by Zia Sarhadi
Four years after his martyrdom, Burhan Wani continues to influence the landscape of Kashmiri resistance struggle.
His photos are everywhere: on boarded shop fronts, walls, lamp posts… and in every city, town and village in Indian occupied Kashmir.
In the immediate aftermath of his martyrdom on the night of July 8, the Indian media gloated that a leading resistance fighter and icon had been eliminated.
They claimed that Kashmiri resistance had been dealt a death blow from which it would not be able to recover.
When more than 200,000 people came out into the streets the next day for his funeral in defiance of a curfew, it left the Indian occupation army, government and jingoistic media shell shocked.
They immediately resorted to their default position. Pakistan, or more precisely its premier intelligence agency, the ISI, was behind the people’s mobilization for Burhan Wani’s funeral.
If the ISI is really so powerful, India is in big trouble.
The jingoistic Indians thought by killing the young (Burhan Wani was only 22 years old), charismatic and media savvy freedom fighter, it would demoralize the people. It had the opposite effect.
Before his martyrdom, people were afraid to openly identify with the freedom struggle or support the mujahideen.
Burhan Wani’s murder eliminated the fear factor from people’s minds.
They now openly defy the occupation forces, with their bare hands despite the indescribable brutality of the occupiers.
Many stories and even myths have been woven into his life struggle, short as it was, after his death.
This is what martyrdom for a cause does.
When people identify with a cause—there is little doubt that the overwhelming majority of people in Indian colonized Kashmir hate the occupiers and want them banished from their land—the martyrdom of a charismatic figure energises their struggle.
Wani spent much of his time in the forests. His most iconic image is his youthful face with a bandana inscribed with the Kalimah, wrapped on his forehead, and an AK-47 rifle in hand.
He would slip out of the forest to play cricket with the village boys. He paid for the wedding costs of poor girls, people say.
How much of this is fact and what is myth, we will never fully know but the fact is, most people in Kashmir believe this.
And that is what matters.
His martyrdom has energized the resistance movement.
The occupation forces have intensified their brutal crackdown.
Many more Kashmiri youth have been killed. Thousands of young boys and girls have been blinded by pellet guns yet the resistance continues.
Last August, the Indian regime unilaterally abrogated Kashmir’s special status and arrested thousands of Kashmiri youth as well as the entire political leadership in Kashmir.
The Internet was shut down as were all phone communications. Schools, colleges, shops and even hospitals were shut down.
Kashmir was put under total lockdown. Eleven months later, the situation remains just as grim.
While some restrictions have been eased, the lockdown generally continues.
The Kashmiris’ life has been totally disrupted.
But if the occupiers thought this will cow down the Kashmiris, they have had a rude shock.
The Kashmiris continue to resist despite enormous odds.
And Burhan Wani’s martyrdom has played a huge role in fortifying the spirit of resistance.