Mannan Wani and Asif Sultan: Tale of a Pen and Gun

Mannan Wani and Aasif Sultan represent two divergent paths resulting from the same problem | Wande Photo

Mannan Wani and Aasif Sultan represent two divergent paths sprouting from the same situation of military occupation, argues blogger and student activist Kabir. 

On October 12, Mannan Wani, a scholar-rebel born in the valley of Lolab, Kashmir, was killed in an encounter with Indian forces. As soon as his body was brought home, more than fifty thousand people assembled in his village. The higher number of mourners could have attended the funeral had it not been the conflicting reports that aimed at deliberately confusing the public about the identity of the slain men. Wani wrote long essays, dripping with erudition that struck a chord among vast sections of youth. He arguments were compelling and found wider resonance. There has been a massive uptick in the militant recruitment post-2016 uprising and most of these youngsters are young Kashmiri men. Waves upon waves of highly ambitious and educated young men are joining the insurgent ranks. They abandon lucrative careers to embark upon a mission to "liberate" their homeland.

Mannan's decision to join the armed rebel ranks had ignited a heated debate on social media. While people are still debating his decision of taking up the gun instead of continuing with the pen, Mannan is resting in his grave. Many argue that someone of his stature could have contributed more with the pen, by pleading for the 'cause' before a wider audience. But the argument of "fighting with the pen" falls flat on its face when we consider the fate of Aasif Sultan, a young reporter with Kashmir Narrator who has been in continuous detention since late August 2018.

Sultan's residence was raided, his laptop and mobile phone confiscated, and he was whisked away in a police van. His only crime was his story on popular rebel commander Burhan Wani, whose killing by government forces in July 2016 led to massive protests in the Valley, and perhaps the world's first mass blinding – caused by pellet shotguns – as part of the state's response.  Now Asif stands accused of abetting 'terrorism' by journalistic means. Despite repeated pleas by Amnesty International and journalists' organizations across the world, his unlawful detention continues.

Asif is not the only person who has been silenced for using the pen. It has become a norm to silence any mode of honest reporting in Kashmir. In 2016 state blocked all modes of communication for nearly six months and Kashmir Reader - a newspaper at the forefront of covering the uprising was banned for three months. Kamran Yousuf, a young photo-journalist was picked up by the National Investigating Agency (NIA) and accused of ‘money laundering’ as he was capturing the massive funerals of people murdered by the state. His pictures would become the headlines of the papers and that shook the state.

Since 2016, the internet services have been repeatedly blocked and every Cordon and Search Operation invites the blockade of communication for the people of the district or area where the CASO is launched. Nobody is allowed to express his thoughts. The PDP-BJP government even banned the state employees from any ‘political expression’ on the social media. We are battling an Orwellian state where everybody is under surveillance and BIG BROTHER is watching us. Every space for expression has been choked by the state and people pushed to the wall. 

Mannan laid down his life in the manner he had chosen under conditions of occupation. In his writings, he had articulated with clarity the reasons behind his decision to choose the gun. He was fed up with the structure and strategies of the unarmed pro-freedom groups. From the so-called mainstream (pro-India) to the Hurriyat (pro-freedom), everybody has become a manager of conflicts, contributing only to prolonging the status quo. The conflict has become a money-minting machine while the common people face its brunt. Hence, lacking a platform to plead the case of freedom, intelligent youth with Mannan's intellectual and moral integrity are instead forced to join the guerrilla warfare.

Meanwhile, in India, the demonization of Kashmiris is so pervasive that every dead Kashmiri body is celebrated as a medal won by the nation. We are seen as enemies of humanity and civility, who have to be eliminated by the use of force. It was after subjecting this reality, he and other Kashmiris inhabit, to a long and rigorous process of thought and reflection that Mannan finally came to see death as a victory against brutal aggression. Even as he had a gun in his hand, he made time to lucidly articulate his views through his letters. However, instead of reaching out or responding to his letters, the Indian state made sure the letters were taken down from the news websites within hours of publication.

Now, when both pen and gun are facing the worst fate, what options does an educated and intelligent person in Kashmir have? The youth of the Valley want to come out of the conflict and breathe in a world of peace and freedom. But instead of reaching out to them, the Indian state prefers to intensify the war on Kashmiri people. India is on a killing spree in Kashmir, destroying an entire generation of Kashmiris in a bloodbath supervised not just by the armed forces, but also from TV studios and political offices. To build a rationale for such indefensible brutality, a narrative was generated that the gun-wielding or stone-pelting youth are an unskilled, unemployed and brainwashed lot who choose death over life. But now that the educated young men are breaking all barriers and taking pride in holding an AK-47 instead of chasing a career, while massive participation in street protests despite ruthless crackdowns have become routine, Indian analysts and experts who used to be very vocal are maintaining a measured silence. 

The rebellion of the 1990s was a response to brutal militarized oppression, but the new age militancy has been generated and nourished by the rhetoric of nationalist TV anchors and politicians. Feeling choked from all sides, Kashmiri youth are forced to die proudly as the only real alternative to living a demonized life.

If the goal is opposition to the status quo, the state does not distinguish those who use the pen for this purpose from those who end up using the gun. Anyone trying to articulate a stance contradicting the state's narrative is treated as an enemy, and this is used to generate massive outrage among the nationalist forces of India. The state muzzles dissenting voices by killing or jailing them. And yes, if the ground situation is any indication, India is fighting a lost battle in the Valley. Anyone who is not wielding a gun is proudly identifying himself with those who have guns in their hands. The massive funerals of rebels and recent election participation are a testimony to that. This generation is tired of hollow promises and betrayals. We too aspire for a world beyond this death trap. We too aspire for lasting peace, not one imposed by violence and injustice. That is why we aspire to exercise our right to self-determination for resolving the Kashmir issue. ♦

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of Wande Magazine.

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