I had no clue who Burhan Wani was the day the noise broke out. The news was still fresh and I switched on the television to gather what was going on. The screen was split in two: a young man, about my age, was bearing a lethal weapon, grinning gleefully with his equally-armed comrades; the other part showed the same boy, bullet-ridden, wrapped in a bloodstained cloth, grave and dead.
The images tore right into my heart.
I don’t sympathise with terrorism (whether by private outfits or by mine or any other Government) and this isn’t a statement for Burhan or his ideology. These images cast-forward a picture of my India that is grotesque and real and I could only hang my head in shame.
Does it not make us cringe, even a little bit, to see a young boy (he could have been any of us) hold a gun in his hand, ready to mutilate and be mutilated? Does it not shock to hear his father say — with poise and approval — that Burhan’s was an act of ‘martyrdom’ and has led him to God?
Mustn’t it shake our wits, also, that most of us who saw Burhan’s dead body responded with jubilation? Our sense of ‘nationalism’ is so acute that every nuance of the situation dies and all we want is to count blood and stain our own hearts with the violence that this whole situation is about.
The crisis in Kashmir today is by no means simple. The media trumpets the mood that is popular. What’s popular, however, is seldom revealing of the truth.
The history of Kashmir is horribly complex and to understand it will involve meticulous effort. Let me be clear that my grasp on Kashmir is basic at best and, for this reason, I can’t take a stand on it at the moment. I am aware that in studying Kashmir I will have to face very difficult and uncomfortable questions and these might even hit at the foundation of everything I think I know. But this is an effort I must inevitably make.
Because, I love my country and I want it to be united, strong and peaceful. I realise if my love is sincere, I must be ready to engage with my India as She is, not as an image of what I want Her to be.
A few months ago, when floods engulfed my home-city of Chennai, people from across India rushed to offer help. They came with whatever little they had, but were fully ready to share. A crisis is like a flood. When Kashmir burns in protest and violence, we must realise that silence and ignorance only magnify the terror and brutality.
To arrive at an alternate discourse cannot be the responsibility of the State. We, as civil society, must pursue it with all sincerity. Different ideas must be debated bravely, with nuance and seriousness.
For God’s sake let us be certain that this is not merely a national security issue. If it was, we can resort to shooting each other down.
India, Kashmir and generations to come will never forgive us.