Why New Delhi has to engage Kashmiris on Aazadi

After the assassination of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen’s popular tech-savvy commander Burhan Wani on July 8, people across the length and breadth of the Kashmir Valley are organizing peaceful sit-ins, candle light night vigils, torch light marches, online art works, graffiti campaigns, and massive pro-Aazadi rallies. It is an indigenous mass uprising, independent of Pakistan or any other external force. That’s why New Delhi is unnerved as never before.
Since Burhan’s killing under mysterious circumstances, most mosques in Kashmir continue to reverberate with passionate Aazadi slogans and melodious freedom slogans, mostly after the Maghrib prayers. The present scenes are indeed a throwback to the early 1990s when tens of thousands of Kashmiris would participate in gigantic Aazadi processions. If one analyses the situation a little more attentively, the current mass uprising is more powerful than the 1990s movement in more than one way.
Common Kashmiris are offering prayers in city centres, town chowks and streets of Kashmir as an act of defiance. They are raising slogans for Aazadi. Yes, you heard it right, Aazadi. More than 300,000 people gathered in Tral to participate in Burhan's funeral. In my journalistic career thus far, I have never witnessed such massive public support for an armed rebel in Kashmir. This is pretty significant. The anti-India and pro-freedom rallies regularly held in Arwani, Bijbehara, Anantnag, Awantipora, Shopian, Kareemabad, Kaimoh, Pampore, Pulwama, Tral, Kulgam, Banihal, Bandipore, Budgam, Batamaloo, Barzulla, Rawalpora, Rainawari, Soura, Nowhatta, Maisuma, Sopore, Pattan, Ganderbal, Chadoora, and in many other areas are spontaneous, and, therefore, momentous. 
This indigenous mass uprising has demoralised the PDP-BJP coalition government to such an extent that Kashmir is reeling under curfew and strict restrictions for 28th straight day, mobile internet and data internet are blocked, and pre-paid mobile phone customers do not have outgoing call facility. All such undemocratic practices are a new normal in Kashmir, with an aim to hide India’s shame in Kashmir and blackout the news about the mass uprising.
In last 28 days, the trigger-happy Indian forces, enjoying impunity under a draconian law and a license to kill, have shot dead at least 60 unarmed Kashmiris with bullets and pellets. 
Government forces, according to doctors at Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) hospital, have blinded over 325 youths with pellets. As many as 65 fresh surgeries have been performed until Saturday morning, they said. Over 4,000 Kashmiris have received serious bullets and pellet injuries. Defying curfew and unprecedented restrictions, common Kashmiris from all major towns and cities across the Kashmir Valley are leading this indigenous uprising demanding their fundamental political right, the right to self-determination, and Aazadi from the Hindu Brahmanical India led by Narendra Modi. History stands witness to the fact that mass uprisings can’t be suppressed for long. 
People are also strictly following the united Hurriyat’s protest calendar. It is a civil disobedience movement. And, the government is indulging in war crimes against the people it claims to rule and govern. There appears a genocidal tendency in the government’s action to quell the Aazadi protests.
The intensity of the Aazadi rallies is such that at least two politicians bearing allegiance to the National Conference (NC) and Awami Ittehad Party (AIP) in south Kashmir have already renounced pro-India politics to join the people’s mass protests. 
NC’s Iftikhar Misghar, who fought the recent by-election in Anantnag against Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and earlier against the late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, withdrew his security and joined the Aazadi protests. After quitting pro-India politics, Misghar also raised pro-freedom and anti-India slogans like “Hum kya chahate, Aazadi” (We want freedom) and “Bharat ka jo yaar hai/Gaddar hai, gaddar hai” (India’s friend is a traitor!). Videos of his joining the people’s protest and raising Aazadi slogans are available on websites of the regional media.
Following Misghar’s footsteps, one more politician of the AIP, headed by maverick Engineer Abdul Rashid, in south Kashmir also bid adieu to pro-India politics to join the people’s movement. 
Meanwhile, one noticeable development in some of the recently organised rallies is the dramatic entry of a small group of masked armed rebels (not more than two or three) who are carried by people on their shoulders amid passionate Aazadi sloganeering. Afterwards, a human chain is formed to offer a safe passage to the rebels indicating massive public support for them. 
