I felt impelled to write this letter after reading your open letter to slain Kashmiri leader Burhan Wani and your subsequent Facebook post on the same topic. I have also seen the Buck Stops Here show in which you appeared on the panel along with General Malik, Rising Kashmir editor Shujaat Bukhari, Supreme Court lawyer Shabnam Lone and others. I will say at the outset that my perception of the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen Commander Burhan Wani is radically opposed to yours. I am writing because I am hoping that you and others who share your views will be at least open-minded enough to give a hearing to an opposing view.
As you say Burhan Wani could have been anything he chose to be–doctor, lawyer or computer scientist. Indeed his parents offered to send him away from Kashmir to a city in India and even abroad. But at the ripe age of fifteen he resolved to join the armed struggle against Indian rule in Kashmir. For that reason he left what must have been a comfortable home and joined the Hizbul Mujahideen, the pro-azadi group which has been active in the valley since the late eighties. Your Open Letter argues that he turned his back on a conventional career because he was drawn to the seductive world of social media with its promise of instant celebrity and all encompassing fame. May I point out that your analysis has made a big leap in identifying social media stardom as the reason why fifteen year old Burhan Wani embraced the dangerous life of an outlaw—exposure to inclement weather through much of the year and other forms of privation, being always on the run, always hunted by Indian forces in Kashmir.
The transformational event is now well known. It ought to have been covered at length in your widely read Open Letter since it has a critical bearing on Burhan’s conversion to militancy. It is disingenuous to call Burhan a terrorist who waged war against India without going into the reason why he took up the gun. Better to acknowledge and address the causal chain. As you know fifteen year old Burhan and his older brother Khalid had gone for a bike ride in their village in South Kashmir when they were stopped by Indian soldiers who sent them to buy cigarettes. The cigarettes were duly purchased and delivered but the brothers were given a beating all the same. Khalid was beaten till he became unconscious. Burhan vowed he would take revenge and soon after that he disappeared from his home. If the transformational event had not taken place, if Burhan had been spared such a direct encounter with the unpredictable, everyday violence ensuing from the militarisation of Kashmir he might have moved on to a conventional career. The bright fifteen year old schoolboy that Burhan once was would have been allowed to fulfill his promise. The Indian army and the police would not have remorselessly hunted and killed him in the bloom of his youth. Kashmir would not have exploded in rage and grief. A small handful of powerless observers like myself would not be mourning his death along with that of every young Kashmiri who joined the armed struggle against Indian rule because he witnessed or underwent gratuitous violence resulting from the presence of the Indian military in his region. As you know the civilian fallout from the killing of Burhan has been incalculably grim–more than 50 young people dead, children and young people doomed to live out their lives in darkness or with impaired vision, thousands injured many of them with serious wounds and permanently pellet scarred faces. All of this could have been avoided.
You have said in your Facebook posting that there would be a lot of dead 23 year olds if every ten year old who got slapped picked up the gun. Permit me to submit that it is a gross misrepresentation to imply that Burhan was merely slapped and to omit specifying the perpetrator of violence. Burhan was beaten by Indian soldiers for no reason. His brother Khalid became unconscious because Indian soldiers posted in Kashmir gave him a savage beating. How is it possible to gloss over such gratuitous violence? It is not enough to issue a perfunctory condemnation. You are condoning the violence by refusing to address it in any depth or detail. What recourse was there for Burhan Wani? The Supreme Court’s direction regarding the use of excessive force in disturbed regions was only issued two weeks ago. It did not exist in 2010 when fifteen year old Burhan had his fateful and ultimately fatal encounter with Indian soldiers. Is it so surprising that Burhan concluded political and social justice could be obtained only by driving Indian forces out of Kashmir? It is difficult for the privileged to empathise with those who lack their advantages. Still I will request you to attempt this exercise. How would you have reacted if you had been the fifteen year old native of a disputed region held by military force and had received an unprovoked beating from soldiers posted in your area? What if your brother had been beaten till he was unconscious? Would you have thanked the soldiers for sparing your life? Would you have chanted Bharat Mata ki Jai and hoisted the Indian flag to show your gratitude for being subjected to gratuitous violence?
