On July 8 evening 2016 when Kashmir was still in the festivities of Eid-ul-Fitr, sadness and anger gripped the festive mood as news spread that Hizbul Mujahideen’s young commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani was killed in a brief encounter in Bumdoora village at Kokernag in Anantnag district.
First, people in Valley did not believe the news. For them Burhan was not an ordinary militant who would be killed so soon. Minutes after social media users on Face- book, Whats App and Twitter flashed photos of Burhan, the news became a fact. Soon valley was on streets and people began to shout slogans, praising Burhan. A large number of them be- gan moving toward Shareefabad, the native village of Burhan, in southern Tral, know for the pro-freedom support and unwavering dedication of people for the “cause”.
On July 8 2016 night, Valley did not sleep it mourned the death of its Burhan. On the early morn- ing of July 9, thousands began marching to Tral to participate in the last funeral rites of Burhan and have his last glimpses. People, young, old and children as young as 6-year-old marched to Tral; some on foot, some on cabs, motorbikes, trucks and whatever vehicle they found hold of. A conservative estimate puts the number of mourners who attended the funerals (jinaaza)
of Burhan at around two lakh people. Apart from Tral Kashmiris offered prayers in absentia and paid tributes to the `martyr.` To serve the mourners, people in Tral and along its routes set up temporary community kitchens their localities to feed people who come to pay tributes.
Muzaffar Ali, who studies philosophy at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, wrote that never before has militant witnessed such a tremendous support or tribute. “Militants have died before as well, but his death has given life to something unprecedented. Banners in his honour have been installed across the valley to convey the message that he will be remembered,” the young scholar wrote. Who was Burhan and what turned Burhan into a hero and why are Kashmiris across age groups eulogizing him?
What is inspiring people to raise a slogan like, “mubarak tas maajeh yes ye zaav: shaheed hai aav, shaheed hai aaav” (congratulations to the mother who gave birth to Burhan—the Martyr), asked the writer. “I have seen Burhan growing when he was a kid, playing hide and seek and other games in the courtyards of village houses. He studied at the primary school in Arigam Tral— a village barely half a kilometer from his home— and was considered bright and sharp by teachers. I can imagine the uneasiness his parents must have gone through when they came to know of his decision to join the militant ranks. Almost every parent tries to prevent his child. For once gone, a rebel never comes back or if he comes it is in his death.
His life is considered as one of the hardships where the comforts of health, home, and hygiene are to be resigned. A militant for Kashmiris is a wanderer who might be forced to live a life of solitude in the far-flung hideouts of hilly forests. He has to be ready to brave any uncertainty which comes his way. Be it cold or catastrophic: he is his only Messiah. In other words the moment a boy joins militancy a magical transformation from alleviation to alienation takes place. As if on this path the militant walks through a fictional passage into a completely different world, a world which is in no way normal in comparison to the one we inhabit. Somewhere deep inside their minds, Kashmiris pronounce a militant dead the moment he chooses this path, for he renounces everything that we ordinary people call life and wellbeing. He is never going to be seen again. Burhan, the name now famous with every household in Kashmir choose to become a militant who deconstructed the very presumption that had been traditionally woven around the character of a militant. In other words, he defied the very logic that defined a militant for Kashmir and Kashmiris and probably even for the Indian state.
The first defiance was that he never crossed the LOC for arms training, and trained himself locally. The second and most important was that he altered the nature of world which a militant inhabits, making it look as normal as ours. He turned the solitude of hills into socialization and the hard- ship of hideouts into a home. Being a militant, he managed to live within the corridors of so- ciety through his online videos. While the nature of most of his videos was anti-Indian, in some he could be seen chilling out with his comrades. Every week or fort- night he as if, oozed out of the video screens of cell phones and made his way into every home of Kashmir. The videos would make him a part of household conversations as if he was there among the people watching him, listening to him and moreover thinking about him. His practical social networking skills gave him an opportunity to live both in the hills and houses simultaneously.
Whereas earlier militants would barely get back to the records of the society, (in a normal way) he managed to creep into every conversation. He was a militant, yet he could be seen playing cricket, listening to music with earplugs, cracking jokes, wearing fashionable t-shirts and so on. No one in Kashmir, not even the militants had anticipated such a possibility. For much of what he was seen doing is considered part of routine life which is only possible in prosperous societies. Burhan managed to do all that and through it connect to every Kashmiri. He succeeded to steer militancy into a phase where he renounced the comfort and cosiness of homes and yet managed to dodge the professed hardships with the warmth of smile and laughter. He publicised the fact that a militant could be as alive as people in their homes.
