“This fight is ours. The fight of the youth. We will lead it,” a masked youth identifying himself as a leader of an unknown organization Karwan-i-Azaadi tells a group of reporters at an undisclosed orchard. “There is now a renewed hunger for Azadi in Kashmir. Now unlike 2010, everything can’t be normal after some days. Our leaders (separatists) can’t call off protest. We will continue it till we achieve freedom”.
The youth is flanked by several masked colleagues who nod in agreement at his every word.
The video which has been viewed around three lakh times despite the information blackout in the Valley underlines an important aspect of the ongoing revolt in Kashmir: that it is more or less leaderless.
Though major separatist leaders like Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik have come together and started issuing protest programmes, the protesters on the street have followed their own plan.
The spontaneous groundswell that followed Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani’s killing took even separatist leaders by surprise as some of them would privately admit. Same was the case with the state government which expected a large funeral on the pattern of the one for Lashker commander Abu Qasim who was shot dead in October. Several villages had competed for Qasim’s burial at Kulgam. People had travelled to the burial site not only from the adjoining villages and towns but also from the adjoining districts.
The state government, a senior PDP leader said, expected more or less a similar funeral and with it the dissipation of the anger. But it didn’t turn out that way. Within hours of the announcement of the death of Burhan Wan, thousands hit the roads, stayed awake through the night and shouted pro-Azadi slogans.
Though separatists soon sneaked into the frame, issuing hartal calendars, the protests on the ground have largely been directed by the youth.
In Srinagar, the pamphlets put up on the walls in pockets of downtown Srinagar carry protest programmes contrary to what separatist leaders have issued. The unknown organizations claiming to represent youth have urged people to follow their programmes and unlike 2008 and 2010 don’t let the situation go back to normal after the loss of lives.
“This struggle has to be carried to its logical conclusion. We won’t rest until we achieve Azadi,” the pamphlet reads.
The pamphlets also contained detailed instructions to people as to how they should respond to the “oppression by Indian forces”.
The posters have also surfaced which shower praises on the “sacrifice” of Burhan Wani and vow to take his struggle to its logical conclusion.
Though 2010 unrest was also basically a leaderless groundswell which saw separatists, as one such leader would admit, putting themselves forcibly at the head of it or sneaking, as it were, into the picture, the separatist leaders, nonetheless, had a substantial degree of control. None such control is in evidence now, a condition reinforced by the fact that the government has refused to allow the Hurriyat leaders to lead protest rallies or even attend prayers at the mosques.
“Government should give us the promised political space, allow us to visit the families of the victims and commiserate with them,” says moderate Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. “Keeping us away from people will not help and never will. We need an outlet to express our anger in a peaceful way”.
Mirwaiz said that the Hurriyat will soon come out with a programme for a peaceful protest. “We ask the government to stop killings and let the people mourn their dead,” Mirwaiz said. “The ongoing protests should be an eye-opener for the government. Only sure path to peace is to resolve Kashmir”.