On 8 July 2016, a young Kashmiri commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) was killed by the Indian Army. The killing of Burhan Wani has become a symbol of Indian repression in Kashmir, the major Muslim-majority area kept by India in the 1947 India-Pakistan partition.
The HM receives much of its support from the Pakistan government and has strong links to the Pakistani secret service ISI and the Islamist group Jamaat-e-Islami. Unlike the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, HM is for Kashmiri secession to Pakistan and promotes the further Islamisation of Kashmir.
Wani had a strong social media presence and had helped bring the HM a large following amongst young people. His funeral was attended by up to 300,000 people.
There has been an increasing militarisation of Kashmiri life since the early 2000s, particularly in periods of unrest in 2002 and 2010. Protests have increased despite the imposition of curfews. The Indian state’s obduracy and the consequent failure of secular liberation groups like the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) has boosted Pakistani-funded organisations like HM and the women’s Islamist group Duhktan-e-Millat which pose the issues in religious-sectarian Muslim-vs-Hindu terms.
Indian government enforcement of a ban in Jammu Kashmir on the sale of beef (eaten by Muslims but not by Hindus) has further fuelled religious sectarianism, though the majority of Kashmiris still strive for political independence from both Pakistan and India.
Slogans were first raised for an independent and sovereign Kashmir back in 1931. The most recent protests have been met with extreme violence, with more than 70 civilians killed and over 6,000 protesters injured. Indian authorities have used guns firing lead pellets at protesters’ faces, often causing permanent damage to their eyes or even blinding them.
The government of Kashmir is a coalition of India’s ruling Hindu-nationalist party, the BJP, with the moderate Kashmiri-nationalist People’s Democratic Party (PDP). The coalition has lost the PDP support among Kashmiris who wanted a stronger stance on self governance. It has been at a standstill over how to handle the crisis, and that has allowed the security forces and central Indian state to play a much more direct role.
The BJP has also pursued a policy of changing the demography of the region to create a Hindu majority. (It is currently 29% Hindu). The curfews stop protests and public meetings and impose a partial siege on supplies and access to areas of towns and cities. Pakistani films have been banned, newspapers suppressed, and mobile phone signals and the internet have been interrupted. The Hindu-nationalist politics on the rise in India pose a great danger to the prospects of a democratic secular solution in Kashmir.