Kashmir needs no more Tufail Matoo or Burhan Wani

By Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal. Dated: 7/10/2016 12:03:26 AM

Burhan Wani's death is yet another reminder of the worthlessness of this violence and of the fact that violence cannot kill violence; much less end a wave of repression. It can only cause destruction - of humans, of society and of values that are so crucial for survival of humanity. So, how does one break the vicious cycle.

Friday prayers in Kashmir have become synonymous with hartals, stone pelting, clashes with police and security forces and retaliatory killings or injuries. Every Friday, youth move out from mosques in Srinagar's downtown area in protest, against human rights abuse or any other pretext and engage in ding dong battles with security forces, the latter ready to retaliate, fingers on triggers or with a shower of tear-gas shells like a well rehearsed choreographic opera that defies any logic. In more recent times, the crocus growing belt of Pampore, traditionally valued for its world famed saffron, and adjoining areas are now dreaded more for being a hotbed of militancy. In and around Pampore or in Kupwara, the frequency of militant strikes is on the rise. This bird's eye view offers a picture of Kashmiri youth on road to self destruction. The easiest thing that comes to mind in description of the youth is they are angry, impatient, burdened by fatigue and consumed by cynicism; so much so that just a small trigger is enough to mobilize and organize themselves, morphing themselves into stone pelting mobs and sometimes also joining militant ranks. This myopic picture of Kashmir, however, eludes the context in which these scenes have become familiar images of the landscape.
The question that begs an answer is not why the youth are protesting but why is that they have failed to find creative and peaceful mechanisms of agitating and resistance. Resistance cannot be de-legitimised, even if cause of some protests may be too flimsy. Agitations and resistance movements are legitimate organs in a democracy. The methods of protest in Kashmir may not be agreeable but the reasons do not simply stem from lack of imagination of the youth but from the inability of the government to allow peaceful protests as a legitimate tool of resistance. Before putting the onus on the youth for choosing this self destructive path, it serves the interests of course correction to look at the larger picture and looking back to see when gun began to be re-glamourised, the lesser violent form of stone pelting as its precursor.
Many of those picking up the gun belong to well off families and were meritorious students. Burhan Wani, the 22 year old Hizb-Ul -Mujahideen commander who was killed in an encounter Friday last, was the poster boy of this new generation of armed youth. Known as a top motivator and recruiter in the Valley, Burhan's story began on a summer evening in 2010 (during the summer agitation when 130 civilians were gunned down by Indian security personnel), when he, his brother Khalid and a friend were riding a motorbike in Tral and were stopped by so called security forces, ordered to get cigarettes for them, and in return beaten and humiliated for no reason. In 2015, Khalid was killed for being the brother of a militant. The loss further strengthened Burhan's resolve to fight the Indian state and entice Kashmiri youth through social networking media. There are many teenagers and youth who picked up the gun and share similar stories. Such unfortunate stories form part of the larger texture of human rights violations in the last two and half decades and coupled with that is the unresolved political dispute.
Burhan Wani's killing on Friday turned social networking sites into a war zone. Those heroising him, forgot the destruction and havoc that guns and arson eventually bring - not just promoting bloodshed but contributing to the further decline and dehumanization of society because violence ultimately only begets more violence and more hatred, never peace and resolution. Those celebrating his death evince, first of all, their own lack of humanity that allows the death of a 22 year old person to become a moment to rejoice. Secondly, they betray their ignorance by perpetuating the myth that poster boy alone had the power to revive militancy and re-glamourise the gun. Wani's influence cannot be totally negated but remains limited. What are far more significant are the reasons that turn young and brilliant students into warring militants, pushing them forever into realms of violence. The reasons are not unknown.
The exacerbation of repressive measures and the unending cycle of violence are at the root of the anger and alienation that fuelled militancy. Increased repression in Kashmir since 2008, after a deliberately failed peace process, provided no space for people to speak out and organize and carry on resistance peacefully. Instead crackdowns on youth through random arrests and cases of torture, targeted killings during street protests have now become the norm. In 2010 summer unrest, 130 youths were killed during street protests. Tufail Matoo, the first boy to be killed was an innocent passerby and became the symbol of that victimization. Such repression, alongwith Pakistan and other vested interests on both sides of the borders capitalizing on the situation for petty interests, is what began pushing the youth towards religious radicalization and re-glamourising the gun, creating a distressing situation where criminalization and de-humanisation of society is taking place. These youth are educated and extremely talented but have been so deeply consumed by anger, alienation and hatred which has dangerous ramifications for any society and it further deepens the conflict. Burhan Wani was only a symptom of this malaise. Everything else is a myth, weaved by perceptions and political ideologies by those who took pride in him or those who saw in him an enemy. He may have been a prize catch for the security forces but contrary to some expectations his death would eventually do precious little to break this ongoing cycle of violence. In fact, his killing could inspire a more lethal form of new wave of militancy; anger and violence in the Valley may only get a shot in the arm.
Burhan's story is a tragic one. As a dear friend, Gowhar Fazili, wrote on his facebook wall, "Tonight we look at the world through the eyes of a twenty-two year who chose to die so as to be free. We should have mourned for him the day he chose his path. Simultaneously, we should have mourned our inability to offer him alternatives or hope to claim his freedom in any other manner." His death is yet another reminder of the worthlessness of this violence and of the fact that violence cannot kill violence; much less end a wave of repression. It can only cause destruction - of humans, of society and of values that are so crucial for survival of humanity. So, how does one break the vicious cycle. Militarily, the huge mighty size of the security apparatus with all its military capability can only help end the lives of the group of youth who have picked up the gun, not the sentiment or the situation that pushed them to the gun. That sentiment has found a nutritious fodder in Burhan's killing. While government must understand its responsibility rather than churning up myths to suit interests of keeping Kashmir issue in cold storage and cover up its failures with respect to human rights with abject lies and more repression, the lesson to be learnt for young Kashmiri men is to keenly watch the events in history since militancy first erupted in 1989 and learn who the biggest loser has been of this violent form of resistance. Given the rigidity of the government, the space for peaceful resistance does not visibly exist. But the situation calls for imagination and foresight of the brainier and the talented ones among them. A recent example of Haqeeqat-e-Kashmir, an artistic campaign that countered the Zubin Mehta concert's 'normalcy narrative', could be one of the guiding cues.
Kashmir has already gone through prolonged and excessive pain and suffering. It needs no more Tufail Matoos or Burhan Wanis!



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