On an evening of October 2010, he stopped his bike on a CRPF check-post for routine scrutiny. Unknown to the forthcoming mayhem, security personnel would badly thrash this 15-year-old kid, along with his elder brother.
“I’ll avenge this beating,” screamed the young blood, as narrated by his father.
He came back home, sat in a small room on the ground floor of a multi-storey house owned by a government school headmaster and said, “I was just going on the road, why did they beat me? I didn’t do anything, Abbu.” An old man, used to this decade-old violence, tried to calm down his son.
“If I had the gun, I would have shot them. If I had a grenade, I would have killed all of them,” and a 9th class student, Burhan Muzzafar Wani left the house, ‘picked up arms to fight the oppression’.
Back to his home, Tral
Tracking back to Tral, The Kashmir Walla visits the house of Burhan Wani two years following his fatal, supposedly ‘co-incidental’, encounter in Bumdoora, Kokernag asking: what he has left behind for Kashmir?
Unlike in 2016, the streets were numb. Compared to a couple of years ago, there were almost over a lakh people missing in that area. Wani, father of Burhan Wani, was sitting in his home, a few meters away from the local ‘martyr’s graveyard’, watching the drizzles in his garden through a window. A garden, a window, and some raindrops were same, but home has changed a lot in the past decade.
“I’ll tell you a joke,” Wani said adjusting his grey beard. The joke was about Modi’s visit to Kashmir Valley, aiming towards Ramban. Jammu and Kashmir Police arrested the old man an evening before and locked behind the bars. Next day, watching a live-telecast on TV in the police station Wani said to police officials, “He reached Ramban. My son doesn’t have such a big gun that he can shoot him from here. Let me go now.” He was released on the following day.
Looking at the empty wooden shelves in the room, and remembering Burhan’s childhood, Wani whispered, “He was so fascinated by them that he always wanted to join the army. Only things he demanded were army fatigues.”
Burhan couldn’t bear what all Kashmiris live with- oppression. The day when he got thrashed on the street, he changed. Wani tried to console him and asked to let it go (ek kaan se suno, dusre se nikalo) and focus on studies. He added, “There is no one, who hasn’t been through all this. You have to face the same. It is our fate.” But Burhan didn’t buy it.
Wani also tried to buy Burhan with luring offers like livelihood in UAE, Aligarh and even Pakistan. But he replied, “I want to stay in Kashmir; whether today or tomorrow, I have to pick up a gun.”
Wani remembers 6 October 2010 when he asked his son, Burhan, standing at the exit door of the house, that where was he going. “To the tailor,” he replied.
And he did not come back. On the following sunrise, someone called Wani and told that Burhan is with them. Hizbul Mujahideen was on the other side of the phone. Thinking that Burhan is just a hot-boiled child right now, he asked them to not expose him. Hoping that he will return in a day or two, Wani said, “Take care of him.”
He did return. After a couple of months, on a random evening, Burhan came back. Feeling the easiness on heart Wani applauded his decision. Burhan said, “I have wasted my 15 years of life. I came back to tell you that, my life has started now.” Wani couldn’t say anything and Burhan left again.
Like any other household, Burhan wore elder brother, Khalid Wani’s torn clothes. But the youngest of all, Naveed Wani couldn’t wear Burhan’s, or as he used to call, Bhaisahab’s clothes.
When Burhan left, all the relatives took away his belongings. To their father’s shock, 19-year-old Naveed is left with only a black inner of his elder brother, which he wears sometimes.
Once upon a time, Wani’s used to be six in number. Muzaffar Wani and his wife Maimoona Muzzafar had 4 children. Khalid Wani, the eldest son was pursuing his PG in economics. Younger to Khalid was Burhan, a 9th class student turned militant. And Burhan left behind two younger siblings, including a sister Iram and a brother Naveed Wani.
In the family’s multi-storey house with a large green garden, they used to play with a green tennis ball on the lawn and have broken numerous window panes of the passage.
