As the situation goes worse in the Valley by the day, many Kashmir observers have been surprised by the turn of events. Not that the outpouring was unexpected. There were enough signs that a deep resentment was brewing over the past year. Mourners for the slain militants had grown with each new funeral. But what nobody had anticipated was that the eruption could be so ferocious. The streets have seethed with a combination of an intense fury and hatred at New Delhi which, in some of its aspects, has even paled off the five month long unrest in 2010.
So what really happened? The easiest answer to this question is the killing of Burhan Muzaffar Wani, the Hizbul Mujahideen commander who had become a figure of love and reverence since he abandoned his anonymity as a militant and appeared unmasked on Facebook, with his Kalashankov casually slung over his shoulder, calling youth for jihad. Over time, he had built up a love affair with his viewers and through them with the rest of the population. And by the time he was killed in an encounter on July 8, he had incarnated a popular, romantic figure whose loss was dearly felt.
Though social media did play a role in this metamorphosis, the legend of Wani wasnâ€™t a product of Facebook alone. Shot against hilly and pastoral backdrops, they lent drama and glamour to the life of a militant, evacuating it of its inherent danger and messiness. They also gave face to a name and made visible a reality that is supposed to operate in the underground. Wani was the first to do so in the 26 years of militancy and so he instantly hooked people. And this connection only grew over the three years of his social media activity, during which he refreshed the jaded separatist narrative and got a section of the newest Kashmiri generation drawn to the idea of a militant resistance to New Delhi.
But this hardly seemed to qualify him for the depth of mass mourning and the protests that followed his death. Around 96 people were killed, several hundred have either partially or fully lost their eye-sight and more than fifteen thousand injured in the ceaseless cycle of protests and the stone throwing in the state.
There is certainly the long, familiar Kashmir narrative of the conflict which keeps alive a perennial sense of injustice among people. It begins in 1947 with Muslim majority stateâ€™s accession to India against Pakistan, Pakistanâ€™s objection to it, India taking issue to United Nations where resolutions for a non-binding plebiscite are passed. Then came 1952 Delhi Agreement between Jawahar Lal Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah which limited New Delhiâ€™s control of the state to foreign affairs, defence and communicatons. Sheikh who was the first Prime Minster of Kashmir was summarily dismissed in 1953 leading to a succession of New Delhi imposed governments. This paved the way for the erosion of the Article 370 until it was battered beyond recognition. Meanwhile Sheikh started a struggle for the right to self-determination, coming around eventually to a settlement within Indian Union in 1975. An armed separatist movement began in 1989 which is since ongoing â€“ albeit the damage it can inflict has drastically diminished. An estimated 70,000 people have been killed in the past 26 years. In 2008, a three month unrest broke out against the transfer of the Amarnath land to Shri Amarnath Shrine Board, pitting Kashmir Valley against Jammu province which supported such transfer. Two more summer uprisings followed in 2009 and 2010, this time over the human rights excesses, which was followed by five years of uneasy peace.