Maimoona, the mother of slain Hizbul Mujahideen Commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani opens up on last memories of her son, what Burhan was like a teenager and what drove him to pick up arms.
Last year on 8 July 2016, when a sea of people was gathering in Shareef Abad, Tral for Burhan Wani’s funeral, amidst slogans and tears, there was a woman who didn’t cry. She was raising slogans. For her son Burhan. For Azadi. For Islam. Not many people must have noticed her then. Even before that day or post Burhan’s martyrdom, she hasn’t made many an appearance in most interviews. It was always the Commander’s father explaining why his son chose the path he did, and what the family thought of it.
Since his martyrdom in a gunfight in a village in Kokernag, Burhan’s name was spoken of everyday in Kashmir. Slogans proclaiming his name and honour reverberated from all sides. Thousands of graffiti came up across Kashmir declaring areas as ‘Burhan Town’ or claiming that his death didn’t mean one less Burhan, it meant a hundred more. Hundreds of thousands of people from many parts of Kashmir poured onto the streets to offer funeral in absentia for the slain commander. In Tral, multiple rounds of funerals had to be held in the local Eidgah to accommodate the vast number of people who had come for the last rites of the Hizb Commander. Burhan was spoken of outside of Kashmir as well. From Pakistan Premiere Nawaz Sharif’s remarks in the United Nations to the Iranian University, Burhan was one among the most talked about persons in the world, the face of Kashmir’s resistance. Tral, already famous for insurgency, attained the distinction of having been home to the most popular Mujahid in recent times. The father spoke proudly of his son’s fight against oppression.
The mother wouldn’t speak and was hardly spoken or written about. People did approach her to talk; she never spoke. Today after a year, she is geared up to serve people who’d visit their home, although the family hasn’t made any special arrangements for they don’t believe in observing anniversaries. When I muster the courage to talk to her, she refuses saying she is not comfortable with it. After persistent insistence, she agrees by saying, “What are you going to ask me? I cannot speak. I don’t know anything. Talk to his father.” But I wanted to hear from her; about Burhan, about Khalid, the memories. How motherhood becomes a site of resistance? I wanted to know how she saw Burhan as a commander, a student and especially as her son.
“Ask whatever you have to. I don’t know how to talk. So be brief, whatever it is,” she repeated.
A friend started the conversation, admitting that more than wanting to interview her, it was the desire of meeting her that brought him there. She responded by giving her blessings to us, telling us we were all like her son Burhan. “He was younger than all of you but taller than most of you.”
She went on to talk about the last conversation she’d had with him. “I don’t remember the exact words of the last conversation before he left for the cause. What I remember is that he had tea with us after coming from the school that day. He showed me a newly bought set of clothes and told me that he was going to exchange them. I didn’t doubt. It was normal. He was calm. He didn’t return that night.” The family thought he was too young to know what he was doing and would return in a week’s time when he realized what it meant to be a Mujahid. He did return; not after a week, but after two months and a changed person. He was no longer the kid they knew. “He had never discussed anything about Tehreek, about the politics of Kashmir. And when he returned after two months he was a changed person. I was not here. I had gone to the hospital for a check-up. I wish I was here that day. That day he told his father that he had wasted fourteen years of his life, and it was only now that he had found the purpose of his life, that he was on the right path now. Nothing could be said in response.”
Any encounter anywhere would obviously cause them to worry. “We panicked whenever there was an encounter anywhere in Kashmir. On that fateful day, I was fasting. It was third Shawal. In the evening after Maghrib prayers we heard a radio announcement about his martyrdom. We didn’t want to believe it but in the meantime someone came up with the image of my son drenched in blood. He was bleeding in Kokernag, my heart was bleeding here, but I didn’t weep.” Soon people started pouring in droves to pay respects and they continue to throng the house even now after a year. It was the last night the family got to spend with their beloved son, who would be buried the next morning. “He was so calm and content. It happened in such a short span. He didn’t get time for that last phone call.” She was aware of the position he held as the Commander but she never expected his martyrdom to evoke the kind of reaction it did across Kashmir. “I did expect that Tral, Shopian or even Islamabad would observe strike for a week or so, but not this.”
