At 15, a southern Kashmir school headmaster’s son, Burhan Wani, turned his back on cricket and promising academic feats after he scored 96% marks in Class 8 two years ago.
At 21, he was the poster boy of Kashmiri militancy, a top Hizbul Mujahideen commander whose ultimate goal was to “unfurl the flag of Islam on Delhi’s Red Fort”. The native of Tral posted his photographs and videos in full combat gear on a social networking website, exhorting the young and educated to join the armed separatist ranks.
This was the first instance of militants fearlessly identifying themselves, and using social media as a recruitment tool. Soon, Wani became a legend — schoolchildren enacted the young militant leader in plays; cricket tournaments were hosted in his name.
At 22, Wani has become a bigger icon in his death. He was killed along with two other militants on Friday when security forces cornered them in the Kokernag area of Anantnag.
As the Valley mourned his death and violent protests killed 19 people over the past two days, old-timers said the situation reminded them of the killing of 23-year-old JKLF founder Ashfaq Majid Wani in 1990.
Tens of thousands attended Burhan Wani’s funeral in Tral, while witnesses said the ritual funeral prayer was offered 40 times before the slain militant was buried late Saturday afternoon. The Valley observed a spontaneous shutdown and violence forced security forces to retaliate strongly.
Hospitals, lone public utilities open in the curfew-bound, violence-riddle Valley, were grappling with the number of wounded being brought for treatment. A rights group called JKCCS said 100 people came for treatment at a hospital in Srinagar on Saturday, 55 of whom were admitted.
The scenes on the streets reminded people of the 2010 stir in which more than 100 young men died.
The PDP-BJP coalition government appealed for peace and its spokesman, Nayeem Akhtar, said efforts have been made to bring the situation under control. He said security forces are “forced to retaliate” as the mobs were getting increasingly violent. Akhtar refused to draw parallels between 2010 and 2016.
But a political analyst, who didn’t wish to be identified, said chief minister Mehbooba Mufti must take a firm stand to avoid a repeat of 2010.
“She is doing an Omar Abdullah. Things are being dictated directly from the Centre. The government is merely asking the forces to exercise restraint. Abdullah even cried in the assembly but that didn’t help the situation,” he said.
Social scientist Noor Ahmad Baba called Wani’s death a trigger as people were unhappy with the political dynamics in the state. “The protests were spontaneous and massive, meaning there was a sense of desperation. The PDP-BJP combine has made it worse.” Senior journalist Altaf Hussain said the quick-fix recipe for peace is to stop killing civilian protesters.
“Mehbooba has to provide space for political dissent. She needs cooperation from the security forces, which Omar Abdullah never got during the unrest of 2010. But the problem is her coalition partner because the BJP has to cater to a constituency that has been demanding an iron-fisted policy on separatism.”
Meanwhile, the Amarnath yatra remained suspended for the second consecutive day. “No fresh batch of pilgrims has been sent from Jammu,” deputy commissioner of Jammu, Simrandeep Singh, said.