July 16, 2016
Burhan Muzaffar Wani, a Hizbul Mujahideen commander for South Kashmir, died in an encounter in Bundoora village of Kokernag on July 8, 2016, along with two other militants, Sartaj Ahmad Sheikh and Pervaiz Ahmad Lashkari. Wani’s death has generated unprecedented public hysteria, in keeping with his image as a glamourous, tech savvy, insurgent. The lessons to be drawn from this event go beyond the conventional understanding of violence in Kashmir.
A school dropout from the Shareefabad area of Tral, Pulwama district of Jammu and Kashmir, Burhan Wani effectively played the victimhood narrative by stating that he had joined the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) at the age of 15 in reaction to the brutality of the Security Forces, which had beaten his brother, Khalid, unconscious in the summer of 2010 on the streets of Tral. Wani eschewed the traditional gun-toting route and innovatively used his social media skills, thus changing the public face of militancy in Kashmir by crowd sourcing support in a manner popularised by the agitators of the Arab Spring and the ISIS in Syria/Iraq.1
Wani’s Use of Social Media
Wani’s initial stint in the HM in 2011 was that of a courier/messenger; the differentiator came with his cyber outreach. He created a Twitter handle @Gazi_Burhan2 in October 2012, which he used to upload photographs of atrocities – overtly graphic pictures of violence – allegedly perpetrated by Security forces as well as virulently anti-India and anti-Modi content.2 His calls for joining the ‘Jihad’ were accompanied by qur’anic verses, emotive demands for “Azadi” and exhortations to establish the Nizam-e-Mustafa (God’s government) in Kashmir. In a first action of its kind, he started sending photographs of himself and other militants with faces uncovered, in identifiable locations around Srinagar, which gave disaffected youth a sense of identity and imparted the idea that militancy was a heroic, fairly risk-free, job. His message to join the ‘Jihad’, and not become informers of the Army or Police, gained traction. And in an obvious recruitment drive, he offered remunerations of Rs 35,000 to whomever was willing to join.3 His video and twitter messages highlighted his fight against the Indian establishment. And because of his tweets, Mohammad Ikhlaq, lynched in Dadri on suspicion of consuming beef, and Zahid Ahmed, a Kashmiri trucker who was attacked in Udhampur, have become household names across the Valley.4