Like every other sibling, they were also great together.
Being a financially stable family, Wani’s had a Television set in the house from the beginning; but the children, specifically Burhan, never saw any movies, TV shows or anything else other than a cricket match.
In India-Pakistan match, ‘being a true Kashmiri, Burhan roared for Pakistan as well’. Wani believes there is not even a range of 10 rs to bargain in this. Being a game lover, Burhan always admired Shahid Afridi, Virender Sehwag, and AB De Villiers.
Like every other teenager in Kashmir, Burhan used to gel his hair and wore half sleeves t-shirts. “He was like a hero. We walked like a hero,” said Wani.
Iram was two years younger to Burhan. Since 2011, Iram knew Burhan had joined militant ranks, though no one ever told her. “Children in Kashmir understand this, you don’t need to tell them,” said Wani checking his constantly vibrating phone.
The whole family is suffering from mental issues right now, including the grandparents. Some of them are even on anti-depressant medicines.
Through the eyes of Wani, Naveed is more like Burhan and less like the eldest brother Khalid. “Like there is smaller one, Burhan,” and Wani fumbled. He realised he confused Naveed with Burhan, rubbing his eyes, he continued, “Naveed walks the same way as Burhan did. Khalid was different.”
Trying to walk away from the embarrassment, Wani said, “I have forgotten everything about them, I don’t even remember things correctly.”
“With every gunshot, we feared if it was Burhan’s time”
“Witnessing his meteoric rise, we always asked Allah for forgiveness. We were cautious that we shouldn’t take pride in that,“ said Wani. Watching their son getting highlighted in prime-time debates and social media, Wani’s lived in a constant fear of Burhan’s encounter.
Shrugging the emotions, Wani said, “But he only chose that path; he knew what was going to happen. We all knew.”
But the pair of a father’s eyes narrated otherwise.
During six years of Burhan’s militancy, there were numerous rumours of him being killed in an encounter. Remembering such an incident when Wani was on duty and someone called saying, “Burhan has been killed.” He started his white Maruti Suzuki WaganR and drove at high speed to reach home. As he stepped out of his car and people began to congratulate him. “What were they congratulating me for? My son’s martyrdom?” wondered Wani. As it turned out, Burhan was not there. He was safe, for now.
Since 2011, the army hasn’t left so much as the hand of a clock in their house untouched. They were more frequent visitors than most of Wani’s close relatives.
For six years, Wani and his son, Khalid, only went in and out of police stations. If anything happened anywhere, his family would be arrested. When the former USA President Barack Obama was to visit New Delhi, forces imprisoned the duo in Tral, south Kashmir.
Bringing out such similar incidents, one after another from the closet of mind, Wani narrated years of physical violence by Indian government forces. “Once, a day before Khalid’s entrance test for college, Tral police station officials came asking for him. When he went to the police station, and they asked him to go to Awantipora. They beat him a lot.” After looking for his eldest son, all around the city, Wani got a call in the evening that day, asking him to take away Khalid.
“I found him half dead. He didn’t give his paper the next day.”
When a young boy picks up arms in Kashmir, the family fights a parallel battle as well. “It has always been like this,” said Wani. “It is always a fight between the army and families of militants. They were searching my son, Burhan, but when they couldn’t find him, they would fight us,” he added.
Wani believes armed forces routinely humiliate civilians using the excuse of maintaining security. “They come and say, hands up! Why would I put my hands up? Look, my hands are visible and I have nothing in them; but still, they demand ‘hands up’! Why would I raise them?”
“It is about all about oppression and humiliation. They abuse us. ‘Bhnchod kaha jaa raha hai, behnchod wo batao, behnchod wo karo. Bola, behnchod card dikha,” said Wani adding that these situations push youth to pick arms.
While in all these years, Wanis’ prepared themselves for the funeral prayers of Burhan, the unexpected came on 13th April 2015. Before Burhan, Wanis’ held their eldest son, Khalid Wani on shoulders.
