Auqib Javeed & Nidhi Suresh
TRAL (PULWAMA): Beautiful villages nestled among lush green forests, undulating hills with sparkling mountain streams and innumerable gushing springs all around: This is Tral valley.
Walking through the villages, one is transported to another world, impossible at first sight to realise that underneath lie the embers ignited by the volcanic eruption last year that engulfed whole of Kashmir and the after effects of which can still be felt.
After a one hour ride and a 4km walk, we arrive at our destination. A grey coloured mansion with a large red gate, sits tucked away at the foothills of the mountains that outline Tral. On the gate two names are untidily written with white chalk Burhan and Khalid. It seemed like the person who scribbled them was in an angry rush to inscribe the names on the walls lest the anger be forgotten. We had arrived at the home of Burhan Muzaffar Wani, slain commander of Hizbul Mujahideen.
Last year, on July 8 when security forces killed Burhan Wani, close to two lakh mourners, as per government estimates, had descended on this sleepy village to bid adieu to their militant commander. Photographs of enraged men and distraught women filled the front page of every newspaper across India and beyond.
One year on Burhan Wani's parents do not want to speak to anyone. "I do not trust the Indian media. Last time I gave a video interview to a well-known media outlet and when I saw that online I was shocked at how they had pulled everything out of context. Honestly, I'm very scared now" said Muzaffar Wani, Burhan Wani's father. He finally agreed to talk to us on the condition that we would not video record the conversation. After promising him not to turn on our camera, we sat down in the garden to talk.
After a small conversation, I told him the real purpose of our visit was to meet his wife and talk to her instead. "What will she say? She's not into politics," Muzaffar Wani responded.
Maimoona Muzaffar, Burhan's mother doesn't want to talk either. "I echo everything my husband just told you," she said. She hadn't sat through my conversation with Muzaffar Wani, but she probably already knew what most journalists would ask. When I didn't respond, she watched me for a while and led me into the small room in the corner of the ground floor. Maimoona is a postgraduate in science and now teaches Quran to school children.
On 8th of July 2016, Hizbul Mujahideen commander, Burhan Muzaffar Wani was killed, along with two other militants in Kokernag, another picturesque Kashmir health resort. The 22 year old, who had carried a reward of Rs one million on his head, was tracked down and slain after a tip-off that he and his comrades were planning to come down of the forests to their hometown, Tral for Eid.
Burhan, joined militancy at the age of 15. It was one single confrontation with the security forces that almost forced the boy to embrace arms, a promise that an anguished 15 year old yelled out to the army personnel. Back in 2000, Burhan Wani, his elder brother, Khalid Wani and a friend of theirs were riding around in Tral on Khalid's new bike. An army personnel stopped them and asked him to buy cigarettes for him. The boys were not new to this routine. What was different about this time was that, despite buying cigarettes, the soldier rebuked the boys. A small altercation and soldier pounced on Khalid and beat him black and blue until he was unconscious. while Burhan and his friend managed to run away. It is said that, from a distance, Burhan stopped to look back and scream at the soldiers that he would one day return and balance the account.
The very first thing Maimoona Muzaffar told me was, "I don't concern myself with the politics of this land. I only wanted Burhan to be a good person and he is."
Was Burhan interested in politics?
He was 15 years old. All he was concerned about was playing. He never looked at a newspaper, neither did he ever go out to join protests.
What was Burhan like?
He was a stubborn child. I remember, once we had guests come over and I had prepared different varieties of chicken. Burhan really liked one of the dishes I had made. In front of the guests, he embarrassed us by saying he wanted all of of the chicken. The guests had to scrap whatever was on their plates and give it to him. When Burhan would make up his mind, he would never relent.
The day Burhan, Khalid and their friend was beaten up by the army and Burhan made his promise to take revenge, what was he like when he came home?
He didn't come home straight. He went to his nanihal (grandparent's house). When he returned home later he was very disturbed. He kept yelling that he would not let this go. Even Khalid was telling him to calm down
Did it scare you to see him like that?
No. I brushed it off and went on with my work. I knew he was upset but I didnt take his words too seriously then. You see, one day Burhan would say he wanted to be a doctor, another day he would say he wanted join the Indian army. So I just assumed that, that day he wanted to be a militant.
When he left and didn't come back, did you know he'd joined the Hizbul Mujahideen?
Yes I knew he left to join the militancy but I thought he'd come back. He would be back in a few days or weeks. He is from a good family, he was never a violent child so I never thought he'd sustain. But after two months when he didn't return, I knew he wasn't coming back
Did he ever visit you after he became a militant?
Yes he came home once, after two months and met his father
Where were you?
