Be Wary of the Legend of Burhan Wani


Be Wary of the Legend of Burhan Wani

Illustration: Saachi Mehta/ Arré

For the past few days, I have been travelling across the south, but my mind, like that of the rest of the nation, has been firmly fixed on you, the people of my homeland in the deep north.

Every hour or so my phone lights up with reports which insist on putting the troubles that plague you, in juvenile shades of black and white – those that either proclaim Burhan Wani as a martyr or brand him a terrorist. What they don’t understand is your troubles exist in grey. So much blood has flown with the melting snow over the black tar of your roads that there is no room for absolutes. There is only a deep, heaving mass of grey where your green Valley once breathed.

As the death toll rises in your Valley, so do my inner demons. I’ve lived in its embrace long enough to understand not only how heroes are made, but also how legends are exploited. I understand the terror of being stopped at a checkpoint by army men with unfathomable vendettas. I understand the feeling of being singled out. I know what it’s like to be victimised just because one fits the age profile of a potential terrorist, or being targeted for sporting a three-week-old beard. Or being saved because you happened to have a thread to offer in exchange of your life. I have seen schoolchildren walk in the shadow of an army man’s gun; I have seen too many checkpoints to keep a count. But even after seeing all of this, I still haven’t seen a fraction of what you have. And I haven’t seen it season after season, day after day, second after second.

I understand how living like this can make you yearn for “azadi”. But I also know what it is like to be at the receiving end of this “azadi”. The mosques that are mourning Burhan Wani and chanting slogans of “jeevey Pakistan” are the ones which threatened Kashmiri Pandits to either leave Kashmir or die. The crowds that mourn him have the same fervour as the crowds that marched to Lal Chowk, asking Kashmiri Pandit men to leave without their women. I share my sorrow today, as the only time someone pretends to listen to us is when our home is on fire.

For the quest of your “azadi”, Kashmiri Pandits like me have been flung like grains of rice across the great Indian subcontinent in search of better lives. From Delhi to Bombay, we live in colonies named Pamposh and open restaurants named Samovar, as if we can summon the taste, smells, and memories of our homeland with just a name. We long for simple pleasures like a bite of kandar czot, a few words in Kashmiri with someone, and a whiff of breeze from the Valley.

There are forces at work beneath the surface, of which we know nothing. And this is what agonises me.

I feel your pain, my fellow Kashmiri brothers and sisters. Not the stone-pelters or the terrorists, but you, the average hard-working Kashmiri who wants to live peacefully in the lap of your land. What has Burhan Wani done for you? He has become a part of the folklore that will be used to entice and encourage more young men to take up arms. More shrouds will be required, more funeral processions will follow, and more children will lose their vision and their lives. More fathers and mothers will lose their sons.

Don’t let the legend of Burhan Wani become a call for heroism. For some of you, he was a militant Robin Hood of sorts, hiding in the forests of Tral, hoodwinking those in power and gathering a following in the process. Whether his legend is true or whether it is a well-constructed myth depends on whose story you believe, which point of view you consider. And the points of view are many and they are weighted not by pure love, but by deep motive.

There are forces at work beneath the surface, of which we know nothing. And this is what agonises me. Everyone has their interests in keeping your wounds raw and festering. Chess pieces are being moved as we speak. The unrest that prevails in the place we call home is a dream scenario for rabble-rousers and troublemakers. Perception and emotions are being managed on both sides.

I know that Burhan Wani has touched a chord. But it is a dangerous note to strike. It is up to you to see that the story written in bloodshed, does not meet its end in pain. How you tell this story, what colours you give it, will set the narrative for generations to come. What people are forgetting is that before Burhan Wani, thousands of boys and men have given up their lives for “azadi” and nobody even knows their names.

For this reason, you must be wary of the legend of Burhan Wani. I hope that when you tell your children the story of these last few weeks, you will tell it as a cautionary tale and not a fable of martyrdom. The only difference between death and martyrdom is the amount of press coverage.