This is a guest post by MUZAFFAR ALI
Around two lakh people participated in the funeral procession of Burhan Wani: the slain Hizb militant from Shareifabad, Tral. Without a break Kashmiris are offering prayers in absentia and paying tributes to the `martyr.` Community kitchens in his locality have been set up to feed people who come to pay tributes. Defying curfew, people are crossing hills and hamlets on foot to reach his native place. Graffities in the Lalchowk area of Srinagar hail him as a hero who lives in “our hearts.” Never before has anyone witnessed such a tremendous support or tribute base for a slain militant. Militants have died before as well, but his death has given life to something unprecedented. Banners in his honour have been installed across the valley to convey the message that he will be remembered. The valley is on boil, and people are risking lives to attack armed police officers and CRPF personals. The death toll according to reports in Rising Kashmir has reached 43 and thousands of people are injured, many of them critically. While the state and the propagandistic TRP driven media emphasize Burhan being a ‘terrorist’, Kashmiris hail him as their ‘hero’ and ‘saviour.’ The question is what turned Burhan into a hero and why are Kashmiris across age groups eulogizing him? What is inspiring people to raise a slogan like, “mubarak tas maajeh yes ye zaav: shaheed hai aav, shaheed hai aaav” (congratulations to the mother who gave birth to Burhan—the Martyr).
I have seen Burhan growing when he was a kid, playing hide and seek and other games in the courtyards of village houses. He studied at the primary school in Arigam Tral— a village barely half a kilometer from his home— and was considered bright and sharp by teachers. I can imagine the uneasiness his parents must have gone through when they came to know of his decision to join the militant ranks. Almost every parent tries to prevent his child. For once gone, a rebel never comes back or if he comes it is in his death. His life is considered as one of the hardships where the comforts of health, home, and hygiene are to be resigned. A militant for Kashmiris is a wanderer who might be forced to live a life of solitude in the far-flung hideouts of hilly forests. He has to be ready to brave any uncertainty which comes his way. Be it cold or catastrophic: he is his only Messiah. In other words the moment a boy joins militancy a magical transformation from alleviation to alienation takes place. As if on this path the militant walks through a fictional passage into a completely different world, a world which is in no way normal in comparison to the one we inhabit. Somewhere deep inside their minds, Kashmiris pronounce a militant dead the moment he chooses this path, for he renounces everything that we ordinary people call life and wellbeing. He is never going to be seen again.
Burhan, the name now famous with every household in Kashmir choose to become a militant who deconstructed the very presumption that had been traditionally woven around the character of a militant. In other words, he defied the very logic that defined a militant for Kashmir and Kashmiris—and probably even for the Indian state. The first defiance was that he never crossed the LOC for arms training, and trained himself locally. The second and most important was that he altered the nature of world which a militant inhabits, making it look as normal as ours. He turned the solitude of hills into socialization and the hardship of hideouts into a home. Being a militant, he managed to live within the corridors of society through his online videos. While the nature of most of his videos was anti-Indian, in some he could be seen chilling out with his comrades. Every week or fortnight he as if, oozed out of the video screens of cell phones and made his way into every home of Kashmir. The videos would make him a part of household conversations as if he was there among the people watching him, listening to him and moreover thinking about him. His practical social networking skills gave him an opportunity to live both in the hills and houses simultaneously. Whereas earlier militants would barely get back to the records of the society, (in a normal way) he managed to creep into every conversation. He was a militant, yet he could be seen playing cricket, listening to music with earplugs, cracking jokes, wearing fashionable t-shirts and so on. No one in Kashmir, not even the militants had anticipated such a possibility. For much of what he was seen doing is considered part of routine life which is only possible in prosperous societies. Burhan managed to do all that and through it connect to every Kashmiri. He succeeded to steer militancy into a phase where he renounced the comfort and cosiness of homes and yet managed to dodge the professed hardships with the warmth of smile and laughter. He publicised the fact that a militant could be as alive as people in their homes. His life can be as normal as life on a cricket field, in the dining hall, on a roadside. This outstanding achievement of normalizing an abnormality earned him a place in every heart of Kashmiri. It won him fame and glory and made him a hero for Kashmiris. For the people of Kashmir, he died when the encounter occurred, before that he lived with them. He was with them and would meet them every month, talk to them and be with them in the virtual world of internet. The alteration initiated by Burhan could well be interpreted as a beginning of new wave, both of militancy and of civilian resistance.
Muzaffar Ali (The writer studies philosophy at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, Views are personal)