Terrorist or martyr? Making of the ‘legend’ of Burhan Wani in Kashmir
Who was Burhan Wani? The answer depends on which side of the fence you are and how you look at the entire Kashmir issue. If you are someone in the national capital, you would call the former Hizbul Mujhadeen commander, killed in an encounter by the security forces last year, a "terrorist".
Or, if you are a regular college-going teenager in the Valley, you would call him a "martyr". The answer to the question is not an easy one. Perhaps that is why even the Indian media is yet to decide on whether to call Burhan a "terrorist" or a "militant".
While newspapers like The Hindu addresses Burhan and his likes (the local men/boys from Kashmir who have taken up guns to fight for their freedom) as "militants", other mainstream media outlets call him a dreaded "terrorist" who was killed by the army for the greater good of the nation.
In such a conflicting atmosphere, the locals of Kashmir with alleged support from the Pakistani-sponsored terrorists are marking the first death anniversary of Burhan on Saturday. Burhan was killed by security personnel on July 8 last year.
Fearing the situation to turn hostile on the death anniversary of the Hizbul commander, curfew has been imposed in Tral region of the state. Burhan was a native of Tral.
The rest of the valley faces restrictions on movement, J&K police has said, according to PTI.
Section 144 of the CrPc has been imposed in Shopian and Pulwama in south and in Baramulla of north Kashmir. Under this rule, people cannot assemble at public places in large groups. Separatists have called for demonstrations across the Valley for a week to mark the death anniversary.
After Burhan's death, clashes between the civilians and security forces broke out immediately. The situation across the Valley remained tensed for almost six months last year, resulting in the death of around 100 civilians and three security men.
More than a thousand Kashmiris were severely injured, which included blinding of several due to the excessive use of lethal pellet guns by the army.
Observers say death of Burhan, who was called the poster boy of militancy in the Valley, had a large following among the masses. The 22-year-old had succeeded in capturing the imagination of the Kashmiris, especially the youth, by his excessive use of social media.
Probably, Burhan was the first homegrown militant in Kashmir who made such "good" use of social media to spread his "message".
The entire phenomenon of rise of Burhan, who joined militancy at a young age of 15, showcases how children are being inspired to take up guns in the name of freedom in Kashmir.
Moreover, Burhan was the total antithesis of what terrorism experts generally proclaim. He was the son of a well-to-do family and it was not money that attracted him to take up gun. Many in Kashmir literally "worship" Burhan.
According to them, the deceased militant gave away a comfortable life for the freedom of his people--an act seen as a supreme sacrifice in major parts of the Valley.
It was for all these reasons (perhaps more, we don't know), when Burhan died, Kashmiris called him a "martyr". They came out on the streets to take part in his funeral and since that day Kashmir "changed forever".
Along with violent clashes between the stone pelters and jawans, militancy once again spread like a fire in the Valley. Reports suggest that post Burhan's death more and more youths have either joined militant groups or are planning to do so.
According to the state police department, militancy has seen a resurgence in several parts of south Kashmir where there wasn't any militant presence for almost a decade now. The most worrying factor is that similar trend has been observed by security forces in north and central Kashmir.
The number of local youths joining militancy in Kashmir since a fresh agitation erupted in July last year has shown an alarming increase with security agencies putting the figure at nearly 250 till March this year.
After Burhan's death, youngsters of Kashmir look determined to continue with their struggle. Be it curfew or ban on internet, Kashmiris these days are showing their will to find alternative measures to bypass all restrictions imposed on them.
Since social media has given the youth a "new voice", whenever there is a ban on internet, the "smart kids" in Kashmir use "alternative" social media platforms like-KashBook.
The KashBook, developed by local youth, is a social media platform dedicated especially to the people of the state. Apart from joining this website, hundreds of Kashmiris figured out ways of accessing other websites using VPNs during ban period.
Such defiance on part of the Kashmiris has become a major headache for the political and security establishments in the state. The PDP-BJP rule government in the state looks clueless as what is happening in the Valley.
If on one hand the number of attacks by Pakistani-sponsored terrorists have increased manifold (most of these attacks are against the Indian Army), on the other the civilians including teenage girls and boys are regularly seen on the streets pelting stones against jawans.
While peaceniks feel that the Kashmir cauldron could be resolved by dialogue and decreasing the presence of force, the Indian Army as per the instructions of the Narendra Modi government has decided to take a tough stand against anyone found involved in "anti-national" activities.
The hardline stance adopted by the Centre seems to have backfired, especially in cases like the use of a Kashmiri man as a human shield by the army, which was widely criticised at various international platforms. However, as far as Kashmir policy is concerned, the Centre seems firm on following the "law of retaliation".
On a day when the Kashmiris are mourning the death of their "hero", two civilians lost their lives after Pakistani army violated the ceasefire and resorted to mortar shelling and firing at border posts and villages along the Line of Control in Poonch district.
Since the death of Burhan, probably not a single day has gone when Kashmiris have not witnessed any violence. Violence has become so endemic in the Valley that even those who are sitting in various parts of the country could imagine Kashmir only as a "burning" land which has lost all its natural glory.
Like Kashmir, the lives of Kashmiris are complicated, full of contradiction and one constant reality--the scourge of violence which has become more pronounced after the death of Burhan.