In the Aftermath of the Burhan Wani Protests

The streets of Kashmir look relatively calm for the first time since the unrest began and shutdown took effect in July. Instances of stone pelting have reduced and while many may term this as a return of ‘normalcy’ to the valley, this is just a phase till the volcano erupts again, says Bilal Kuchay.

 

The uprising in Kashmir triggered by the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani on July 8 entered into its fifth month last Tuesday. In the past 125 days, 96 people have been killed and 15,000 injured- of whom, 1,100 were hit with pellets in their eyes.

Since the past 17 weeks, no congregational Friday prayers were allowed at the historic Jamia Masjid in Srinagar. Schools, colleges, universities and business establishments continue to remain shut, in spite of relaxations announced by the “joint resistance leadership” headed by Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Mohammad Yasin Malik.

However, the shutdown is expected to continue for a while, as was decided in a key meeting between the separatists involving Hurriyat Conference’s G chairman- Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Hurriyat Conference’s M Chairman- Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) Chief- Muhammad Yasin Malik and representatives of different associations (trade bodies, transporters, religious and political organisations, high court bar association, private schools, tourism and many others).

The meeting between the separatists and the representatives of various associations was held at Geelani’s residence in Hyderpora on November 8, to chalk out the future course of the ongoing protest programs. Soon after the meeting, the separatist leaders said that the stakeholders “reposed” full faith in them and were of the view that the ongoing protest must continue.

“The representatives of different associations reposed full faith on the leadership. We trust people and reiterate that this movement is sacred for us. (But) we have to stay disciplined,” Geelani told media after the meeting.

“The representatives of different associations reposed full faith on the leadership. We trust people and reiterate that this movement is sacred for us. (But) we have to stay disciplined,” Geelani told media after the meeting.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq while talking to the media after the meeting said: “The suggestions and proposals that came from the representatives had one thing in common- the ongoing movement should be continued with.”

On July 8, Burhan Wani – a top militant commander of Hizbul Mujahideen was killed along with two of his associates in an encounter with government forces in south Kashmir’s Kokernag area. Both the army and the police termed the operation a major success and a dent to the militancy in the Valley.

“We have killed Burhan Wani along with his two aides in a smooth operation at Kokernag in South Kashmir. His killing is a major success for us and is a major dent in the face of militancy in Kashmir,” said J&K’s Director General of Police, K Rajendra Kumar. Army spokesman in Srinagar, Lt Colonel N N Joshi said: “Burhan has been killed along with two of his aides. It’s a major success for us.”

Burhan Wani, who is credited with reviving the militancy in Kashmir took off the mask from his face and then, effectively used the social media, where his videos went viral. He was the kind of militant, whose death sparked massive protests not only in Kashmir but in many parts of Jammu division as well. Pakistani Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif in September mentioned Burhan Wani in his 20-minute long speech at the 71st United Nations General Assembly meet in New York. In July, Sharif declared Wani a “martyr”, and said that July 19 will be observed as a black day  in Pakistan to express solidarity with the people of Kashmir.

He was the kind of militant, whose death sparked massive protests not only in Kashmir but in many parts of Jammu division as well. Pakistani Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif in September mentioned Burhan Wani in his 20-minute long speech at the 71st United Nations General Assembly meet in New York.

However, the Jammu and Kashmir government found itself in a tricky situation to own or disown the success of the operation by police and army in which Burhan Wani was killed. The chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti spoke of giving Wani another chance had she known about Wani’s presence at the encounter site. “Security agencies say they suspected three militants were hiding without knowing who they were. Had I known about him [Wani], I would have given him a second chance in the wake of ongoing economic activity, improving situation and booming tourism,” said Mehbooba Mufti on the sidelines of the 17th Foundation Day of the Peoples Democratic Party’ on July 28.

