The fifteen-year-old who turned to militancy

A pheran-clad (round traditional cloak) street boy, a cricket enthusiast, brilliant student and handsome, Burhan Wani of Tral – a small hamlet in South Kashmir’s Pulwama district – joined militant ranks at the age of 15. Burhan’s brilliant mind, creative thinking, high motivational capability, which the young and educated youths of Tral find inspirational.

Burhan had enough guts and foresight to join a militia organisation to fight against India’s forcible occupation of Jammu and Kashmir. His childhood is different than that of others. At the tender age of 15 – when most of the boys think about sexual maturation, girlfriends and fashion — Burhan chose to be a militant fighting in the jungles of Tral, teaching a lesson to hundreds of thousands of Indian troops. Burhan’s history is different: he had seen a lot of havoc in Tral which bewildered him and pushed him to join militant organisations. Burhan had never liked India’s forcible occupation of Jammu and Kashmir— he’s seen giving sermons to young boys of Tral to raise their voice against the brutality. Emerging as an idol, the young Kashmiri boy has been given several names – nowadays, he is known as the ‘Robinhood of Tral’.

Burhan had never thought about becoming a militant. It was the result of a bad experience on a bad day when he, along with his brother, planned to have a joy ride in Amirabad, Tral. They were on a bike when some Special Task Force (STF) personnel stopped them and forced them to bring a pack of cigarettes. They followed the order as they did not want to aggravate the situation, and brought a pack of cigarette for them.  Suddenly, the cops winked at the paramilitary personnel that was playing cards nearby, who swiftly pounced on them. Khalid, Burhan’s brother, fainted on the spot but Burhan managed to run away through a nearby graveyard, screaming, “I won’t leave them now”.

That day, when Burhan returned home, he was repeatedly screaming: “He won’t rest in peace till he teaches them a lesson!” These words showed that Burhan was about to do something big. His family members continuously tried to pacify him but all in vain. They also promised to send him abroad, but before they could plan further, Burhan left home and joined a local militant group.

Since then, Burhan Wani has been teaching a lesson to Indian troopers. He has, on his own, given sleepless nights to Indian forces by jeering them, irritating them and, at last, he is defeating them alone in the forests of Tral. Burhan, earning the support of the locals, is currently holding a top position in Hizbul Mujahideen or maybe Lashkar-e-Taiba—recruiting and aspiring the educated and energetic youths of Kashmir to join militant outfits.

The cluster of traditional houses amid the green forest land, the hot bed of militants – the pro-freedom area always remains vigilant. If we dig out the history of Tral, then there is no day which could be called bloodless.  People living in Tral are never afraid of death---but are scared with detention. The disappearances in Tral have taught the locals that it is better to die than to disappear.  This hot bed of militants is likened to Gaza of Palestine; some liken it to Kandahar in Afghanistan, while some say it is a Pro-Pakistani place. Every family in Tral has sacrificed its kin for the sake of freedom, or we can say, against the Indian brutality.

New wave of resistance in Kashmir

A famous saying by Gerald Seymour goes: “Someone’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”. This sounds quite fitting for a state like Jammu and Kashmir, where a new breed of freedom fighters have emerged to fight the 68-year long Indian occupation. From Ashfaq Majeed Wani – the iconic face of armed struggle – to the new phase of militancy with its new face, Burhan Wani, one thing has remained unchanged in Kashmir: the sentiment and desire for Azadi (freedom).

The recruitment of youth – inspired by Burhan – has turned into a headache for both the police and IB. According to a police estimate, around 32 local youngsters have joined militant ranks this year. In 2014, according to an Army assessment, around 70 local young men had joined the militancy – the highest number in the last few years. Most of them joined Lashkar-e-Taiba. A year earlier, 63 militants, 61 security forces personnel and 15 civilians were killed in militancy-related incidents in Kashmir. However, so far, this recruitment has remained confined to the valley's known militant strongholds like Sopore, Tral, Pulwama and Shopian. Recent reports reveal that militants have expanded their base outwards from these hubs. The police is afraid of the situation which could change dramatically if the young militants would receive internal support from Pakistan or from ISIS.

Security sources claim that a decline in infiltration due to border fencing has made it difficult to smuggle arms into the state in large quantities. As a result, new recruits often have to get their own Kalashnikovs, which could have become a means of making their place in a militant organisation – by showing them they were able enough to acquire weapons on their own. In south Kashmir, we have heard a lot of news about gun snatching. Recently, a cop also left and joined militia organisation with his granted AK-47.

Social media revolution

Though this is far from making the new militancy a formidable challenge for the state government, the discourse that this band of militants is generating is troublesome. The Facebook page on Burhan Muzaffar (which was taken down by the police and IB officials) had attracted 1,516 likes. The page also extols the merits of jihad and martyrdom.

"We drink the intoxicating drink of Shahaada (martyrdom). This living is not living," reads a post.

"We live by having our heads cut off. We are not repressed by falsehood, this is our Eemaan (faith)," says another.

Some pages which upload the pictures of Burhan Wani go viral. Some pictures carry the caption: “I don't want a teenage queen; just give me a rifle, AK47”.  And some of them had some good proverbs too: “If I die in the battle zone, box me up and send me home," reads a post. Another one reads: "Put my rifle on my chest. Tell my mother I did my best. Tell my nation not to cry. I am a Mujahid born to die."

Such posts attract scores of likes and sometimes a long thread of favourable comments. The thread that followed the group picture had fawning admirers pray for the safety of the militants. "Allah inko apni hifazat mein rakhna” (Please God protect them). These “likes" and anonymous comments do not mean that youngsters are joining militancy. This just insinuates that they, too, support the cause verbally or non-verbally. The recent waving of ISIS flags in south Kashmir’s area of Anantnag is insinuating that unrest can start anywhere at any time.

A recent video uploaded by someone on Facebook and shared on WhatsApp also went viral. The video displayed the pictures of newly recruited persons with AK-47 rifles in their hands. Their android phones and the uniform indicates that these newly hired militants are modern and may have skills to hack into networks. The emergence of new armed militia groups might probably be modern in nature and to track them the government will need to learn more about them. For the first time in the history of Kashmir, the police as well CID and IB are clueless about the resisting militants. They are trying to track them but it seems that Burhan’s creative mind is far faster than their computers.