A week after the killing of Burhan Wani — the young Hizbul Mujahideen militant commander who was hailed as the poster boy of Kashmir's new-age militancy — situation in South Kashmir is in a flux. Burhan had become a household name here in the last few years and the news of his killing on 8 July in an encounter with the security forces in the Kokernag area came as a shock to many Kashmiris.
Mobile and phone internet services remain snapped in the Valley, with only BSNL phones and broadband being functional. Burhan’s death has sparked a wave of agitations in the Valley, with Anantnag — the constituency of the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti —being the hub of the ongoing protests.
The first two days after Burhan's death, Anantnag raged with protests. Interestingly, those rural areas which had not witnessed protests even during the 2010 agitations, saw groups of young boys taking out demonstrations from village to village, shouting anti-India and pro-azaadi slogans. "Burhan has become a youth icon in recent years for Kashmir’s freedom struggle. This is for the first time that rural areas of south Kashmir have come out in open to support the azaadi," Mohammad Aamir from Anantnag told the Firstpost.
During one such demonstration, near Yaner village, a few kilometres away from the famous Aishmuqam shrine, a boy from the nearby village Safeer Ahmad drowned in the Lidder river when the security forces chased away the protesters. Many in his village allege that the security forces had hit Ahmad on the head and then kicked him in the river.
At few other places, even as the security forces imposed curfew and restrictions, locals blocked the roads. To file this story, this writer had to travel to Pahalgam — a popular tourist destination but now devoid of any tourists — some 16 kilometers away from his home, where he could find a working internet connection. On the way, people had blocked the roads with logs, rocks, cement pipes and barbed wires to stop any kind of vehicular movement. Shops remained shut and people remained indoors. These areas haven't seen a protest like this in ages.
But even as the anger persists, many incidents have also shown that hope exists in these turbulent times. For instance, a few days ago when the Valley was on the boil, people in Bijbehara area in South Kashmir defied curfew when a group of Amarnath pilgrims were injured after their bus met with an accident and began evacuating the injured pilgrims.
Meanwhile, a wide network of volunteers emerged in various parts of Kashmir, especially in hospitals, to extend a helping hand to the injured.
Volunteers have raised money and free food for those who are injured during the protests and are admitted in hospitals across valley. Adil Ahmad, one of the volunteers who is working in district hospital of Anantnag told Firstpost, "Some of us have managed to get hold of the medical supplies. Even chemists in Anantnag donated medicines for those who are admitted in district hospital, which have become essential to treat the injured and other patients, after the scarcity of the medicines threatened to affect their treatment." Volunteers like Ahmad are not only assuring free medical supplies to patients but also help in providing free food to attendants admitted in hospitals in Anantnag town.
It is volunteers like these who have been able to provide some of the first responder services when the administration was caught surprised by the spiraling pace of the protests.
Some, however, contend that they face harassment and even abuses at the hands of the security forces. A doctor, who wished not to be identified, narrated his ordeal to Firstpost. He complained of harassment at the hands of security forces when he got down in Bijbehara from an ambulance carrying a dead body of a boy. The ambulance was coming from Srinagar. "When I got down in Bijbehara, CRPF personnel stopped me and I was terrified. They started questioning me. I told them that I am a doctor but still they abused me."
Elders say that they foresee a turbulent period for some time in the Valley. While the immediate grief over Burhan’s killing will wither away in some time, they worry that the anger generated by the killing may help the militancy to regain the lost ground by spreading in areas, which are witnessing protests for the first time. They say that in his death, Burhan will be a greater headache for the security establishment and for the PDP-BJP government, than when he was alive.
The author is a freelance journalist based in Srinagar. He focuses on the socio-political issues of the Kashmir Valley.