Anger and defiance on Kashmir militant death anniversary

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Indian paramilitary soldiers stand guard in the Lal chowk area of Srinagar (08 July 2017)Image source, EPA
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Parts of India-administered Kashmir were in virtual lockdown

Violent clashes have taken place in Indian-administered Kashmir between security forces and protesters marking the anniversary of the death of a popular militant commander.

Burhan Wani was killed by Indian security forces a year ago and separatist militants had announced massive public protests. Thousands of extra troops were deployed to prevent rallies from taking place.

Burhan Wani's village is in Tral, which is surrounded by thickly forested mountains. On the first anniversary of his death, it was in virtual lock-down.

Heavily armed soldiers sealed all roads leading to the village, with armoured cars strategically placed across the road in some places, others barricaded with concertina wire.

"Our orders are to let no-one in sir, not even the media," Pankaj Jha, an officer of the Central Reserve Police Force, told me apologetically.

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Indian troops surrounded the village of Tral
Image source, AFP
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Civilians have taken to attacking troops with stones to help militants escape

Behind him soldiers fanned out into the woods, to make sure no one was slipping in.

A group of women, wearing black burkhas, approached, holding a small child by the hand but the soldiers waved them back.

"We live in the neighbouring village," one of them told me. "We don't want to go to Burhan Wani's village."

Then, after a pause, she added quietly: "And what if we did? He was like our brother and he died a martyr, fighting for us."

Image source, AFP
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The conflict has lasted nearly seven decades

After a brief discussion, the soldiers decided to let them through. As they walk past us, they discreetly flash a victory sign.

Last year, Burhan Wani's funeral was attended by thousands of people, many of them civilians, a testimony to his massive public support.

"He was charismatic and he appealed to the young," one Kashmiri policeman says.

"I should know. I am from his village. I'd rather be there than here blocking the roads."

This is why the authorities were determined to clamp down this time.

Soldiers surrounded Burhan Wani's family home and ordered all residents of the village to stay indoors.

It was the same situation across much of south Kashmir, now the epicentre of militant violence.

We drove away from Tral towards Pulwama, a town located almost an hour away.

Well before we got there, we were flagged down by troops wearing full body protection.

It was soon clear why.

Within minutes, scores of protesters appeared from surrounding villages, pelting the soldiers with large stones.

"Go India go back," they chanted. "Long live Pakistan," they taunted, spreading their arms defiantly.

Many of them were teenagers.

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Sanjoy Majumder reports: "The security forces will use as much force as needed"

The soldiers looked on warily before responding first with threats and then charged them. The protesters retreated hastily before regrouping and letting loose a fresh volley of stones.

Then the troops fired teargas shells.

"This is what has been happening on almost a daily basis," one soldier said, wearily.

Ever since Burhan Wani's death there has been a massive spike in violence. What is deeply worrying India though, is the growing and active role played by civilians.

Militant funerals are routinely attended by hundreds of people. Soldiers carrying out counter-insurgency operations now also have to deal with civilians who attack them with stones, in an attempt to help militants escape.

It's a trend that could mark a turning point in the nearly seven-decade long Kashmir conflict.

Burhan Wani

  • Born to a highly-educated upper-class Kashmiri family
  • Reported to have been driven to militancy at the age of 15, after his brother and he were beaten up by police "for no reason"
  • He was extremely active on social media, and unlike other militants, did not hide his identity behind a mask
  • India considered Wani a terrorist, but for many locals he represented the spirit and political aspirations of a new Kashmiri generation
  • Indian officials have admitted that he was instrumental in persuading local boys to take up arms against India