Manan Wani: Once an icon in Tikipora village for pursuing PhD, research scholar dies after embracing militancy

What happened to Manan Wani? Kashmir was rife with rumours on Thursday morning about the killing of the doctoral student-turned-militant, in a gunfight in Handwara in north Kashmir’s Kupwara district. Wani had gained popularity for dropping out of the Aligarh Muslim University's Geology department to join militancy.

Educational institutions across the Valley were closed even as there was no official word on his fate. However, by late afternoon, it was clear that he had indeed been killed.­ Shortly after that, Umar Farooq, a prominent priest and head of a Hurriyat faction presumed to be moderate, took to Twitter to issue a strike call on Friday to “pay homage” to Wani, who Farooq termed a “budding intellectual and writer”.

 Manan Wani: Once an icon in Tikipora village for pursuing PhD, research scholar dies after embracing militancy

Manan Bashir Wani. PTI

His comments were followed by those of former chief minister and president of the Peoples Democratic Party, Mehbooba Mufti. “His [Wani’s] death is entirely our loss as we are losing young educated boys every day,” she tweeted. In a subsequent tweet, Mufti repeated her party’s stand in favour of dialogue between India and Pakistan “to end this bloodshed”.

Wani, 26, joined the separatist militant outfit Hizbul Mujahideen in January this year after quietly leaving his university hostel. Syed Salahuddin, based in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and chief of Hizbul, which Wani had joined, was quoted by Pakistani newspaper The Express Tribune as having said that “a PhD scholar’s voluntarily joining the armed struggle gives ample proof that Kashmiri youth believes that final settlement of Kashmir lies in armed struggle…”

Wani’s arrival in the militancy lent credence to a popular but factually incorrect perception that an “educated militancy” had emerged in Kashmir. At the same time, it dampened the spirits of the Jammu and Kashmir Police that was buoyed by the surrender of a footballer-turned-militant in south Kashmir after a video of his wailing mother’s plea went viral just a month and a half earlier. The police were in the process of formulating a new surrender policy amid a wave of parents releasing video appeals to their sons to shun militancy.

Police officers in the Valley saw Wani as dangerous, more for his “propaganda value” than combat abilities. In WhatsApp groups run from Pakistan but catering to large Kashmiri audiences, Wani was a recurring motif of militant propaganda. Days after another top militant commander, Sameer Bhat, was killed in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district, a message was circulated on these groups – purportedly an account of Bhat’s last moments as described by Wani who allegedly escaped from the site of the gunfight in Drubgam.

According to the message, Bhat and another militant asked a reluctant Wani to leave as he was an “asset of the nation” chosen by God for the “larger good of our nation”. The message goes on to give validation to Bhat and the other militant. “The next day (slain Hizbul terrorist) Tiger appeared in the dream of Manan Wani and told him that I am happy in Jannah,” the message read. “He was so happy and had a smile on his face and told Manan Wani that these Kuffars had tried to mutilate his body but he is fine as Angels had given a warm reception to both of them in Jannah."

Putting a premium on perception over facts, these messages, police officers said, intended to evoke emotions that affected the youth of Kashmir, particularly the religiously motivated potential militants and act as a final push. A senior police officer described Wani as an “ideologue” who had been gaining “momentum” and “currency” in the Valley.

The officer said Wani was “shaping up the north” where he was tasked with building a base. Pertinently, the other militant to have been killed in the gunfight was identified as Ashiq Zargar of Langate in the Kupwara district. Though Wani was by and large active in north Kashmir, he made appearances at funerals of militants in the southern districts. Most recently, he was seen at the funeral of Hizb militant Altaf Kachru, in August this year, in south Kashmir’s Kulgam district.

Wani was the first from his Tikipora village in Kupwara district, some 130 kilometres from Srinagar city, to pursue a doctorate and also the first militant in recent years. It is unclear as to what led him to the militancy. In January, news reports about Wani taking to militancy after being harassed by security forces at a checkpoint were dismissed by his family members. His father, Bashir Wani, in January, was unable to think of a reason as to why his son, who he had described as a “true Indian” up until his college years and who spent most of his childhood in boarding schools, would become a militant.

As he joined a college in Srinagar, his politics apparently changed. In a blog post, before he joined the militancy, Wani blamed the movement’s “complete failure” despite the militants’ “noble intentions” as Kashmir had its “very own people as collaborators”. He closed the article with a prediction: “AMU is going to produce the worst type of collaborators in very near future.”

Wani, however, it seems continued to write even after joining the militancy. In an article allegedly written by him and sent to media organisations in the Valley, Wani again targeted “collaborators” for working against the separatist movement. “Collaborators nowadays are obfuscating facts to justify occupation and oppression while playing with emotions of gullible masses, human rights defenders are turning into business monsters and are making conflict a business by featuring the pain of oppressed, activism is guided and directed from Delhi studios,” the article reads.

Wani also wrote that “when we die while fighting all this, we do feel dignity in that death”. His father wanted Wani to hold a pen again but will now shoulder his coffin to the graveyard. Meanwhile, the security establishment is yet to ascertain the impact that Wani has left in the northern region of Kashmir that has so far seen relatively fewer local militants.

Updated Date: Oct 12, 2018 17:19:07 IST