Tral is still seething.
Muzaffar Wani, was just another respectable figure in this small town in South Kashmir – until his younger son Burhan Wani, who had joined the militant group Hizbul Mujahideen in 2010, rose to be its divisional commander and became a local legend.
It is now more than a month since 21-year-old Burhan Wani was killed, in what has come to be known as the defining moment in the recent history of this troubled state.
And Muzaffar Wani is no longer merely a high school principal. After losing his two sons to encounters with the security forces, he finds himself in national limelight, splashed in national newspapers with sensational headlines.
Meanwhile, shutdowns and protest rallies have spilled over and seeped into small and major villages of South Kashmir.
Roadblocks have been constructed in every village leading up to Tral.
Days after the unrest began after Burhan Wani's death on July 8, people from different corners of south Kashmir have been gathering at Muzaffar Wani's residence, pleading with him to lead them.
“People from many villages invited Muzaffar sahab to rallies," said one of his relatives. "But he has been refusing their invitations. A lot of them came to his house. Some days back boys on bikes had come to persuade him. They said they would bring out a bike rally to [his residence] but Muzaffar sahab told them not to,” the relative added.
On the road outside, dozens of vehicles are ferrying protestors to Dadsurai village for a protest rally. Protestors had cleared the barricades they had set up on other days, so that vehicles could go to the rally. Security forces were limited to the gates of their camps, to avoid potentially lethal clashes with the boisterous crowds. The scorched residue of burnt tyres and rocks littered the intersections at link roads.
As Muzaffar Wani approached the gate of his residence, the protestors swarmed around him. They greeted and began telling him how they were sustaining their protests. Some visitors also laid out their grievances. Wani told them to not do anything that might provoke a reaction from the armed forces. The young men seemed to accept the advice without any question.
A visitor complained about the bands of boys blocking the roads: they had not allowed his water-starved village to accept a tanker the local administration sent. He sought Muzaffar Wani’s intervention.
On his part, Muzaffar Wani, denies that he is a leader. He had not been to any rallies, he said. At the most, he only goes over to the nearby mosque. “Giving speeches is the job of leaders," he said. "I am just the father of Burhan and a teacher.”
Pointing towards the front lawn, where a large tent had stood until recently, Muzaffar Wani said he had been busy with the rush of visitors at his home.
That large tent has now been taken down, but a smaller tent is now pitched between the side verandah and the boundary wall of his house.
During his conversation with Scroll, slogans from protestors passing by and songs in praise of Burhan Wani from mosque loudspeakers could be heard from the distance.
A few vehicles passing by had stopped at the gate of his residence, shouting slogans in praise of the Wani family and their son.
Excerpts from the interview.
You were reported to have led a protest at Pampore where you are said to have offered your daughter to the separatist movement. Is that true?
I have not been to any rally. I am not a leader and have not given any call [to rally]. I had been sent invitations [to many rallies] but I did not attend any. Giving speeches is the job of leaders, I am just the father of Burhan and a teacher.
But people look up to you as a leader. Why do you think that is?
The people would be able to answer that. Ask them why they consider Muzaffar sahab a leader.
At your house, some visitors had come to you with their grievances and help in dealing with the protestors.
Yes, that is because everyone is emotional, and have united at my son’s martyrdom. They think that at this time people would listen to Muzaffar sahab and that is why they requested me to talk to the people, asking them not to cause trouble.
How has the situation been evolving since Burhan’s killing?
Burhan decided to fight the oppression after he saw the 120 funerals of 2010 and the state’s highhandedness. But the problem did not begin in 2010. It has been there since 1947 that Kashmir has been left as a dispute. The people have been denied the opportunity to say what they want. We should reach a middle ground. Indians are our brothers, so are Pakistanis
The people were in a slumber. His martyrdom has awakened their conscience. Now they have awakened and are thinking what they need to do. They are realising the cause for which someone as young as Burhan sacrificed his life. The passions in them has reignited – that we should get independence from India. This is why they have gathered and are protesting. A lot of people have told us that they will continue the hartal until a decision has been reached jointly by India, Pakistan and Kashmiri leaders.
You had said that it was God’s grace that Burhan was killed and not arrested. Why do you say that?
Had he been caught alive, the tehreek [movement] would not be at this stage. The tehreek would have gone back 10 years. But now it has moved 20 years forward.
But wouldn’t the people still be as angry if he was arrested?
No, they wouldn’t have been. They would have been angry at Burhan sahab. Thinking maybe he too had surrendered. But he was not like that.