Senior PDP leader and Member of Parliament, Muzaffar Hussain Baig raised doubts over the conduct of the security operation in which Wani was killed and appealed the Mehbooba Mufti to appoint a commission to probe the killing of the Hizb commander. “In just a three and a half minute long operation how could anyone have followed Standard Operating Procedures? It is clear that the Supreme Court guidelines have been violated in Burhan’s killing, which is a serious offense,” Baig had told Srinagar based news agency KNS.

Senior PDP leader and Member of Parliament, Muzaffar Hussain Baig raised doubts over the conduct of the security operation in which Wani was killed and appealed the Mehbooba Mufti to appoint a commission to probe the killing of the Hizb commander.

“The chief minister who has always campaigned for human rights should investigate the facts and take action against those officials who are found to have flouted the rule of law and created a situation where an unprecedented number of about 1,400 people have been injured, hundreds of youth have lost their eye sights and dozens of people have died in a single day,” Baig said.

Former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah expressed his apprehensions that Wani’s death could lead to more youths joining militancy. “After many years, I hear slogans for Azadi resonate from the mosque in my uptown Srinagar locality. Kashmir’s disaffected got a new icon yesterday,” Omar wrote on micro-blogging site Twitter, a day after the Wani killing. “Mark my words – Burhan’s ability to recruit into militancy from the grave will far outstrip anything he could have done on social media,” he added.

According to a report published in The Kashmir Monitor, a daily newspaper published from Srinagar, on November 1, “75 boys went missing within three months of Kashmir unrest, out of which 43 joined militant ranks, six returned to their homes while 26 others are still missing.”

Burhan Wani had become the poster boy of new-age militancy, in which educated young men from the Valley took up arms, trained themselves locally to fight for the liberation of Kashmir from what they call as “Indian occupation.”

Burhan’s killing has drawn tens of thousands of Kashmiris on the streets. An estimated 30,000 people attended his funeral on July 9 despite curfew in place in the entire Valley. Protests and incidents of stone pelting were reported across the Valley and it became evident on the very first day, how the government will respond to the public reaction, when scores of protestors were killed and hundreds injured.

Use Of Non-Lethal Weapons
A class 9 student, Insha Malik, whose eyes were ruptured by pellets fired upon her by the security forces has lost complete vision. She became the face of the brutality that was unleashed upon Kashmiris in the past four months. Her eyes ruptured and face dotted with holes made by the pellets. She was hit by the pellets, introduced in Kashmir in 2010 as a “non-lethal” crowd controlling weapon despite the fact it has left scores of people dead and hundreds blinded – completely or partially.

1100 civilians have been hit with pellets in their eyes in the past four months. Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital (SMHS) in Srinagar has received over two thousand pellet-victims of which around thousand have eye injuries. “We received 2621 people with pellet injuries in past four months, out of which 986 people have eye injuries,” a senior official in SMHS said.

1100 civilians have been hit with pellets in their eyes in the past four months. Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital (SMHS) in Srinagar has received over two thousand pellet-victims of which around thousand have eye injuries.

Global rights group Amnesty International in August asked the Jammu and Kashmir government to stop the use of pellet guns. “Pellet guns are inherently inaccurate and indiscriminate, and have no place in law enforcement,” Zahoor Wani, Senior Campaigner, Amnesty International India said in a statement. “Amnesty International India calls on the Jammu and Kashmir government to immediately stop the use of pellet guns in policing protests. They cannot ensure well-targeted shots and risk causing serious injury, including to bystanders or other protesters not engaging in violence. These risks are almost impossible to control.”

“Amnesty International India calls on the Jammu and Kashmir government to immediately stop the use of pellet guns in policing protests. They cannot ensure well-targeted shots and risk causing serious injury, including to bystanders or other protesters not engaging in violence.

“The death of a third person in Jammu and Kashmir due to injuries caused by pellet guns is a reminder that the ‘less-lethal’ weapon can have deadly consequences.”

During his two-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir in August, Indian Home Minister- Rajanth Singh had said an alternative to pellet guns will be given to security forces in the coming days.