I was at the hospital with my sister who was a little sick. I wish I was home. I just wanted to see him and ask him how he is. I would have been so happy just to see him from a distance also. I usually never leave home; I really really wish I hadn't left that day.
If you had met him, would you have convinced him to stay back?
My husband asked him to come back home. We thought he must be tired. We would have never asked him to leave militancy because if that's what he had chosen then that's the path Allah has paved for him. But yes, I would have at least asked him to rest for some time.
When he joined militancy were you constantly afraid of waking up and hearing that he is dead?
Martyred you mean?
Yes, sorry, martyred
I was not worried about his death, it was inevitable. Of course I still cry for him some days. Im a mother, it hurts, you know? But every time I cry, I console myself by saying that these are happy tears.
What about Khalid? Were you prepared for his death?
Khalid? No, not at all. I was not at all prepared for that day. Khalid just went out for a picnic in the morning and by the afternoon he was killed. He had asked me for Rs 200 for petrol and I gave him 500 Rs as I had no change. He told me he would return the balance when he comes back. He came back in a coffin.
Some media reports said that Khalid was an Over Ground Worker (OGW) for Hizb. They say that, on that day he was going to meet Burhan and pass on a few things. So, do you really think he went for a picnic?
He is the only one who knows why he left that day.
When Burhan left home, did the security forces bother you a lot?
(After a pause) Khalid and my husband were often picked up, locked up and harassed. Khalid was very affected by all this. He would get picked up from his office and it was very embarrassing for him. After a few months of continuous harassment, he was not able to work and had to visit a psychiatrist. He used to eat medicines to stay sane. I remember, whenever he came back from the police station after being locked up, he would sit next to me and say Mouji, mei chu basaan mei phati kalle (Ma, my head feels like it's going to explode) (By now Maimoona's eyes were moist)
Did the police ever harass you?
What was your last conversation with Burhan?
Burhan had bought some new clothes few days back. But he soon started disliking them. The day he left, I watched him stuff those new clothes in a bag. He told me he was going to exchange them for new ones. I don't remember what I had told him. I guess he was packing.
When he used to upload videos on YouTube, did you watch them?
Yes, every single one of them.
Did you watch him as a son or as a Mujahid?
I always watched him as a Mujahid. He was doing his duty in the way of Allah and I would check to see if he was doing it properly. I would watch the videos repeatedly and listen very carefully to make sure he was not saying anything wrong.
The Indian media calls Burhan a terrorist. As a mother, what do you feel when you hear your son being labeled as a terrorist?
I know my son is not a terrorist. He is a Mujahid, a freedom fighter. Nobody changes that.
After Burhan's killing Kashmir had erupted. So many young children lost their lives in the year long uprising. How did you feel seeing all this and knowing that they were all yelling Burhans name in their last few breaths?
I feel deeply disturbed when I think of everything that happened after Burhan. The people who lost their lives are martyrs; they are more at peace than the ones who've lost their eyes or limbs. This actually hurts me more than how I felt when Burhan died. These parents shouldn't have lost their children or see them deformed. It's not fair. None of this is fair.
Do you ever wish none of this had happened? And that Burhan was still alive and Khalid didnt go through what he did?
No. I would never wish that. That would mean going against Allah's wishes for my sons. This is what Burhan had to do. This is why he was born. It pains me whenever I think of Khalid but I believe in Allah, I believe he will take revenge of everything that happened to us.
What is your favorite memory of Burhan?
(She looks around the room and then at her feet. She smiles a little, looks up)
Burhan never sat down. Whenever he came home from outside he would never sit down on the carpet. He would lie down and we would have to step over him or would sit on this ledge with his feet dangling (points at the wooden ledge under the window). I don't remember ever seeing him sit down cross legged. That's what I like remembering about him.
Tell me about the day Burhan's body was brought home?
My husband cried, I didn't. I watched my son turn into a Shaheed (Martyr). His body was placed outside. I didn't even step outside the door. Later, he was brought into this very room for 10 minutes. Thats when I held him and touched him. But I didn't cry that day. There was no reason to cry.
What are you going to be doing this 8th July, the first death anniversary of Burhan?
People will visit us. I will serve them chai and snacks.
Will you do something in memory of Burhan?
I remember him and Khalid every day. It doesn't need a special day.
It has been exactly a year now, the media has visited you many times, people come to pay their respect, how has it all been for you?
It has been a lot of noise. Nothing ever changes.
- Muzaffar Wani did not want us to take any pictures of Maimoona Wani. "I don't want her face to be splashed across newspapers and TV channels. The media can be very brutal" he said.
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