“No, Khalid never used to meet him in jungles. Maybe forces have made him go that day, to convince Burhan to drop arms,” said Wani.
On 13th April, Khalid went with 3 friends in the jungle to meet Burhan. After the news of forces’ being in the area flew, Burhan ran away. 4 of the visitors got caught.
3 of them are still alive, while forces shot dead Khalid in a fake encounter and later labeling him OGW (over ground worker).
“Burhan didn’t come to see Khalid for the last time, not even in his funeral.”
The day Khalid, or as Burhan used to call him, Bhaipyara, fell to bullets, Sabzar Ahmad Bhat, a close friend, snatched a rifle from a CRPF personnel and joined Burhan. He went on to become the mind behind ‘social media revolution’ that Burhan brought in the Valley.
Talking about the ‘economics of militancy’, Wani said that there is a misconception among Indians that there are only 5% people with Tehreek (Freedom movement). “5% helps in catching him while remaining 95% are with the movement.”
“Where did he sleep, where did he walk, what did he wear? We, the family, never helped him in six years of militancy. People of Kashmir did.”
“Chuon Burhan, Myoun Burhan”
Revisiting 8 July 2016.
The sun was about to set. Sitting next to his father in one of the room, Wani was listening to the news on the radio. “They announced about an encounter in Bumdoora; I have never even heard of any place called Bumdoora,” said Wani.
Soon the radio spoke of one militant’s death and one being trapped. The grandfather in the house switched off the radio and went for daily namaz (Prayers).
Out of curiosity, Wani turned it on. Around 7:55 pm, the news struck the internet; ‘poster boy Burhan Wani killed’.
“I screamed,” said Wani.
By now used to such rumours, Wani tried to calm himself. Soon, scores of youth gathered outside his residence. The ‘shot dead’ picture of Burhan had gone viral across social media. The young boys showed it to Wani.
“Uncle look, is it Burhan?” asked one of them.
People trying to console the father claimed that he was not Burhan.
“Oye! I know he is Burhan. He is my son, and I know he is Burhan,” said Wani screamed again.
Burhan Wani was dead; soon entire Kashmir will scream of ‘martyrdom’ on streets.
Keeping a constant eye on Naveed, Wani went to him, set aside and said, “Burhan is not alone, he had to die anyway,” and hugged him.
“Sometimes I went to Iram, and used to say her, ‘Don’t take it on heart, it had to happen anyways. He was on the field for this day only.’
Wani believes that this era’s militants don’t pick up guns to save the lives of common people, but only to kill the oppressors.
Burhan’s mother being walled by many women, who were consoling her saying, “He went on the right path, he had to die anyway.” The Wani family was always mentally prepared for that day. With the year of Burhan’s absence, his family, spent every day praying for his survival. On 8th July they – and he – ran out of luck.
Wani was also one among over a lakh people on the streets of Tral that day, walking as a part of the bubble to get a glimpse of their fallen rebel. “I was walking behind his body, sometimes 50 meters, sometimes 100 meters,” and Wani took a brief pause and continued, “I was walking behind him.”
Talking about the followed mayhem, Wani had no ilm (idea) of what was coming ahead for Kashmir. “I thought people are here only for his funeral, normalcy will be restored soon after a day,” said Wani. He also discussed with a bunch of people at the funeral that after Sunday, all of them should resume their office again. He also appealed to people to not throw stones and let the traffic move.
“I had no idea, the army would be so brutal on mourners. Before Burhan’s body reached Tral, the government forces had already killed three people,” and Wani took a pause.
Looked straight ahead, he added:“We didn’t even have our hand on the body of Burhan by that time. Kashmir has seen a lot of funerals, if they would have held the public sentiment with a free hand, people would have read the funeral prayer and went home; nothing would have happened. 2016 would not have happened.”
Remembering the day of July 8th, Wani said, “Whole Kashmir was mourning, even the Sikh community. They distributed water, biscuits and food envelopes to people on streets.”
