@ak Akbar Khan Bugti...first come first served.

SUMA Oct 29, 2016 02:42pm

India must be very careful about about divisive mindset among Indian Populace....

abdul Oct 29, 2016 02:43pm

Salute you, Sir.

imran tahir Oct 29, 2016 02:54pm

kashmiris, stand up for your right,

BhattCK Oct 29, 2016 02:59pm

@kashmiri On the other hand, there are plenty of youths like you who on the other hand are joining or want to join Indian Police and Armed forces...You may be an exception alongwith some more...

Menon Oct 29, 2016 03:33pm


That would be great.

India will have larger coastline and Afghanistan would get direct route to the Arabian Sea and terrorism will be eradicated.

Great idea.

Can you please make it happen?

Mehmood Oct 29, 2016 04:07pm

@Ajay Bhat. It means you nothing about Pakistan. Ignorance is bliss, isn't it. Pakistani media is much more balanced and liberal. It is Indian media which has lost all objectivity. This an excellent article

Harmony-1© Oct 29, 2016 04:08pm

Very sad state of affairs and reminds me of another journalist who wrote this:

"There is no doubt in my mind that much of the violence that has ravaged Kashmir continues to emanate from Delhi which continues with its policy of suppressing democratic dissent with brute force.

When it was time for us to learn A for apple, B for ball, and C for cricket, we learned A for army, B for bullet and C for curfew. As we grew older, we learned newer terms like fake encounter, extra-judicial killing, custodial disappearance, and mass graves.” - Journalist Gowhar Geelani

Riz Oct 29, 2016 04:09pm

India will lose more than kashmir due to its policy of telling lies over and over until it becomes merged with truth.

aslam shaikh1 Oct 29, 2016 04:10pm

Excellent article and extremely good to see actual ground reality.

Biis Oct 29, 2016 04:13pm

The greatness of India is in the fact that the writer can publish such articles being based out of New Delhi. Kashmir has been a integral part of India since a few 1000 years and we dont see Kashmiris differently than Indians of any other state.

Umreekan_Sundi Oct 29, 2016 04:21pm

@Ajay Bhat There have been aplenty - including in this paper. Press and media here is free-er here and does not resort to jingoism

Bilal Ahmad Oct 29, 2016 04:24pm

@Rai Please stop this nonsense every one in kashmir including you know the truth that it was Jagmohan the Governer of state at that time who told pandits to leave kashmir so that they can kill kashmiri at will.

BKhan Oct 29, 2016 04:31pm

Very good summation of the situation. You have rightly pointed out that Pakistan does not have to play much role when the Indians are the only reason for this hatred and retaliatory sentiments among the Kashmiris. We can only wish that let peace prevail in the region.

Ahmadi Oct 29, 2016 04:32pm

@Az The list should include the Pandi community who were cleaned out of their homes

BKhan Oct 29, 2016 04:34pm

@Biis Then why is there a need for Indian Govt to continue with their atrocities in that region. At least let them live in peace and given them their rights.

Khwarezmi Oct 29, 2016 04:55pm

Indian govt oppressing and killing Muslims who should have been with Pakistan from the very beginning. This was the whole point of Pakistan where Muslim majority states could live without such oppression.

Saqib Javed Oct 29, 2016 05:09pm

Basharat Ali u have said nice Oct 29, 2016 05:27pm

Indian Democratic set up and secular ethos will solve the Kashmir problem. Please remember that 65% of the people have turned up and elected Mahbooba Mufti as their leader Inspite of boycott call by separatist Hurriyat Conference .

Asif Oct 29, 2016 05:37pm

Sir, I respect the diversity of opinion and India as a democratic and secular country allows free speech to everyone (including you). Your article is thought provoking

Anazed Oct 29, 2016 06:01pm

@ak India has already moved on - to jobs, education, life, progress.

Madeeha Mahmood Oct 29, 2016 06:48pm

Great article. Hope and pray that sacrifices made by Kashmiris result in a better future for them

Madeeha Mahmood Oct 29, 2016 06:51pm

@Ajay Bhat media in Pakistan has more freedom than media in India. I have not seen Indian electronic channels showing atrocities in Kashmir. Their sole objective is to blame every thing on Pakistan

Indian_Kashmiri_Muslim Oct 29, 2016 08:10pm

We are happy with India. We don't want anything, I can say Indian army is very good. They saved us 2014 flood. God bless Indian army.

