For decades now, armed militants have been regularly killed fighting Indian soldiers in Kashmir. But the latest incident on July 8, in which the young militant Burhan Wani died, has once again lifted the veil from the realities of the always-simmering valley.
Kashmir is again convulsing with anger, and as the rage was met by deadly state force, it has already left over 30 young protestors dead in four days and more than 1,500 injured, many with bullets in their bodies. Scores of the injured young Kashmiri boys will here on see the world only with one eye, having lost the other to the infamous “non-lethal weapons”, the pellet guns used by the government forces.
It is not possible to understand the aftermath of the youthful and iconicmilitant’s death without a substantial examination of the intervals of seeming peace, usually marked by high inflows of tourists, the uneventful conduct of the Amarnath yatra, and the regularly held elections. A genuinely meaningful political engagement with the question of Kashmir never even gets a start. But these intervals are also used by the establishment for elaborate exercises in managing perceptions surrounding Kashmir.
Burhan Wani’s rise to an iconic figure, and the Kashmiri people’s response to his death, shattered those perceptions, just like the months of mass protests had done in 2010. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was perhaps referring to the unraveling of carefully manufactured perceptions when he reportedly expressed unhappiness over Wani being portrayed as a hero in the media, as he belatedly reviewed the situation in Kashmir on his return from Africa. It reminded one of a similar comment by Modi after the 2002 Gujarat pogrom when a western journalist asked if he regretted what happened under his watch. His only regret, Modi had said then, was that he did not manage the news media better.