The present generation is proactive in the protests. What difference do you see in the present generation of children and Burhan’s generation?
Yes, 10- 12-year-old children are participating more in these protests. The difference is that our generation was a little cowardly. We had seen peace and were afraid of the gun when it appeared. But the children today have been born in the era of the gun and they have heard gunshots and seen piles of bodies since childhood – they have seen orphans, their mothers getting widowed. This goes on in their minds: "What is happening?" These are innocent children, they have not done anything wrong or committed a crime and yet these atrocities are committed on them. Look at how many children lost their eyes, legs or hands. How many fathers got killed, and mothers injured. The children cannot tolerate this because their power of tolerance is lower and this is why they participate [more in the protests].
You said you wanted Kashmir to be a land of peace. How do you think that can be achieved?
If we are freed from India, we will get some time – six months, 10 months, one year, two years – to stabilise. Then we will think what to do.
Our aim is that this is Allah’s land and his law should be enforced here. We will make the constitution of Kashmir on the basis of the Quran and Sunnat [deeds and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad]. There will be 100% peace.
And securing the rights of our Sikh and Hindu brothers is important in Islam. Our Sikh, Hindu, Christian brothers will get more security than they have today.
We have to show the entire world that the law of Sharia – which we will run here – is not terrorism, it is the religion of peace. We want to show the world that Islam is a religion of peace and doesn’t want terrorism. We should just get the opportunity.
If we remain with the Constitution of India, we will not get the chance to show the people what Islam really is. They just defame us. They do the acts of terrorism and defame Muslims instead. When a Muslim is fired at, he is forced to pelt stones back.
What do you mean by Kashmir?
I am talking about the entire [state of] Jammu and Kashmir, including PoK [Pakistan-occupied Kashmir]. We have to think about Jammu and Ladakh, their views and religion too. It is not that the wishes of Tral will be forced upon them.
You used the term “PoK”. Do you think the territory of Jammu and Kashmir under Pakistan is occupied?
Yes they too have occupied it. But they are still better. The laws of 1947 are still there which is why they are not raising their voice. They are not being showered with bullets. I am not a politician, only a teacher of mathematics. I must have said something wrong because I don’t [fully] understand politics. I think that Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Jammu and Kashmir should be united. It is the job of politicians – India’s, Pakistan’s, and Kashmir’s. It is not my decision.
Is militancy a hindrance to making Kashmir a land of peace or is it required?
It is not needed now. It is like [former J&K chief minister] Omar [Abdullah] sahab said – that militancy has done its job. Now it’s the people’s job to take it forward peacefully. Militants should stay on the sidelines. Now the talks should go on, peacefully.
Is the current unrest not taking us away from peace? A lot of people have been killed and the livelihoods of many is suffering...
This happened in 2008 and 2010. If the protests stop here, these makaar [duplicitous] people will not take the dialogue forward. They will not listen to our problems and only talk about development. They probably think that by building roads and giving people jobs that we will sit in homes thinking we have got azadi. We don’t want that azadi where roads are made. Roads and pools will be constructed anyway, education too will go on but first we need to be at peace. That will happen when India will free us.
Whom do you call makaar?
Those who are afraid of talking directly of azadi. Those who made the interlocutors’ committee in 2010. [The interlocutors] were told to talk to people from all walks of life. But when they came here they did not speak to all. They did not come to Tral. They did not come to South Kashmir. Anyway, whatever report they made, it should have been made public and some action taken over it. No action was taken. When [an unrest] happens they try to find a way to quiet it down. And when peace returns, they stall. Now six years later people are back on the streets. They will again respond saying make peace first – and then stall us for six more years. But this time the people won’t [stop protesting] until a good decision.
So if the government sends interlocutors again, will it have any impact?
How can it today when they have betrayed us before? Once a liar is always a liar. How can we trust them today that they will say the truth? There is only one way: talk to Pakistan and include representatives of Kashmir in it. The decision taken there will be acceptable to all Kashmiris. If they talk to Kashmiris, without including Pakistan, it won’t be acceptable to Pakistan. If India and Pakistan make a decision without consulting Kashmiris, who knows if it would be acceptable to us? It is important that Pakistan, India, and representatives of Kashmir sit together and come up with a solution acceptable to all.
Do you consider the state government to be representative of Kashmiris? Who are the representatives of Kashmiri people?