So had Burhan ever told her that he would join the armed resistance? “He used to tell me about joining the cause before, but he was never serious and I also took it lightly.” She reminisced how she would jokingly tell him that he was shorter than a Kalashnikov and that he should forget about being a Mujahid, for he can’t even carry the Kalashnikov. “But then he proved me wrong. He carried it with pride, with dignity and discipline.”
The kid who wasn’t expected to be able to carry a gun came home again as a Mujahid but the mother-son duo could never have a proper conversation. The army was always on a lookout outside. “I didn’t understand how in those few moments he got here. It was obviously with divine help. He wouldn’t even get the time to sit properly. We had to keep a watch; one of us would go out and monitor the movement outside. Someone would go to the upper floor to keep a look on the far end of the road and someone else would keep guard in the lawn. We hardly got time to talk. It was just greetings, hugs, caressing, blessings and prayers.”
Regardless of the responsibility Burhan carried, he was still a kid to his mother - her teenaged commander son. “I never tried to discuss anything about the larger issues with him. If ever he was accompanied by other Mujahideen brothers, my husband would request them to pardon him if he committed any mistake because he was too young. All of his companions were elder to him. I was always worried and would pray to Allah about keeping him on right track. About him not doing injustice to anyone. I was worried about the probability of him taking wrong decisions harming the greater cause intentionally or unintentionally. I would advise him not to kill any innocent, not to take money from people. It was with the intention to make him realize how difficult a path he had chosen, that he had to be steadfast on it and think twice before acting. He was a commander but for me he was a kid. I would watch his video messages carefully to make sure he hasn’t made any wrong statement regarding the Tehreek. I was always worried. And before leaving, he too would advise me to offer prayers regularly, to recite Quran, and to do proper pardah. In fact he would say such things to each one of us.”
She went on to talk of how Burhan was a more special child than the others, someone who never got a scolding from his parents because he never gave them a reason to. He was a teenager obsessed with his dress, changing his shirts every hour. She remembered Burhan as someone who never sat properly against the wall; rather he’d always go on to sit on the ledge, doing all the talking from there, even doing his homework there. “He didn’t study much at home. He would never take interest in household chores like his other siblings. When his grandmother raised concerns about his careless attitude towards his studies, he used to tell her how focused he is in the class and assured her of highest grades which he actually did. He topped in almost every class.” Who would have thought that a child who wasn’t really the bravest and would ask his mother to stand guard for him outside the washroom when it was dark, would choose to fight a seven lakh strong military occupation; and that is the transformation his family witnessed. “As a Mujahid, he travelled through jungles and faced so many threats and challenges. It would not have been possible without Almighty. It is all because of Him. I or his father has nothing to do with it. Allah exalted his status here and now I keep on praying for rewarding him in the Hereafter.”
The family has had visitors every single day since the last one year. For Burhan’s mother, each day is a long one but that hasn’t made her bitter about her life. “I serve them water, kehwa or whatever I can offer. But this has taken a toll on me. Each day is a long day of work for me. I eagerly wait for the evening so that I can sleep and rest. Then I am up again at Fajr Azaan (morning call to prayers) for the same stuff to be repeated for the entire day. But I take pride in it.” Burhan’s mother is proud of the fact that she gets to serve her son’s guests, people who visit them out of their love for her son, which has only grown over time. “The people who visit us make me realise his absence but at the same I feel proud about what he has achieved.”
From pictures to videos, to every little detail they can find out from those who knew him, Kashmiris value every small thing about Burhan Wani that they can keep with them, or remember about their beloved Mujahid. But his mother says she has kept no memorabilia of him. “Wherever he used to take shelter, people would keep something from him as tobruk. My tobruk are his words, his memories, and his unique smile. Martyrdom is the ultimate thing for a Muslim and my son died as a martyr. I will meet him there, Inshallah.”