An ‘Open Letter’ every Kashmiri must read


Niloofar Qureshi
When the photograph of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) research scholar Manan Bashir Wani holding a gun appeared on social media it raised a lot of speculation. While some believed that the photograph was morphed, others thought that some extremely grave provocation must have pushed an illustrious student like Wani into taking the completely unexpected decision of trading his pen for the gun. However, the HM officially announcing that Wani had voluntarily joined its ranks makes it absolutely clear that his photograph holding a gun that was posted on social media isn’t a fake. Nonetheless, since Wani hasn’t assigned any specific reasons for deciding to become a ‘freedom fighter’, what exactly made him take this decision may never be known.

Some feel that a post of his on Facebook may reveal the reason for him joining militancy as in this post Wani mentions a “disgusting day” when he was subjected to repeated checks by SOG personnel who questioned about his untrimmed beard, long boots and the shawl he was donning. However, this explanation isn’t very convincing for two reasons – Firstly, routine checks of automobiles in Kashmir is a common practice and since there have been incidents in the past where militants were apprehended while travelling in vehicles, there is no real justification for an educated person like Wani being upset on this account. And since he hasn’t complained of any misbehavior on the part of SOG personnel or any attempt by them to humiliate him, the question of him being driven against the wall merely because of checking and questioning doesn’t seem likely.

Secondly, his post further reads, “The best moment happened when I got a compliment from the Indian Army officer (who also checked my identity card, but spared me from getting down from the car) about my looks resembling the famous commander, who has given them sleepless nights, and me passing a gentle smile without uttering a single word.” So, even if one assumes that the checking and questioning by the SOG personnel that he underwent had upset him, it is evident that by mentioning his resemblance with a famous ‘freedom fighter’ who was giving the security forces sleepless nights, the army officer who made this comment to him actually made Wani’s day by bringing a smile on his face!

Wani’s decision to live and die by the sword has not only shattered his family but also shocked his AMU colleagues and some of them hailing from Kashmir have collectively addressed an ‘open letter’ to him, which has been published in almost every major local and national daily. However, since Wani’s transformation into a militant has been the main subject of concern for everyone, no one has critically analysed the contents of this ‘open letter’. And this is rather unfortunate because the contents of this letter are particularly illuminating. What stands out is that instead of merely making an emotional appeal the young Kashmiris who penned down this communication have with exceptional forthrightness presented a remarkably practical perspective that breaks the deep rooted stereotypes that have long been associated with militancy in J&K.

Recognising militancy as the “extreme side of our collective misfortune,” the open letter mentions how “Every one of us is well aware of the bloodshed that we have seen back home” and goes on to bring out the fact that “Everyone (in Kashmir), in one way or the other, is a victim of this vicious cycle of violence.” However, the AMU students have neither used the ‘victim card’ to justify use of violence nor eulogised militancy as the sole means for attaining ‘self determination’. Instead, by saying that “Political struggles in different parts of the world were mostly taken to their logical ends through non-violent means” they have highlighted a historically proven fact that has unfortunately been pushed into the background in Kashmir!

And displaying admirable courage of conviction, Kashmiri students of AMU have in their ‘open letter’ spoken very candidly about militancy by telling Wani that “Regarding your taking up the gun, there are as many viewpoints among your acquaintances as there can be. Within this huge spectrum, there are those who encourage and eulogise this path, but then there are others who out of their love, emotions, affection and concern for your well-being call you back.” Having done so, the young Kashmiris have also made the undisputable observation that “The circle of violence revolves around its own axis; it has no open end” and that’s why “It is only through the process of dialogue that complex problems have been solved throughout the history of human evolution and conflict.”

While admitting that “There are ways of protests that attract different persons differently,” those young Kashmiris who have written this letter have reminded Wani that “All of us know very well how you used to register your dissent against the State excesses in Kashmir. That was already the best possible way for people like you to contribute your part.” The letter further goes on to say, “… people like us, who know you well, and trust that your talent could be channelised in a constructive manner. Your befitting virtues of oratory, presentation, and debating were already apparent to us than what you presented to us now. You could be an inspiration to our youth. You could participate in the reformation of our society. You could fill the lacuna in leadership that we always claim to face. You could directly address the people if you choose a non-violent path over the violent one, without burdening your conscience. You could be a valuable asset for all of us.”

Tailpiece: Though the appeal for adopting “a non-violent path over the violent one” is for Wani, it as much applicable to all those who have picked up the gun or “encourage and eulogise this path.” One may or may not agree with what the Kashmiri students in AMU have stated but one thing is absolutely clear – the observation that “It is only through the process of dialogue that complex problems have been solved throughout the history of human evolution and conflict,” made by them is something that can neither be challenged nor ignored!

Based in New Delhi, the author can be reached at
courtesy Kashmir Images