His life can be as normal as life on a cricket field, in the dining hall, on a roadside. This outstanding achievement of normalizing an abnormality earned him a place in every heart of Kashmiri. It won him fame and glory and made him a hero for Kashmiris. For the people of Kashmir, he died when the encounter occurred, before that he lived with them. He was with them and would meet them every month, talk to them and be with them in the virtual world of internet. The alteration initiated by Burhan could well be interpreted as a beginning of new wave, both of militancy and of civilian resistance.” Following the brief encounter till this report was filed on Au- gust 4, Valley is on boil and the anger has turned into demands for Right to Self determination. Till August 4, at least 60 un- armed civilians were killed by po- lice, CRPF and army in firing on protesters. Nearly 4000 are injured and hundreds have been turned eyeless, with some as young as 5-year-old, b y pellets fired by police and CRPF.
Among the pellet-hit is a 14-year-old student, Insha Mushtaq Lone of Sedow village in Shopian district. Insha has been blinded in both of her eyes due to grave in- juries as pellets have pierced deep into her retina and biran. Lying in Ward 8 of SMHS, writhing in pain, Insha wants bandages removed from her both eyes to see her mother. “It has been more than a week now. Please remove the bandages,” Insha pleaded with the doctor. “We need some more time before the wounds in your eyes heal up,” the doctor responded. However, nobody from the grief-stricken Lone family could muster courage to tell Insha about the tragedy that stares at her for the times to come. Insha’s right eye has got ruptured and her left eye was severely lacerated on July 12, after a pellet cartridge fired by security forces fell in front of her inside her two-story house at Sedow village of south Kashmir’s Shopian district. So had been the impact of the pellets that the tiny iron balls have fractured her nasal, frontal, and maxillary bones. A few pellets have penetrated into the base of her brain as well. Like Insha, six other youth have been rendered blind in both eyes while over 100 have lost or
got smeared vision in one eye after being hit by lethal pellets. A 27-year Feroz Ahmad of Sopore is another such victim of pellets, which have rendered him blind in both eyes. “Please, remove the bandage from my eyes. I must die than to live a life of blind,” Ahmad, who is withering in pain in ophthalmology ward 7 of the SMHS, said. The ophthalmology ward was filled with emotions after the arrival of Ahmad, who is the lone
Bread-earner of his family. His pain and emotional cries led to a pin drop silence and growing anger among the people in the ward. Adjacent to Ahmad’s bed is a 5th standard girl student, Tamanna Ashiq, who had wished to be- come a pilot but a pellet cartridge fired by security forces shuttered her dream. A lethal pellet has pierced through her left eye. “For becoming a pilot, I need bird’s eye not smeared vision,” she said while being fully aware that she has become visually disable in one eye.
Nine-year-old Tamanna was sitting on the window of her room when security forc- es lobbed a pellet grenade on protesters last week outside her home at Tulmullah in Ganderbal district. Protesters were intending to join the funeral of militant commander Burhan Wani at Tral town in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district. Doctors say her retina is dam- aged. “We did the surgery but her chance of regaining vision is very bleak. Pellet has severely dam- aged her left eye,” said a doctor in Ophthalmology ward of the SMHS hospital here. In the recurring street pro- tests in Kashmir, the security forces are regularly using pellet guns, live ammunition, sling shots and even stones to quell protests since 2010, when the J&K government first introduced pellet guns as “non-lethal weapon”.
Official figures reveal that least 862 youth have been hit by pellets since 2010 of which 305 were hit in the eyes. “In the past 12 days we have received over 180 eye-injury cases in the ophthalmology ward, said eye specialist, Dr. Sajjad Khanday of the SMHS. “At least 137 were operated upon and 30 of them won’t regain their vision because they have suffered retinal detachment,” Dr. Khanday said. He said 70 to 75 patients are those who will have very weak vision. The tragic scenes in SMHS hospital are reminiscent of 2010 agitation when 27 persons lost their vision in one or both eyes due to pellet injuries from 2010 to 2013. However, RTI activist advocate Manan Bukhari who has documented the pellet injury cases in his book, Scare of Pel- let Gun, contested the official figures saying the number of eye injuries was far high. “I have documented 1500 cases of pellet injuries from
2010 to 2015. A large number of them were eye injury cases,” said Bukhari. One of the first victims of pellets is Danish Ahmad Sheikh, 21, of Tarzoo Sopore in north Kashmir. Sheikh’s left eye was ruptured by a barrage of pellets in 2010. He was then in 9th class and had wished to continue his studies. However, with the passage of time the vision of his right eye smeared by a condition called sympathetic ophthamites. “After the injury, my life became very difficult. I had to leave studies,” he said while moving away with the support of a cane. Similarly, Feroz Ahmad Kan- doo, 25, of Anchar-Soura locality of Srinagar lost his left eye on August 19, 2010 after he was hit by pellets fired by security forces. Kandoo said he visited the SMHS hospital several times for further treatment but doctors ruled out any possibility of re- gaining of the vision. “Life goes on with one eye but it is no life,” he said. Officials say a pellet cartridge contains 400-500 pellets – small ball bearings. They say cartridges are graded from 5 to 12, with 5 being the largest, fastest and widest in the range. Sources say government had given instructions to security forces to use number 9 for crowd control to avoid loss of life. However, they said the instruction are being violated and number 5, 6 and 7 pellet cartridges are being used during protests in Kashmir. After alarming situation in 2010, the J&K government pro- cured high-end equipments in 2014 to conduct sophisticated surgeries to remove pellets and vitreous humour from the eye- ball.
