What Made Burhan a Hero?: Muzaffar Ali

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)

4 thoughts on “What Made Burhan a Hero?: Muzaffar Ali

  1. Rajarshi Roy

    What is Kafila trying to do by giving space to such writings which openly glorify violence, eulogise someone who lived (and died) by the way of gun. There is this person who took up weapons against the Indian state for a cause which he believed in, for a fight against oppression and injustice and Indian state killed him. Why do we have to make a propaganda out of this fact – quoting unreliable (which have ranged from anything between 5000 to 2 lakhs, as in this post) numbers of people who turned up on his funeral being one of them.

    There was a time when I read Kafila for a contrarian, alternate, non-mainstream viewpoint. Kafila’s posts were known for their incisive analysis and turning the focus on most unsavoury aspects of the Indian state. Those posts had the ability to jolt one out of their feel-good cocoons while being an honourable platform for voices of underdogs.

    But publishing posts which openly glorify violence and militants (even if they happen to be martyr or freedom fighters for some) is taking things too far. If mainstream media is rightly dissed as TRP-hungry, catering to the lowest common denominator, posts like this make Kafila no better than propaganda mouthpiece of the secessionists and not an alternate, unbiased media platform. It makes Kafila no different from the big media which it wants to run away from – only the ideological shade, benefactors, side changes.

    While the left-liberal of this country always had a fundamental issue in accepting the legitimacy of Indian state – and Mr. Ali is entitled to his opinions – one expects Kafila, the collective, know where a line should be drawn.

    1. Malik Altaf

      @Rajarshi Roy, I wonder if you hold the same view about Bhagat Singh as you hold about Burhnan? Would your respone be same to an opinion piece dedicated to Bhagat Singh?
      This article falls in mainstream viewpoint category about Kashmir? Seriously?!! You need go out and talk to people if you are living outside Kashmir. That would give you an idea what mainstream viewpoint about Kashmir is.
      I believe the role of any kind of media outlet should be to bring out the truth and this article just scratches the surface. I wonder what your response would be if you actually get to know the truth about ‘India in Kashmir’.
      How is this article biased?? Actually the truth is that majority of the Indians donot have the guts to know the truth about Kashmir. Most if the Indians (especially Left) will support Tibet’s or Palestine’s cause for Independence but when it comes to their ‘Bharat Mata’, they want to see it ‘Akhand’. If India and Indians stand for democracy, they should hold Plebiscite in Kashmir. Any media outlet supporting that demand is reporting nothing else but truth about our aspirations.
      More than 190 blinded, around 3400 injured, 46 killed in about two weeks (all these are government figures in case you think these figures are ‘unreliable’); India and Indians should be ashamed that they are killing innocent civilians in order to maintain ‘Akhandta’ of their pious ‘Mata’.
      Food for thought: Who decides where to draw the line?

      1. Rajarshi Roy

        @Mailk Altaf, You seem to have the same views – about what Indians think about Kashmir – which you accuse Indians of. You make it sound like all Indians outside the valley are Sanghi stooges who unquestionably worship the Bharat Mata and Akhand Bharat is a non-negotiable entity for them.

        Firstly, I never said that this article falls in the mainstream viewpoint about Kashmir. If you read what I wrote above carefully, you’ll realise that I said the opposite. Secondly, nowhere have I said anything which denies the truth that the Indian state is killing and maiming innocent civilians – an assumption you seem to be making on your own. My quarrel with Mr. Ali’s post is that it doesn’t stop at reporting the facts, it is an opinion piece by someone who romanticises violence. Posting this on a pro-azaadi propaganda mouthpiece would have been just fine but last I heard Kafila wasn’t one, at least they didn’t claim to be one. Recently, Kafila published a splendid post by Mr. Gautam Navlakha on the same issue. No, it wasn’t unbiased – Mr. Navlakha has been a longtime sympathiser of Kashmiri cause for self-determination – but I found his essay beautifully argued and analysed even though most of us are already aware of all the basic facts, and not a teenager’s dreamy idolising of violence. But then you are right – who decides the difference between an opinion piece and a propaganda piece.

        In my opinion, making it a Bhagat Singh vs. Burhan Wani argument is over-simplifying things and simply replicating the ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ argument. It doesn’t help anyone.

        In case it interests you, I can assure you that the general Indian public opinion about Kashmir is changing, slowly and steadily. The change in the mainstream may be so small to make it imperceptible but those of us, who aren’t rabid Sanghis, know that India has irretrievably lost the plot in Kashmir and it cannot be held together by force. Of course, for every such argument there are very valid counter arguments like the fact that the cause of azaadi is a self-righteous garb for long-standing desire of embracing Pakistan and all that it stands for, what has been done to Pandits (yes, that old favourite of the right wing, is also a truth), the slow and steady import of Wahhabism which gradually destroyed the syncretic Sufism which flourished in the valley (this one is the favourite of the left wing, I guess), the fact that an independent Kashmir will be too much of a geopolitical threat to India till the time our western neighbour – raison d’atre of whose 69-year existence has been hostility to India (and Hindus, in particular) – gets over its insecurity that India has better things to do than wipe out their existence (but then the monsters they fed are now out of their own control). And finally, I do have a moral cross to bear every time the Indian state kills and maims innocents in my name – whether it be in Bastar or NE or Kashmir – in the name of maintaining law and order. I, of course, won’t have the balls to tell this to a friend whose coursemate in RR died in a terror ambush few years back – just as I will struggle with words to comfort the mother whose son has been blinded by iron pellets – but I do think that there isn’t another solution to the issue except for letting Kashmiris have their right to self-determination.

  2. K SHESHU BABU

    Irrespective of one’s belief, Burhan Wani has become a household name. The very fact that curfew has been imposed after his death and the massacres in the state after his brutal murder reflects his popularity. He is the epitome of AZAAD’ Kashmir in its fullest sense. Whether one likes it not, the fact remains that his views are in common with most Kashmiri youth.
    Instead of dwelling on whether he is a militant or terrorist or hero, the Indian state should think out if the box and petty nationalism. Kashmiris want freedom and if the freedom is from mainland India, the fact must be accepted and they should be allowed to self-determination . He is a hero to Kashmiris because of his will to fight and the government, by brutally killing him, made I’m a ‘ superhero’.

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