I have been emphasising the beating given to Burhan Wani by Indian soldiers because it was to be the turning point that led to his joining the armed pro-azadi struggle that seeks to bring an end to Indian rule in Kashmir. I repeat there is no basis for thinking that Burhan’s life as a militant started with his longing for social media stardom. His boyhood experience of gratuitous violence at the hands of the Indian military led inexorably to Burhan being killed in the bloom of youth. Now you Major Gaurav Arya are saying that a bullet awaits Burhan’s successor Mehmood Ghaznavi. Did you ever wonder what turning point led Mehmood Ghaznavi to join the militant pro-azadi cause? What about the twenty boys who went missing on the night of Burhan Wani’s funeral? Have India’s armed forces identified the bullets that await these boys? How much killing will be enough killing? How much blood must flow in Kashmir? When will India’s armed forces decide Kashmiris have been maimed, tortured, blinded and killed in sufficient numbers?
In your Open Letter you have taunted the slain leader Burhan Wani calling him a would be Rambo with a delirious female following. Surely the dead leader should have been treated with some respect even if you perceived him as a terrorist who waged war against India by targeting Indian forces stationed in Kashmir. It is just as well that you don’t find it in your heart to blame Burhan’s family. His family had nothing to do with Burhan’s rebelling against Indian rule in Kashmir. It all started with fifteen year old Burhan’s brutalisation by Indian soldiers who acted on the assumption that Kashmiris could be bullied, humiliated and and beaten at their sweet pleasure. And who was to stop them? The enforcers of colonial rule have always despised the natives. Naturally the Indian soldiers who beat Burhan and his brother Khalid did so because they looked down on Kashmiris and felt entitled to treat them in a brutal way. Burhan’s family tried to hold back the enraged boy. But the spirited fifteen year old lad disregarded their efforts to pacify him. Some years later he paid with his life when the Indian army launched its manhunt. You acknowledge that there might be an occasional bad apple within what you say is a moral army. Well one of those occasional bad apples precipitated a series of events that led to Burhan Wani being killed. In consequence Kashmir will be grieving for a long time to come.
Surely Major Gaurav Arya you despise the people whom you call your Kashmiri brothers and sisters. You imply that Kashmiris are mindless beings who lack agency. They are subject to the manipulations of the Hurriyat Conference on the one hand and those of Pakistan on the other. Above all it seems Kashmiris are ignorant. They don’t have a clue as to the origin of the insurgency of the nineties and of Pakistan’s role in fomenting Kashmir’s armed struggle for self-determination. Therefore you have taken it upon yourself to enlighten your Kashmiri brothers and sisters in great detail regarding this history. Specifically you say that Pakistan introduced armed militancy in Kashmir in the late eighties. That’s a very questionable statement. It is contradicted by much of the academic scholarship on the conflict in Kashmir. The insurrection was in fact indigenous in its origin. It was launched by the JKLF (Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front) whose members crossed the LOC to obtain weapons and training in Pakistan. Pakistan aided what was primarily a home-grown insurgency resulting from the decades long sabotage by New Delhi of democratic rights, processes and institutions. But I am getting deflected. No need to go into details of this sordid history here.
You say that Kashmir’s political salvation lies in embracing the Indian Constitution. Also that 1.2 billion Indians find solace in the Constitution. Really? All of them? Even the Dalits who were stripped and flogged for hours by gau-rakshaks in Una, Gujarat a few days ago? Did you see the terror on the faces of the victims? May I say that the Constitution is just a useless piece of paper if the fundamental rights that it guarantees are withheld from a particular population. As we have just seen in the ongoing crisis Kashmiris may not exercise the fundamental right of free assembly. The civilian death toll from the firing on unarmed mourners is now in excess of 50. The crime committed by the injured and the dead was to break curfew orders in order to pay their last respects to a beloved leader. Why were curfew orders imposed in the first place? Is it because Kashmiris do not have the right to attend the funeral of someone dear to them? Sorry I forgot. Everything that takes place in Kashmir is orchestrated by Pakistan and the Hurriyat Conference. Kashmiris are merely despicable puppets who dance to strings manipulated by India’s adversaries.
Major Gaurav Arya, I will end this letter with a modest proposal. It is often said that the pen is mightier than the sword or the gun in this case. So why stop with the killing of Burhan Wani and Mehmood Ghaznavi? Many writers of Kashmiri, Indian, and other nationalities have taken up the pen and have written in support of Kashmir’s struggle for self-determination with all the eloquence at their disposal. You could say that such writers too are waging war against the Indian state. So why not kill them as well? Cheers. Let the killing flourish!
Radha Surya is a freelance writer. Her articles have appeared on Znet and Countercurrents.