Sidra Insar Chaudhary
After centuries of British Raj in the Indian subcontinent ended, this is the first year when 13th July won’t be celebrated as Martyrs’ Day officially in Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IOJ&K). Last year in December, the Hindu nationalist BJP government removed the day from the official list of holidays in IOJ&K. However, ‘official’ is just a tag, by now every living Kashmiri, whether young or old, remembers this day like it is carved in stone. The day is celebrated in the remembrance of first martyrs in Kashmir’s struggle for freedom. In 1931, the Dogra regime killed 22 Kashmiris when they protested against Abdul Qadeer Khan Ghazi’s prosecution. The incident laid the foundation of modern-day freedom struggle in occupied Kashmir valley.
The significance of the month of July was elevated even more for Kashmiris when Indian security forces killed Burhan Wani, a 21-year-old young freedom icon, on 8 July 2016. Since then, the Indian state has normalized oppression in occupied Kashmir, be it wartime or peace, the repressive state has adopted a predictable pattern that traumatizes public at large at the slightest hint of some activities by the local population. So, every year now July is considered to be a month of curfew in Kashmir; without any internet, phone networks, or tv broadcasts.
Burhan was not an ordinary boy. He was the icon of Kashmir’s resistance against India’s oppressive rule. And he attained this iconic status due to his virtue, devotion, grace, and most importantly his vision. He revolutionized the young Kashmiri youth by perfecting the use of social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to reach millions of Kashmiris. His regular speeches guided young Kashmiris and gave them hope for a better future to strive for. He ran campaigns against Indian oppression in IOJ&K on all of the major social media sites and managed to enlist countless other young Kashmiris who followed him as their leader in the struggle for liberty.
Soon after his fake encounter, Kashmiri people rose in massive numbers in anger against the Indian state. Before this, Kashmir had never seen such a huge number of people united under a single banner. Shia, Suni, Ladakhi, Salafi, or Hanafi, Burhan Wani’s sacrifice removed all fissures of divide among Kashmiris on both sides of the border. According to Kashmiri media, more than half a million people attended Wani’s funeral where his body was wrapped in Pakistani flag before burial. Indian state responded with even more intensity and killed more than a hundred civilians that were protesting against Wani’s murder.
In Indian Occupied Kashmir young boys are beaten or even killed regularly in the name of fighting terrorists. India has routinized this process of turning people towards violence to fight state brutality. Burhan Wani was also a bright young student who wanted to study, but in 2010 Indian army officers severely injured him and his elder brother when they were on their way to the market. In Occupied Kashmir valley, parents often can’t even recognize the bodies of their young sons when they are returned by the Indian state. In some cases, parents are just shown a burial ground and told that their son is buried here. Moreover, the mutilation of the bodies by India forces is also a norm in Kashmir. The situation got so bad that even Modi’s ally and former puppet chief minister Mehbooba Mufti had to criticize Modi’s government over the mutilation of young Kashmiri dead bodies and demanding that this practice needs to stop.
Wani’s sacrifice placed him in the annals of the history of resistance for freedom for eternity from where he would shine his guiding light upon all the freedom fighters. Independent experts at the time of his sacrifice believed that he had given eternal fuel to the fire of Kashmiri resistance. Since then, all of the predictions seem to be proven true. Huge numbers of young Kashmiris have joined the freedom movement after July 2016. Some scholars even suggest that last year’s annexation of statehood status of Jammu and Kashmir by removal of article 370 was also the culmination of this disastrous policy where India knew it had to respond with genocidal oppression to curb Kashmir self-determination desire. This move aims to crush the Kashmiri spirit of resilience in the name of ‘development.’ But this is not the first time such draconian tools are being used by India.
In 2016 and 2017, the aftermath of Wani’s death, India repeatedly used civilian Kashmiris as human shields and blinded protesters with pellet guns. And even before that, in the 1990s, massive enforced disappearances, mass rapes, torture, religious pogroms, and political control were normalized by Indian state to deny the promised plebiscite under UN’s supervision. So now, when one speaks to ordinary Kashmiri you would hear the words of inteqam(revenge) for decades of zulm(injustice). They openly curse India’s cruelty and fascism by using word like lanat(shame).
There is now a need for the international community to adopt a new way of thinking vis-à-vis Kashmir where Kashmiri people are placed at first instead of India or Pakistan. India has always used Pakistan as a cover for its barbaric practices. But the world needs to realize that Kashmir’s struggle is indigenous. If we were to somehow shift Pakistan to some other continent, the Kashmiris would still continue with the same rigor. Like all other human beings, Kashmiris deserve a life of peace and prosperity. It is the moral imperative and legal obligation of India to grant Kashmiris their right to self-determination. The courageous people of Kashmir will keep fighting for their rights on streets regardless of the Indian state’s violence.