By Hilal Mir
SRINAGAR, Jammu and Kashmir (AA) - Shops and businesses shut down in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir on Wednesday to honor iconic militant commander Burhan Wani, who was killed on July 8, 2016, in clashes with Indian forces.
Roads were less busy than usual as the strike was observed in most areas of the Kashmir Valley and completely in its four southern districts, where Burhan, 22 when killed, gave rise to what came to be known as new-age militancy that was marked by widespread use of social media, open display of arms and educated young people taking up arms.
In response, authorities cut mobile internet connections in these districts, which have since become the hub of an armed insurgency against India for the past eight years.
Burhan's father, Muzaffar Wani, told Anadolu Agency that in his native town of Dadsara, some 33 kilometers (20 miles) southeast of the regional capital Srinagar, government forces had been deployed to prevent a large gathering on the anniversary.
"People came in ones and twos to our home to pay their respects. Some people told me that forces had been deployed near [Burhan's] grave also to prevent gathering," Muzaffar said.
Khalid Ahmad, a resident of the nearby Anantnag district, told Anadolu Agency that paramilitary troops had blocked roads at multiple places in Anantnag town with barbed wire to restrict movement. He said similar measures were in place at a few points on the main highway linking Kashmir with the rest of the world.
Authorities also moved to subdue communications, with mobile internet cut off Tuesday morning in parts of the town of Sopore, once a stronghold of Burhan's parent militant organization, Hizbul Mujahideen, in northern Kashmir.
Burhan's killing had sparked months of anti-India protests and clashes, during which more than 120 protesters were shot dead and thousands were injured and arrested. More than 1,000 people were blinded in one or both eyes by metal pellets fired by Indian forces into protesting crowds. Burhan's funeral was believed to have been the biggest in recent history, with estimates ranging between 100,000 and 200,000 paying their respects.
Ailing and incarcerated pro-freedom leader Syed Ali Geelani's representative in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, Abdullah Geelani, on Monday asked people to observe the strike on Burhan's death anniversary, as well as on July 13, which marks the killing of 22 Kashmiri Muslims by soldiers of last Hindu king in Kashmir in 1931. Police, citing Syed Ali Geelani's "family sources," had warned people against circulating the statement calling for the strike.
- Protest in Pakistan
Meanwhile, chapter leaders of the All Parties Hurriyet Conference (APHC) in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, also known as Azad Kashmir, also commemorated Burhan's death and staged a protest in front of the Indian High Commission in Pakistan's capital Islamabad, where they chanted slogans against the killing of civilians in Indian Kashmir.
Speakers at the demonstration also paid tribute to Wani and condemned alleged human rights violations in the disputed valley.
"I salute to Burhan Wani and his comrades on the eve of his fourth martyrdom anniversary, the history of Kashmiris is a witness that they never bowed down and our struggle for freedom will continue till the last breath," Raja Farooq Haider Khan, Prime Minister of Azad Kashmir, said in his statement posted on Twitter.
Burhan Wani is a symbol of freedom and today, every child of Kashmir becomes Wani, he added.
- Disputed region
Kashmir, a Muslim-majority Himalayan region, is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full. A small sliver of Kashmir is also held by China.
Since they were partitioned in 1947, the two countries have fought three wars -- in 1948, 1965, and 1971 -- two of them over Kashmir.
Also, in Siachen glacier in northern Kashmir, Indian and Pakistani troops have fought intermittently since 1984. A cease-fire took effect in 2003.
Some Kashmiri groups in Jammu and Kashmir have been fighting against Indian rule for independence, or for unification with neighboring Pakistan.
According to several human rights organizations, thousands have reportedly been killed in the conflict since 1989.
* Islamuddin Sajid contributed to this story from Islamabad