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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 22 New Delhi May 19, 2018

Towards an Understanding of Martyrdom in Kashmir

Sunday 20 May 2018, by Arup Kumar Sen

On January 14, 2011, the Supreme Court sought answers from the Union and Andhra Pradesh governments regarding the “encounter” killings of the Maoist leader, Azad, and a journalist, Hemchandra Pandey, in July 2010. The two-judge Bench of the Supreme Court said: “We cannot allow the republic killing its own children.” They added: “The governments will have to answer so many questions.”

But, Kashmir is a “State of Exception”. The Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, 1990, conferred special powers to the armed forces. We have seen the outcome of giving such unrestrained powers to the armed forces. In the wake of outbreak of armed conflict in Kashmir in the late 1980s, the armed forces have resorted to different forms of human rights violations. Human Rights organisations have documented multiple instances of extrajudicial killings, custodial torture and deaths, rapes and enforced disappearances in the State.

The recent popular upsurge in Kashmir led by the youth should be situated in the above perspective. The killing of the young militant leader, Burhan Wani, in July 2016 was a turning-point in the recent history of militancy in the State. Reportedly, thousands of people, including women and teenagers, congregated to mourn the death of the militant, and joined his funeral procession. In the context of Burhan’s death, the former Chief Minister of the State, Omar Abdullah, stated: “Burhan’s ability to recruit into militancy from the grave will far outstrip anything he could have done on social media.”

The killing of 32-year-old Mohammad Rafi Bhat in South Kashmir’s Shopian district bears testimony to Abdullah’s prediction. Rafi qualified in the National Eligibility Test (NET) twice and got doctorate in Sociology from University of Kashmir. He taught in the Department of Sociology at the University as a contractual Assistant Professor. He went missing on May 4, 2018 after taking his morning class at the University. His students took to the streets to protest his disappearance. On May 6, he was killed in an “encounter” in Badingham village of Shopian along with four other militants. Rafi “was perhaps the most educated militant in 27 years of insurgency in the Kashmir Valley”. To put it in the words of one of his teachers: “He was a brilliant student and a teacher as well.” Thousands of mourners, including women, his students and colleagues, joined his funeral procession.

Why did Mohammad Rafi Bhat join the Kashmiri militants? We do not know the answer. But, the fundamental question raised by the National Conference leader, Omar Abdullah, demands our serious attention: “When educated and gainfully employed young men choose the path of militancy—it should serve as a wake-up call for those who have turned a deaf ear towards repeated pleas for initiation of dialogue with all stakeholders to find a solution to this quagmire.”

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