In the days that led up to the first death anniversary of Burhan Wani, a steady stream of visitors made their way to his parents’ home in Shareefabad, in south Kashmir’s Tral town. Most visitors, Burhan’s father Muzaffar Ahmed Wani told me, would stay for a while. The guests would offer their condolences to him and his wife, Maimoona. They would then pray at Burhan’s grave, located only a few minutes from the house. Some of the younger visitors, Muzaffar said, insisted on taking a photograph with him before they left. “He’s Burhan bhai’s father,” Muzaffar said he heard a group of eager-looking teenage boys whisper to each other, before asking for one.
Burhan, a 21-year-old commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen, was killed by Indian security forces on 8 July 2016 during an encounter in the state’s Anantnag district. Burhan had left his home to join the rebel group in 2010, and had become known in the valley as the new face of the militancy. In the days following his death, as protests erupted across the state, scores of people from across Kashmir visited Muzaffar and Maimoona’s house, and continued to do so in the subsequent months. “I didn’t know so many people would come from far-off places and villages I hadn’t even heard of,” he told me. “People came even from places as far as Doda, Kishtwar, Ramban and Tangdar areas,” Muzaffar added. “They all wanted to see me and see where Burhan lived.” Small groups trickled in over the next few months as well, he continued, and none left before offering a prayer at Burhan’s grave.
I visited Muzaffar’s home on 3 July 2017. Large-sized text covered white-painted brick walls on either side of the gate. “KHALID AND BURHAN. STILL IN OUR HEARTS. WE WANT FREEDOM,” it read. Muzaffar was dressed in a white khan suit. He told me that with the anniversary of his son’s death approaching, he had been reluctant to speak to media persons. “Some Delhi channels distorted my views last year,” he said.
We sat in a room on the ground floor of the two-storey house. Over the course of our conversation, Muzaffar talked to me about his son’s life. He spoke of Burhan with a note of resignation in his voice, often stroking his grey beard as he talked.
When Burhan was school-going boy, Muzaffar told me, a group of soldiers from the army had visited their locality for a routine check. An army officer asked Burhan what he wanted to be when he grew up, Muzaffar said. “Main soldier banna chahta hun,”—I want to become a soldier, he told me his son responded.