In a recent rally held in Arwani hamlet in south Kashmir’s Bijbehara town, at least three masked rebels surfaced on August 3. According to a Srinagar-based English Daily Greater Kashmir, the masked rebels briefly addressed the rally and asked people “not to indulge in arson”. This message from the armed rebels also explains why they enjoy mass support. Burhan was also known for delivering moderate messages in his online video statements. He always supported the Amarnath pilgrimage, welcomed return of migrant Kashmiri Pandits to their original homes, and told the local police that his rebels won’t target their family members. 
On July 31, Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) chief in Kashmir Abu Dujana also purportedly surfaced in a massive public rally held in Kareemabad area in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district. Earlier, some masked rebels were seen at Burhan’s funeral on July 8. They also offered a volley gun shots as a mark of respect to their slain commander. 
Endorsement of the armed resistance against Indian rule in Kashmir has to be seen in a proper context. Yes, there are proponents of the argument that mobilisation of people after Burhan’s death is a stamp of approval for the path chosen by Burhan and possibly future Burhans, too, but one must not lose sight of the fact that the number of people to have joined the rebel ranks is very small, and, therefore, symbolic act of defiance.
Emotional scenes of people carrying militant commanders on their shoulders during pro-Aazadirallies post-Burhan are indeed reminiscent of the early 1990s when large sections of Kashmiri population endorsed the armed revolt, unaware of the consequences then. This time around, when people are largely aware what they have gone through in the last 27 years in shape of killings, custodial disappearances, arrests, rapes, and mass graves, etc, this overt endorsement of Burhan tells us a story which New Delhi does not want to listen because it perhaps feels comfortable in its denialism and arrogance of power. 
Backing of a renewed armed rebellion should actually have provoked New Delhi to do a rethink on its tried-and-tested-and-failed strategies of managing the conflict and different waves of agitations in Kashmir. But Delhi has again looked the other way and preferred its self-deception mode over introspection. The years of 2008, 2009 and 2010 should have forced Delhi to go for some soul-searching and adopt a judicious approach but unfortunately it has again, wrongly of course, taken refuge in its traditional tool of Pakistan-bashing which, by any stretch of the imagination, proves counter-productive on several fronts. That’s primarily because of the fact that New Delhi and its representatives in Kashmir, despite participation of people in electoral processes, lack respect and sanctity from the Kashmiri society. 
As vast sections of the Indian media, especially the corporate-owned electronic channels, indulge in Pakistan bashing you see more and more Kashmiri youths shouting slogans like “Pakistan se rishta kya/ La ilaha illallah” (Our bond with Pakistan is the Kalima).
Meanwhile, there is no let up in killing spree in Kashmir. The latest victim of state-sponsored violence is a 21-year old Srinagar youth Riyaz Ahmad Shah, who was working as security guard at a local bank’s Automated Teller Machine (ATM). He was shot by paramilitary CRPF troopers when he was returning home, Chhatabal Srinagar, on his Scooty after performing his duty. The preliminary autopsy report confirmed that he was killed due to pellets fired by paramilitary forces at him late on Tuesday evening when he was returning home. He was hit with “almost a full cartridge of pellets, 360 pellets” in his belly from a point-blank range, damaging his vital organs and resulting in his spot death.
The Srinagar-based English Daily Rising Kashmir reported that Riyaz “was coming back from Kani Kadal area when the CRPF men stopped him near the Medical College gate and beat him before pumping pellets into his abdomen”. “(The) CRPF men had dragged him on the road and put him near GMC gate to make it look like an accident,” the newspaper reported. Under pressure from the peoples’ uprising, Jammu and Kashmir Police were forced to register a case of murder against the CRPF under Section 302 vide FIR No 56/2016. With three more civilian killings on August 5, the death toll in government forces’ action against civilian protests has risen to 60 since July 9.
More than 100 ambulances have so far been severely damaged in attacks, mostly by the CRPF and policemen, the newspapers have reported. Normal life has been thrown out of gear in Kashmir for about a month now. It is about time for New Delhi to get rid of its “law-and-order” binoculars to engage Kashmir’s popular and public representatives on the issue of Aazadi, not “peace and normalcy”. 
Peace of graveyards is no peace. Because there can be no permanent peace without addressing the K-issue politically, acknowledging Kashmiris as a principal party to the internationally recognized K-dispute! That's the unpalatable truth for Delhi. As I write these lines all I hear are freedom songs, Aazadi slogans, sirens of ambulances carrying the injured civilians and sirens of police vans announcing imposition of strict curfew!   
Following immortal line of Habib Jalib may help all stakeholders in understanding the gravity of the present situation in Kashmir:
Zulm rahe aur aman bhi ho/ Kya mumkin hai tumhi kaho


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