Pelargonic Acid Vanillyl Amide (PAVA) also called Nonivamide was introduced as an alternative to the pellet guns, but pellets still prevailed. On 31st October, three young girls – 13-year-old Ifrah Shakoor, 16-year-old and an 18-year-old, both named Shabroza – were left partially blinded after being hit by the pellets in Pulwama.

Business Loss
Mohammad Yasin Khan, President of Kashmir Traders and Manufacturers (KTMF) and Chairman of the Kashmir Economic Alliance (KEA) said, “On an average, the Kashmir valley faces a daily loss worth Rs.1.2 billion to Rs.1.35 billion.”

Despite huge losses, the business fraternity in Kashmir has given full mandate to the “joint resistance leadership” to continue with the protest programs.

“Over 90 percent representatives during the meeting with the separatists were of the view that shutdown must continue,” Khan said, adding: “The resistance leadership have our full support and we will adhere to their protest programs.”

In the past four months, the markets have remained either shut or opened after 6pm. For the first 51 days since July 9, the entire Kashmir valley was under strict curfew. However, after that when the government lifted curfew, people adhered to the Hurriyat protest programs and opened the markets only after 6pm.

“We want a permanent solution to the Kashmir issue. The business community wants peace, but not temporary,” Khan said.

Education
Schools, colleges and universities across Kashmir valley continue to remain shut. In the past few weeks, at least 25 schools, most of them run by the government in south Kashmir, have been destroyed in mysterious fires during the ongoing unrest. Both the government and the separatists though have condemned the attack on the schools but have also levelled allegations on one another.

Both the government and the separatists though have condemned the attack on the schools but have also levelled allegations on one another.

JKLF Chairman Yasin Malik- in a press conference, blamed Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti and Education Minister, Naeem Akhtar for burning of schools. “We believe the duo is responsible for burning of schools by provoking the students,” Malik said.

Akhter, however, hit back and said that in the initial phase Yasin Malik and others were at the forefront of driving the shutdowns but now they have distanced themselves and thrown the ball solely in the court of Syed Ali Shah Geelani.“Burning of schools is one of the ploys to keep the fire burning,” he had said.

Mehbooba Mufti government’s decision to hold the exams on schedule is seen by many as a political gimmick in order to break the four month long shutdown. Even the students have expressed their resentment against the move and have held various protest rallies across the Kashmir valley.

Both the government and the separatists though have condemned the attack on the schools but have also levelled allegations on one another.

“Students have not attended their schools for four months, how do the government expect us to appear in the exams?” said Ishfaq Ahmad, a student from Anantnag.

Another student Tawseef Ahmed from Srinagar said, “If the current situation doesn’t allow the government to hold bi-elections for the Anantnag Parliamentary seat, how is it good for conducting examinations?”

Despite the fact that the schools in Kashmir had only 93 working days this year compared to 161 in 2015, the government is adamant on holding the examinations on time. It has also announced a 50 per cent relaxation in syllabus for all students appearing in 10th and 12th class examinations.

“We have decided to give students open choice as against internal choice and allow them to attempt any 50 percent from every section, except language papers like English, Urdu, Hindi and others wherein we are allowing them to attempt any 50 percent among all questions,” said Chairman of BOSE, Zahoor Ahmad Chatt adding that the injured students can take help from a helper which BOSE will provide them with. He also ensured full-proof security for students and examination staff, and urged students to concentrate on studies. “There is no chance of postponement of exams,” he added.

Following a massive crackdown on protestors, particularly youth, during night raids by police and security forces, today the streets in Kashmir look relatively calm, protest rallies are not being organised at village levels, incident of stone pelting have gone down and many would refer to it as the return of “normalcy” until the volcano erupts again.

 

 

Image via http://nation.com.pk/

Bilal Kuchay is a freelance journalist, who has been featured in Express Tribune, Himal Southasian and The Kashmir Monitor. He tweets as @BilalKuchayj

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