They are also our representatives. Omar Abdullah sahab or the PDP [People’s Democratic Party], etc too should take part [in the talks]. It is not necessary that only the Hurriyat should [participate in the talks]. They too are representatives of the people. They too are our brothers, and natives of Kashmir. Someone must have made a mistake but Islam always leaves a door open for repentance. We can sit together and make a government together. It is not necessary that only Geelani sahab or Omar sahab...even the doctors and professors should be included as representatives in the talks. They too know what is happening and politics should be set aside. They have to come forward because people are dying here and for the sake of humanity we should conduct a dialogue by which the violence would stop. Whether they are from PDP or National [Conference], they too should be taken in confidence.
How do you think the PDP government has handled the unrest?
Mehbooba is sitting inside, who is dying? Police and Kashmiri people die and are getting injured. She goes from Kashmir to Delhi and back. Even if she has to come to Tral, she will come in a helicopter. What is it to her?
They have not done the right thing. They probably think that by using force they will weaken the people's resolve. This is a wrong notion. People’s hearts cannot be won with force. They can be won with love, not force. They should have come forward.
The NC [National Conference] has always betrayed us. Till elections, they tell us they will bring autonomy. But when elections end, they do not talk about it.
The PDP raised slogans of self-rule, people voted thinking they will deliver but they too forgot when it came to power. Mufti sahib promised self-rule, but his daughter has forgotten her father’s promise.
The National Conference does not talk about autonomy and PDP doesn’t talk about self-rule.
People are dying and to remain in power they oppress people. They put pressure on people by firing, thinking that will suppress them. If 2,000 to 5,000 people are injured, 5,000 to 10,000 families are associated with them. They think maybe people will stop because of it. But they are wrong. It [people's protests] can not be stopped by force or army, it can be stopped through peace which will only come through talks between India, Pakistan, and Kashmir.
Whenever there is an unrest in Kashmir, India blames Pakistan. How do you see this attitude?
They always say that. Even if husband and wife fight, India says Pakistan has a role in it.
The big thing is that they are raising slogans of insaniyat, Jamhooriyat, Kashmiriyat [humanity, democracy and Kashmiriat]. I will leave jamhooriyat and Kashmiriyat. If they are sincere and care about the people and have any humanity left – if they are talking about insaniyat – they have to prove it. The oppression on Kashmiris must be stopped – 200 people have lost their eyesight due to pellet guns. This doesn’t happen anywhere in the world, not even in Palestine.
In Haryana last year Jats caused destruction worth thousands of crores. Not a single bullet was fired and no one was killed. They were sprayed with water. And what do they do here? They fire bullets and spray pellets. How can they say [Kashmir] is their atoot ang [integral part – literally, unbreakable organ], that Kashmiri people are their own?
They say Kashmir is ours, but they don’t consider Kashmiris as their own. [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi said all Indians love Kashmir. He is right. But he should have added that they love Kashmir but not Kashmiris. They don’t try to find solutions.
It is important that Pakistan shuns its arrogance. Indian and Kashmiri leaders too should. They should sit together and find a way so that peace prevails in India, Pakistan, and Kashmir. Life is transient. Whether a person lives for 50 or 80 years, let him live in peace. Let people of India live in peace, and people of Pakistan too. Pakistan blames India and India blames Pakistan. An environment has to be created in which all three nations – rather, the entire region – becomes a haven of peace.
For the talks to happen, isn’t peace a must? If unrest in Kashmir continues, the talks are not likely to happen.
If India and Pakistan first talk to each other [and accept] that the issue of Kashmir needs to resolved, they [should] form a timeframe and appeal to the people to make peace so that this issue be resolved. Maybe then we can make peace. They must first promise in writing that a full and final decision that will be acceptable to people would be taken.
If a delegation comes here, where will they go in the curfew? They will go to the PDP or the NC or the Congress. No one goes to the people who are dying. If you want to ask, first ask people who have lost their family members. They should talk first to the ordinary citizens and only after that to the NC, PDP, or the Hurriyat.
How do you see Omar Abdullah’s criticism of the present government in light of his handling of 2010?
It is politics. It is only one side of the same coin. Even if they do it for opposition [politics], it is alright. It doesn’t matter how many people one has killed, if they repent and join our ranks we will accept them. I request the PDP and the NC to leave the chair and request them, on behalf of the people of Kashmir, to resign and join us. We will start a new chapter. It doesn’t matter if Muzaffar sahab gets a post, let them have all the posts.
Was Burhan inspired by Salahuddin, as Salahuddin had said in a recent interview?
No, he was not inspired by any leader. He was inspired by local militant commanders just as the present generation is being inspired by him.