Eight people were reported killed and several others – including three policemen – injured as violence erupted across the Valley on Saturday, in the aftermath of the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani the previous day.
Local police intelligence chief Shiv M Sahai said seven men were killed in “retaliatory action” by government troops. Another man drowned as he tried to flee government troops.
Sahai said that protesters attacked several police and paramilitary posts in the region. Around 90 government troops were injured, he said.
Mobs also attacked police stations and a BJP office at Kulgam to protest his killing. A police officer said groups of enraged youngsters pelted stones at police posts and stations at Bandipora, Qazigund and Larnoo in Anantnag district, besides Mir Bazaar in Kulgam district and Warpora in Baramulla district.
Earlier in the day, the 21-year-old Hizbul Mujahideen commander was wrapped in a Pakistani flag and his body was kept at the burial ground in Tral even as the crowd chanted ‘Tum kitney Burhan maroge, har ghar se burhan nikley ga’ (How many Burhans will you kill, every house in Kashmir will produce one). Wani is to be laid to rest next to his brother, Khalid, who was also killed in the crossfire between militants and security forces last year. Two other militants were also killed in the encounter.
Police handed over Wani’s body to his family late Friday evening, following which people from places across the Valley started pouring into the area. The entire region shut down as news of Wani’s death spread.
“Every house in the area hosted mourners who came from other parts of the state,’’ said a resident. Even militants reportedly dropped by to pay their respects to Wani.
Curfew-like restrictions were imposed on many parts of Srinagar and south Kashmir after the incident, and mobile internet services were suspended to prevent coordination between the dead militant’s sympathisers. The authorities closed the Jammu-Srinagar national highway and prevented fresh batches of Amarnath Yatris from proceeding to Srinagar from Jammu. Pilgrims at the base camps, however, were allowed to continue their journey.
“The yatra will be restored after the violence has abated. We will ensure the safety of the yatris,” said ADG SM Sahai.
Railway services were suspended, and many examinations scheduled for Saturday postponed.
Separatist leaders were either taken into preventive custody or kept under guard at their residences. Moderate separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who was supposed to lead the prayers in Srinagar, was barred from leaving his house in Nageen area.
Wani became the poster boy of the Hizbul Mujahideen in 2014, when he posted photographs and videos of himself and other militants in full combat gear on a social networking website. This was the first instance of militants fearlessly identifying themselves before the public, and using the social media as a recruitment tool.
Police, meanwhile, are showing maximum restraint while taking on protesters because they believe retaliatory action could lead to a “vicious cycle of violence”. “Many places that had last witnessed protests only in 2010 have erupted. Relatively peaceful areas have also witnessed heavy stone pelting,’’ said a police officer.
In the face of the uproar across the Valley, security forces fear Wani will become a bigger icon in death.
Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah also expressed similar apprehensions in a series of tweets since Friday night. “Mark my words. Burhan’s ability to recruit into militancy from the grave will far outstrip anything he did on social media,” the National Conference leader said.
Abdullah, who was at the helm during the 2010 street agitations, said the pro-separatist sentiment became as alive after Wani’s killing on Friday. “After many years, I hear slogans for ‘Azadi’ resonate from the mosque in my uptown Srinagar locality. Kashmir’s disaffected got a new icon y’day,’’ he added.
The United Jihad Council (UJC) – the conglomerate of militant organisations of which Hizbul Mujahideen is a part – paid tributes to Wani by saying that he gave “sleepless nights to eight lakh Indian armed forces and also provided the Kashmir freedom struggle with a new lease of life”.
UJC chief Syed Salahuddin described Wani’s death as a “painful” incident. “Under the banner of Hizbul Mujhadeen, Burhan Wani produced scores of Burhans, and every drop of his blood will continue to produce thousands of Burhans in Kashmir Valley,” Salahuddin said.