Was the killing of three-year-old Burhan, as his father held him in his arms, walking back home in a village, the first of its kind in Kashmir? If the immediate answer is ‘no’ – remembering the scores of cases when youngsters, children, even toddlers, have been killed in Kashmir, either in indiscriminate attacks on civilians or even deliberately targeted – then why is it that this child’s killing arouses more indignation? Of course, some images amidst scenes of chaos or bloodshed become ‘iconic,’ and sum up much of what is wrong with conflict. And little Burhan now seems to encapsulate the extent to which violence has seeped in Kashmir. But it will also not do, here, to make comparisons between, say, the three-year-old Syrian boy drowned off Turkey while fleeing war with his family. This runs the risk of making it seem Burhan’s killing was a rare case in Kashmir, as well as dovetail into the unfortunate, often media-driven, simplistic comparisons between tragic events, and write of events like ‘our 9/11’ or ‘our ground zero’. It will also not do to simply wail over this murder of children. Responsibility must be fixed, accountability must be sought. That is the sole path of justice and any closure for the soul-searing events people have had to witness and live through in Kashmir.
But how do you do that when so many killings and murders have gone unpunished, been called ‘mysterious,’ and the phrase ‘unidentified gunmen’ become an accepted part of vocabulary? One clear answer would be locating this murder within the situation and state that made it so: to seek answers and responsibility in the dirty counter-insurgency campaign which Kashmiris have been subjected to. It is no revelation that mysterious killings, in whatever form, are a calculated part of counter-insurgency tactics; meant to instill fear and war-weariness among a population. And a reign of terror, which involves particularly brutal murders (by all accounts, the killers lobbed a grenade and shot indiscriminately at Burhan and his father, which means the child was also deliberately targeted), is often meant to fulfill those objectives of psychological warfare.
So, anyone seeking justice for Burhan must not forget what has been happening in Kashmir and why. The answer lies not in taking an apolitical, humanist position – even with the merits it has – but in sifting through the political history of violence in Kashmir, and all that has been done in the name of counter-insurgency and what it has spawned.