On July 8, three young men huddled inside a wooden hut near Bundoora village in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, bracing for an attack by a team of Indian special operations forces. The state is the subject of a long-running territorial dispute with neighboring Pakistan, which has, in turn, birthed a local independence movement that at times erupts into violence.
The ensuing gunfight lasted barely two hours, and the three men in the hut, all in their early twenties, were killed. One of the dead was Burhan Muzaffar Wani, the leader of the Hizbul Mujahideen, a loosely organized group of fewer than 100 armed fighters operating in Kashmir. Wani had become a hero in the eyes of many young, disenfranchised Kashmiri boys since he turned to militancy in 2010, at the age of 15—after Burhan and his brother were beaten by Indian police officers. Wani, known as the Che Guevara of Kashmir, was so popular on social media that he became a household name while he was alive; his death has amplified his cause.
After Indian media reported Wani’s death on July 9, the Kashmir Valley erupted, leading to the worst violence since 2010, when anger against Indian occupation boiled over into widespread protest. At the time, towns in Kashmir were kept under curfew for three months, Internet and phone services were cut, and the hospitals overflowed with a steady stream of injured and dying. Over 110 protesters, most of them young men and boys, were killed—largely at the hands of Indian security forces. Recent weeks have echoed the horror of six years ago: video footage of the current curfews in Kashmir shows neighborhoods cordoned off by barbed wire coils and deserted streets patrolled by police and other security forces. Another 36 people were killed in just six days from July 9 to July 15, and 3,500 more were seriously injured, including 1,500 security personnel.