SRINAGAR – Burhan Wani, who was recently killed in an armed encounter with security forces in Indian-occupied Kashmir, represented a new generation of young and educated Kashmiri freedom fighters using social media to spread the message of Kashmiri freedom and recruit new fighters to the struggle.
Wani’s death in an encounter with Indian forces was followed by deadly clashes with protesters in Indian Occupied Kashmir.
He was the son of a headmaster and excelled at school before he leaving it at the tender age of 15 to join the region’s largest rebel group, Hizbul Mujahideen. He was reportedly a budding cricketer before he turned to militancy.
After years of proving his mettle on the battle ground, Wani became the most senior Hizbul Mujahideen commander in the Kashmir Valley, by the tender age of 21.
Wani’s father has said that his son took the decision to join the armed resistance after he and his brother were stopped by Indian forces on their way home, only to be “assaulted and humiliated.”
“Our young pick up guns because of the daily humiliation and torture they face here,” Muzaffar Wani told AFP in 2014.
“My son is not the first one. But if he dies for his self-respect and his people, he will be a martyr.” he explained.
Wani featured in videos and photos posing with weapons and taunting security forces, which were circulated on Facebook and WhatsApp in an attempt to recruit young Kashmiri men.
He also posted pictures of himself in battle fatigues holding an assault rifle and videos of his band of young fighters – a departure from the militant tradition of anonymity. He was said to be an expert in using social media and delivering fiery speeches.
His visibility on social media won him a loyal following among the region’s youth.
To avoid making his whereabouts known to the Indian authorities, he would use different accounts for his posts, which would receive thousands of shares within minutes of going live.
Local reports after his death revealed that cricket tournaments had been named after him and schoolchildren were acting out his life in plays.
In his last video statement on June 8, Wani urged Kashmiri police officers to stop supporting the “Indian occupation” and to join the struggle for “freedom”.
Thousands of people attended his funeral in his native area of Tral on Saturday.
Indian authorities had previously announced a 10-lakh rupee reward for information leading to his arrest.