Rsankar Oct 29, 2016 08:18pm

India is a progressive democracy and it's good for Kashmiris to be with india

Yasu Oct 29, 2016 08:35pm

@Rai ur every tactic got miserably failed..recent unrest in kashmir have brought forward ur real image..

rohitks125 Oct 29, 2016 09:46pm

India shall overcome all problems. Pakistan may worry and shed tears & carry on. but have very little say or can do anything worthwhile

We indians (incl kashmiris) shall manage our problems and live amicably.

itrat khaliq Oct 29, 2016 11:11pm

@true indian and you guys should Accept the truth that atrocities are being committed by Indian government on should be you not anyone else who should ask your government about their acts. Open your eyes. They are also humans like you and me.

Gurpanth Oct 30, 2016 06:38am

@Mohd Ashraf very good

Muhammad Murad Iqbal Oct 30, 2016 07:01am

Excellent and well calibrated article. Was very informative and intriguing.

shankar Oct 30, 2016 09:13am

It is very sad that a young life was lost! If he was a terrorist,may be quite a few innocent lives have been saved. Nobody has won a separate identity by indulging in terrorism. Pakistan should stop fishing in troubled waters. Pakistan should undo the damage it created by invading Kashmir unlawfully. That will openb up the door for a peaceful solution to the Kashmir issue.

RIZ Oct 30, 2016 09:55am

eye-opener for many in Pakistan and world wide.. I admit I knew nothing, what kashmiris are suffering in Kashmir..

RIZ Oct 30, 2016 09:59am

@kashmiri Burhan Wani will be remembered as Bhagat Singh.. he will not be forgeted anytime soon. the foreign government at that time called Bhagat Singh a terrorist and hanged him,, same occupied indian army killed Wani labeling him a terrorist.. this will inspire more Kashmiri youth.. this is new trend in Kashmir uprising and have no links with Pakistan..

Rahul Singh Oct 30, 2016 10:15am

@Ajay Bhat I knw the reaction.committee will be set up to look who brought up this article

Good Point Oct 30, 2016 10:23am

Azadi from what and why ?

Mayank Oct 30, 2016 10:30am

Kashmiris must explain what kind of azaadi they want. Some say it, they want no more army presence and AFSPA. But Indian army is not there for some tourism. I see CAG report which says 10% of central funds are used, though having 1% of India's population. If they want a theocratic state, then I must say to them, India has come a long way as a secular state and they are living in some false world.

s kumar Oct 30, 2016 10:54am

@Mohd Ashraf- i don't agree- only some kashmiri youngsters are misled and they are only creating problems , not all muslims. how come a 12 /13 year old knows about self-determination , plebisite, article 370 Etcc.. and freedom . ? if they don't take part in stone throwing the militants will not leave them .They are denied education deliberately .. that is the fact . Most muslims outside kashmir are also living nicely and without any issues. minor local issues will always be there in 1.2 billion people but it is not due to religion.

s kumar Oct 30, 2016 10:55am

@Mohd Ashraf - "even if we get azaadi how will we operate with just one state and without Indian cooperation." this is bcos the economy of kashmir is closely linked to shared resources with india for centuries. Ultimately a nation is more about shared resources and values. Definitely " azaadi" is not viable bcos - there wont be any interaction with india for sure- not even to and fro movements . It will become far worse .

Anir Oct 30, 2016 02:44pm

Mr Ali is basically saying that Kashmir should be separated from India. It may looks nice from Pakistan but imagine a similar article from some professor from Balochistan working in Lahore and Karachi University. Or similar articles in China and Russia, what would have happened to them. On any scale of freedom, it shows where one get more freedom compared to another place. Like it or not, its in front of us.

ashraf Oct 30, 2016 04:41pm

There should be peace definitely. I dont think anyone would disagree. The only fear is now that after having fought 3 wars and getting thousands killed already, how many more people from both sides are we prepared to loose? BW and others are just a flash in a hot pan. The reality is kashmir cannot be freed without a full scale war and then obviously the winner will not be left with must to celebrate. This is my 2 cents. Happy Diwali to my indian brothers.

Bharath Oct 30, 2016 05:25pm

Each loss of life be it civilians or soldiers is extremely painful. The responsibility for this situation lies with people who incite violence and extremism.

Sajit Oct 30, 2016 07:53pm

Dear Basharat Ali,

You seem to be a good man. I am an Indian and your articulation of what you feel is pretty much evidenced in what you portray above.

