This has been a busy week for Muzaffar Wani at Sharifabad, Tral. He has to attend an unbroken stream of people visiting his home to commiserate with him on the first death anniversary of his son Burhan Wani, the popular Hizbul Mujahideen commander whose killing last year on 8 July tipped Kashmir into six month long unrest leading to killing of around 100 people and blindings of several hundred.
“Though number of visitors has picked up during this week, people have been visiting us over the past year from all parts of the Valley. Many of them are youth. They talk to me about Burhan, sit by my side and take selfies with me,” says Muzaffar. “I serve them with water and urge the youth to focus on their studies”.
The anniversary for him was like any other day. “I had no family program for the day. My two sons don’t belong only to me now. They are sons of Kashmir. They belong to Kashmiri nation,” Muzaffar said including with Burhan his another son Khalid Wani who was killed by security forces a year before Burhan when he was returning from a forest after meeting his militant brother.
This reality strikes one immediately outside Muzaffar’s house, a three storey building standing on a land measuring several kanals and located towards the end of the village. The village was put under security lockdown to prevent the assembly of people, so was the adjacent town of Tral. The situation was no different across South Kashmir or for that matter across central and North Kashmir. The government had imposed stringent security restrictions, parts of the urban centres including the downtown Srinagar were put under strict curfew. What is more, the government put internet to sleep to ensure there was no debate on social media and no exchange of pictures and videos, which are presumed to stoke unrest.
Hurriyat, on the other hand, has issued a weeklong protest calendar called hafta-e-shahadat (Martyrs’ week) which has shutdown calls for 8 July and 13 July , the later in memory of the 31 people who were killed in 1931 during protest against the rule of the then Maharaja Hari Singh. A similar protest schedule was also issued earlier by the Hizbul Mujahideen supremo Syed Salahuddin for Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.
However, while this unprecedented bandobast was to pre-empt the perceived detrimental security repercussions of Burhan’s anniversary for Kashmir, there is little that the government can do to rollback the transformation in social milieu his death ushered in Kashmir. A resurgent militant movement that he left behind has since not only grown further but also taken on a pronounced ideological dimension. Zakir Musa, one of Burhan’s protégés who now commands a group of militants scorns a secular struggle. He is even against allegiance to Pakistan, or hoisting of its flags. He looks at Azadi in out and out Islamist terms, wants establishment of a Caliphate in Kashmir and the implementation of Shariah.
What is more, he has challenged the writ of the top PoK based militant leadership and decided to strike on his own. Though Musa’s apparent ideological shift has left many Kashmir observers scratching their heads, the new reality has struck some roots in parts of the state where signboards of Musa and slogans in his favour have become too common to ignore. As of now there is no telling how this is going to play out in the near future.
On the other hand, Hizbul Mujahideen has strictly distanced itself from Musa’s radical Islamism, terming it “unacceptable”. But in Kashmir, both groups claim Burhan as their ideological progenitor. Both use him in their respective signboards and banners. It is this malleable symbolism of Burhan which makes him much more of a challenge for Indian state in death than he could ever hope to be when he was alive.
However, over the past year, it is not only the militancy that has gained some more heft, the public support for militancy has also reached unprecedented levels. If last year, the groundswell of euphoric support for the militancy was reflected in the ever-growing participation in the militant funerals, this year people are determinedly trying to disrupt encounter sites. And not only those where the militants have been tracked down by the security forces and engaged in encounter but also where the militants storm a security installation. Over the past year, twenty civilians have lost their lives during protests near encounter sites.
What is more, this everyday revolt is predominantly self-driven by the teenagers and the youth in their early twenties. As of now, the protests are completely spontaneous, triggered by the real and perceived, small and big provocations.
“Burhan has changed Kashmir militancy and more importantly the way the people looked at militancy. He has lent jihad the idealism and moral glamour it had lost since mid-nineties. This has triggered recruitment in militant ranks and inspired public support,” said a police officer. “We hope that this idealism and moral glamour dissipates sooner than later. So long as this prevails, there is no way out of the current morass”.