Ever since the security forces killed Hizbul Mujahideen’s top-ranking commander Muhammad Burhanuddin Wani alias Burhan Muzaffar in a “surgical” operation in Kokernag pocket of south Kashmir on July 8 afternoon, the semblance of normalcy in the region has evaporated in thin air. It was the fourth day following the festival of Eid-ul-Fitr and the festivities were still on. The children were playing with toy-guns and firecrackers and elders had delayed hitting the workplaces till Monday (July 11) to absorb the ecstasy to the hilt.
But that was not to be. No sooner did the news break and the photos of Burhan and his two associates’ bodies flashed through the internet, tens and thousands of people came out onto streets. This was not anticipated by the authorities though large public attendance in militants’ funerals is not a new phenomenon. A year ago, around 50,000 people gathered at the funeral of a Pakistani militant Abu Qasim at Kulgam. This embarrassed the state authorities compelling them to set a precedent to send bodies of slain foreign militants to north Kashmir for silent burial, preferably late in the night. However, Wani was a local, a resident of Shariefabad in Tral area of south Kashmir. His body was to be handed over to his kin for last rites.
On July 9 the body reached Tral along-with tens of thousands of mourners. Unprecedented. The situation was incontrollable in Tral area as the sea of people dominated every nook and crevice. The security camps in the area are located in the peripheries. They were asked to remain indoors to avoid confrontation with the people. Even after twelve days, the security forces are not visible anywhere in Tral. During midnight, I saw a water tanker being guarded by a convoy of vehicles on way to an army camp. During the day time, the army, police and paramilitaries do not venture out.
What happened in Tral on that fateful Saturday had happened in other areas also. People in hordes attempted to march towards Tral in order to attend Burhan’s funeral. At some places they were intercepted. At others, they hurled stones, slogans and abuses on security forces and attempted to attack their camps. The confrontation stoked violence. The police and paramilitaries fired automatic weapons and “non-lethal” pellet guns. This wreaked havoc. By the time Burhan was buried at the Eidgah, the entire Valley was witnessing a kind of rebellion and an instant campaign to douse it. By the evening, 12 persons were shot dead, mostly with bullets hit above the waist. Four south Kashmir districts, paradoxically known as the pocket borough of the ruling People’s Democratic Party, were the epicenter of this newest eruption and suppression. Many wounded on the first day succumbed to injuries but the protests and a campaign to quell them continued to keep the toll ticking. Not a single day has passed when there was lull in killing. On July 18 evening, two women and a teenager died when soldiers opened fire at Chowgam village mounting the death toll to 42 in 12 days. On an average 50 incidents of violence took place in the Valley every day. More than 2100 persons have been injured, scores of them with bullet injuries. The pellet guns have wreaked havoc. More than a hundred persons have received pellet injuries in eyes. Many of them have either lost their eyesight or they are at the verge of losing it forever.
The 14-year-old Insha was taking supper in a Shopian village when pellet grenade landed in their roadside house. She has lost both her eyes. He father doesn’t comprehend as to why the grenade aimed at protesters would land in front of his tiny daughter taking meals. The 12-year-old Umar Nazir has pellets in both eyes. A team of ophthalmic specialists from Delhi suggested two surgeries before Umar could be able to see the world again albeit with little clarity. The 22-year-old Parvez Ahmad of Kupwara is optimistic when thick bandage is unwrapped from his left eye, he would be able to see again normally. He remembers how a tear gas shell hit his head and he fell on the ground. His attendants console him. They don’t know what would happen when Ahmad would come to know that his eye-socket has emptied after the ruptured eye has been gouged out.
The security personnel too have been at the receiving end. One policeman drowned in River Jhelum when he reversed his vehicle to escape stone-throwers. Another survived an attack at his police station. Around 1500 police and paramilitary personnel have been wounded in stone-pelting. Wherever they show up, stones are hurled at them. The bare-chested youngsters challenge them to open fire in response to their stones, sticks and slogans.
It is almost two weeks after Burhan’s killing that normal life is crippled in Kashmir. The PDP-BJP government is struggling to find a foothold. The things worsened after Pulwama legislator Khalil Bhand was attacked at midnight on way to Srinagar. He was admitted to military hospital because civil hospitals, filled with injured, are no-go for the ruling class. They fear lynching by the angry people. The newspaper publication was halted, mobile phone and internet communication was snapped and television regulated. People don’t know what is happening in their neighbourhood. Rumours rule the roost.
The separatist leaders have been caged for eons. They issue calendars for the people to perpetuate shutdown and protests. Hizbul Mujahideen’s posters were read out in mosques counseling people to continue “the ongoing moment”. Pakistan, on the other end, is more aggressive in its “support” to Kashmiris than it was in the recent past.
Burhan Wani has changed Kashmir discourse. Unlike 2008 and 2010 when Kashmir erupted during summers, this time the protesters are exhibiting defiance. They associate with a militant commander not seeking cancellation of a government order to transfer government land to Shri Amarnath Shrine Board nor demanding probe into killing of three youngsters killed in a fake encounter at Macchil sector and passed off as foreign mercenaries. It requires a deep analysis as to why the youngsters are out to face bullets without relenting. Why a place devastated by a fierce flood less than two years ago, stages a rebellion? Why it was not anticipated?
In November 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced in Srinagar that he required no advisors on Kashmir. Two seasons down the line, it is established that he requires a deep thinking. It is better not to be in denial mode. Rather accept the ground realities and take concrete measures to change the situation sooner rather than later.