Any assertion on the deceased that I might add might be viewed from the myopic lenses based on my nationality and I would not want to descend into that.

I am just glad that you at least have the freedom of expressing yourself while doing your research in India despite the freedom of expression hurting those that reside in the same country you seem to hate.

Anyways... trust that your research is doing well.

kaliraja thangamani Oct 30, 2016 08:28pm

"The writer Basharat Ali lives in Delhi" speaks the greatness of democracy in India.

Rohan Oct 30, 2016 08:51pm

Mr. Basharat Ali, since you are a research scholar please can you write an article about the exodus of Kashmiri pandits. I think you would have loads of knowledge to share on that.

reena Oct 31, 2016 05:15am

May I ask Mr. Ali, about your research work in JMI New Delhi, and in what circumstances you decided to come to New Delhi and not somewhere else. It is supported by Indian Govt. I think.

Would be good to know what you are researching on and what your future plans are

Kabir Oct 31, 2016 09:45am

Obviously , your enemy's narrative will be different . How difficult it is to understand from a common man's perspective ?

Qazi Saad Oct 31, 2016 09:48am

@kaliraja thangamani Stop considering India a great democracy unless you give the rights to people of Kashmir.

Atif Oct 31, 2016 09:49am

That's the problem, why we want to encourage violence, let kashmiris live in peace. We know if we mention it in UN, nothing happens. We fought 3 wars still no where. We should focus more energy on our internal affairs which is bringing instabily.

m@k Oct 31, 2016 10:02am

A well written piece....

To both neighbors...For god sake, stop this heinous game and don't do politics on the lives of people and soldiers.

Wish to see the persistent diplomatic efforts on both sides to genuinely resolve the issue..

alok Oct 31, 2016 10:46am

@Mohd Ashraf : Good comments

optimistic Oct 31, 2016 11:00am

A nice article

D.K. PAMNANI Oct 31, 2016 12:05pm

Dear Shri Ali,

Thanks for the article from your point of view. Now, can you say from the point of view of other Indians, Kashmiri pandits. Noone thinks about Kashmiri Pandits conditions. Would request for your views on the conditions of Kashmiri Pandits thrown out from Kashmir valley.

Eddy Oct 31, 2016 02:49pm

No one in this world is worried about kashmir except pakistan . that's because there are so many important issues in this world, the Palestine problem has not been solved through ages and there is ISIS problem in the arab world, refugee crisis in Europe, poverty in Africa and Islamic terrorism spreading throughout the world. Nobody cares about kashmir anymore.

Tiger Oct 31, 2016 03:09pm

Good Article

Indian Oct 31, 2016 03:32pm

@Riz All this because of the Article 370, which gave Kashmiris lot of privileges and did not let any Indians go and settle there. If it was not there, Kashmir would have been prosperous with many industries, well developed tourism, education, and what not

Indian Oct 31, 2016 03:33pm

@Bilal Ahmad wow, will anybody leave their homeland for such a reason.

Fk u Oct 31, 2016 05:55pm

@Qazi Saad : India has given right to its people to speak without fear like Mr. Ali, this is the greatness of Indian democracy .

hem Oct 31, 2016 06:32pm

In any Indian army or police recruitment there is massive rush to join the Army or Police. Indian Kashmir will remain in India

sohrab Oct 31, 2016 10:55pm

"Basharat Ali is Research Scholar at the Academy of International Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia New Delhi" That for me is the biggest revelation!.... And food for thought!

P.K. Shome Nov 01, 2016 07:41am

The day Wani took arms against the state he has himself written his death certificate on the same day. And that is the hard fact of life and the life one chooses or leads!

aslam shaikh1 Nov 01, 2016 08:25am

@Biis yet in the past 70 years there has been ethnic cleansing of Muslims particularly in Kashmir.

Rama Nov 01, 2016 10:04am

@Mohd Ashraf

Agreed Boss. Share yours with others also

Pakistani tujhe salam Nov 01, 2016 10:29am

@s kumar you don't worry about our survival, worry for your own. Even if we have to starve we will in a free land not in a brutal and murderer country. Independence sesemed a dream fighting with the Britishers but the sacrifices of thousands of people paved the way. Burhan Wani and thousands your sacrifice won't go in vain. Indian army have become butchers but they are after people who love shahadah more than their lives. Long live kashmir freedom. What you are doing today to kashmir you will face the brunt..

Roy Feb 07, 2017 07:40pm

Kashmir will get freedom, one way or another.