“Burhan was our saviour after God, he used to tell us, ‘if any Muslim creates trouble for you, tell me, I will solve it,’” Wani was told by a Sikh in the funeral.
The Wanis couldn’t be more thankful to Allah, “my son was so worthy that people know me by his name. If he had walked down a wrong path, I had to hang my face. But look, now I walk proudly because Burhan never did any wrong thing.”
Sometimes people refuse to take money from Wani, while some try to meet him and offer salaam.
“Not only me, people of Tral gets respect all over Kashmir valley. They say, ‘You are from Burhan’s Tral?’” said the proud yet grieving father.
Kashmir after Burhan
“I don’t think I will ever see free Kashmir in my lifetime,” said Wani. Since 1947 its citizens have called for independence. “They were the ones who started this struggle.”
“They saw this dream, and they passed it on to their sons, and it can be traced down to today. Even my father wanted to see free Kashmir, so do I. Now, I want Naveed to live in free Kashmir.”
Wani believes this ‘war’ will go on for a thousand years, “but one day, Kashmir will be free.”
Talking to children of YatimTrust in Tral, one of the young girls came wearing a black hijab and said, “Burhan Bhaiya, came in my dream; he told me Kashmir will be free.”
People come to Wani’s house from corners of the Valley saying, “Burhan came in my dream and asked me to visit the graveyard.”
Remembering his own dreams, Wani said he always visualize his younger son in only one form and ran inside the house in search of something.
In the whole conversation, Wani said his family believes, “Neki kar aur dariya mai daal,” and they did so. The family claims they have moved on from Burhan.
Wani entered the room, with a group photo on a wooden cover in hand. It was him, with his 8-year-old son, Muhammad Burhan Wani, and few other colleagues from school. “I always see him in this face only; that is all I remember.” As he did he could not hide his smile.
So, have they moved on from Burhan? No one knows, but the moment suggested otherwise.
“Can you give a message to India?” asked Wani. He requested Indians, on the basis of humanity, to support their freedom movement.
“Support humanity. They won’t get anything from our graves. But yes, there can be a disaster in India; army personnel are their child only, Allah is watching everything. He will not forgive them.”
One thing that hasn’t changed in this house is the school administration handled by Wani. It was 10 am in the morning, and drizzles were fading away. Wani finally picked his ever vibrating phone. “I need to leave now. I have to join my duty and drop Iram to her college,” and asked to stand.
As he walked out of the room, covered only with carpets and nothing else, he pointed out towards the window panes of stairs. “These are changed,” laughed and continued, “I have replaced all of them; Burhan and Khalid used to break one of them as a routine.”
Walking outwards, the garden had a set of plastic chairs with a table in-between; maybe for the regular visitors, the house is used to. The small orchid with a few home-grown vegetables is only left to feed a couple of people in the home now.
“I have sent Naveed away from all this, somewhere in Kashmir, where he is pursuing his B.Sc.”
Leaving from home, forever
Walking out of the large iron exit door, standing at which once Burhan said, “To the tailor,” now read in white,
“Burhan and Khalid.. Still in our hearts.”
And a half-erased “Freed..” in black.
Walking down the road, a few meters away was the ‘martyr’s graveyard’, where the ‘poster boy of Kashmir’ was laid to rest adjacent to his slain brother, Khalid Wani.
Amid the conversation back at home Wani said, “I agree with the person who said, ‘Burhan will be more powerful in his grave.’”
Now, a kind of tourist attraction, one can spot Burhan’s grave from outside the graveyard. The only grave with text engraved in English as well as Urdu read.
Out of surprise, now the dressed Muzzafar Wani, driving a white WagonR in a blue overcoat; a car in which Burhan never sat, one could spot his daughter Iram sitting on the back-seat, covered in black hijab; widened their teeth, displaying a huge smile of gratitude, waved the hand bidding goodbye and splashed the water with his car on the roadside of graveyard.