Earlier patients would go out- side State for treatment and end up wasting their money without any improvement in vision. “We have the best equipment and treatment available here now. And there is no need to go out- side State,” Dr. Khanday said. However, he said due to huge number of patients to be operated need enough man power and equipment. “We have one bed and can operate around 4 patients in one day but the number of patients who need urgent surgeries is over 30. We are holding meetings with the government to request it to provide us more machinery and some retina surgeons to cater to the patients, who have severely damaged their eyes,” he said. After growing clamor in media against use of “lethal” pellet guns against protesters, the Un- ion Home Minister Rajnath Singh said the Central government will rethink the use of pellet guns in Kashmir.
Senior High Court lawyer Zaffar Ahmad Shah said pellets were “lethal and severely dam- aging the vital organs of human body”. “It seems some lobby within the government is against banning of use pellet guns in Kashmir,” he said while quoting on the dismissed petition seeking ban on use of pellet gun. However, he said J&K Bar Association should approach the High Court for seeking directions to prevent use of pellet guns in Kashmir given the extent of injuries. “We have enough evidence to prove that pellets are causing grievous injuries in people,” he said. Shah stressed that lawyers should file fresh petition in the High Court to seek a ban on the use of pellet gun. And soon Bar filed a PIL in the court, whose hearing is under way. Besides pellet injuries, hundreds were injured in other parts of body, like limbs abdomen and other vital organs, and they kept the hospital in the valley filled.
Till July 21, as per official figures in hospitals, including SKIMS, GMC and district hospitals, 2639 injured civilians were treated by the doctors. The two hospitals associated with Government Medical College, SMHS and Bones and Joints together received 478 patients: 394 in SHMS and 74 in Bones and Joints hospital. SKIMS Soura received 107 injured patients which needed special treatment as they had critical firearm injuries. SKIMS (Bemina) received 132 wounded in its IPD. The district hospitals treat- ed 1930 injured patients. Most of the injured were treated in Anantnag (465), Pulwama (455), Kulgam (309), Baramulla (170), Bandipora (161), Shopian (153), Kupwara (149), Budgam (39) and Ganderbal (29). Nearly 200 injured persons were operated for major and minor surgeries in these peripheral hospitals. When the report was filed, hospitals had received more injured persons, some of them critical.
Political Outcry: Though the killings and injuries evoked widespread anger in the World which condemned these brutal killings and it renewed the debate in Kashmir for political resolution of the long-pending conflict. Hurriyat which had conditionally united before Eid against setting up of a Sainik colony and pandit colonies, took the centre stage after seeing the simmering anger in the streets. They issued strike and protests programmes to demand the Right to Self determination. They appealed the world bodies including United Nations. But India seemed unmoved by the painful cries from the Valley. Pakistan offered rhetorical support to the `freedom movement’ in Kashmir, yet it could not mount practical pressure on India. Kashmiri pro-Indian political leader also cashed upon the movement and began issuing press releases pitching for political dialogue with Hurriyat, and Pakistan to resolve Kashmir dispute, but India ruled by the right-wing BJP seemed unmoved. Instead of taking political steps on Kashmir, BJP blamed Pakistan for `inciting people in Kashmir against India’].
Toeing the line of its alliance partner BJP, Peoples Democratic Party which is ruling the state also blamed Pakistan and some `internal elements’. Mehbooba Mufti who when in opposition, would demand resolution of Kashmir with dignity and honour of the people of Kashmir, too looked different as chief minister. She blamed Pakistan and `internal elements’ for `inciting people’ to get killed and injured in forces firing. From the political events that followed after Burhan’s killings, it seemed that Kashmir will have to shed more blood. There seems no resolution of the issue in sight in future.
Wahid Bhat is Kashmir based Journalist. He can be reached at E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org