TRAGEDY OR TRIUMPH: THE DEATH OF THE “POSTER BOY”


By Omkar Mahajan
Editor-in-Chief

On July 8, 2016, Burhaan Muzaffar Wani, along with two accomplices, was killed by Special Operations Forces of the Indian Police and Military in a standoff that lasted for nearly two hours.
Wani was the 21 year old “poster boy” of the Kashmiri separatist movement and the commander of the Kashmiri militant group, Hizbul Mujahideen. The Hizbul Mujahideen has been designated as a terrorist organization by India, the United States, and the European Union. Shortly after Wani’s death, ensuing mobocracy and mass ataxia erupted. Some saw his death as a triumph and were glad that a top terrorist leader was killed. Others viewed him as a misguided youth who traversed down the wrong path to terrorism. Regardless of whether it was a tragedy or a triumph, Wani’s death will do little to ensure peace in Kashmir and is instead more likely to cause instability, turmoil, and prolonged violence both in the near future and long term. Furthermore, it’s expected that many people in Kashmir will view Wani as a martyr and a freedom fighter.

Who is Burhaan Muzaffar Wani?
Wani was born in the city of Tral, Kashmir where he enjoyed a privileged childhood. His father, Muzaffar Ahmed Wani, was the principal of a local high school and a member of the notorious extremist group, Jamaat-i-Islami. In 2010, Burhaan Muzaffar Wani dropped out of school and joined the Hizbul Mujahideen after being allegedly harassed by police. He quickly rose through the ranks due to his leadership skills and savvy use of social media. He was also popular with the locals. In 2015, Wani became the top commander and leader of the Hizbul Mujahideen due to the deaths of many senior officials above him. During that same year, his older brother Khalid Muzaffar Wani was killed by the Indian Security Forces. The Wani family claims that Khalid Muzaffar Wani was not a terrorist and was killed because he was the brother of the top militant commander. According to the father, the body of Khalid Muzaffar Wani did not have any bullet wounds but rather looked as if it had been heavily tortured. On the other hand, the Indian Security forces report that Khalid Muzaffar Wani was recruiting youth to join Burhaan Muzaffar Wani’s extremist organization. Nonetheless, to many people of Kashmir, Khalid Muzaffar Wani’s death represents one of a multitudinous number of civilians eradicated at the hands of the police force.

Following the death of his older brother, Burhaan Muzaffar Wani utilized social media sites and apps such as Facebook and Whatsapp to disperse his videos urging others to join the separatist organizations. His vast presence on Facebook enabled him to recruit dozens of teenagers from various villages each. The Indian state classified him as a terrorist and placed a 1 million Rupee bounty on his head and even attempted several assassination plots. After all, in several of his videos, he announced plans to decimate Sainik colonies in Kashmir because he felt that they were altering the natural demographics of Kashmir. In another video, he expressed disapproval of Kashmiri Pandit relocation settlements and threatened to bombard the Pandit community and juxtaposed it to the situation of Israel. In several of his videos, he advocated attacks on the police and military. Many scholars state that his videos had a considerable following and heavily appealed to the youth of Kashmir.

In contrast to the labels of being a terrorist and a peril to society, the local populace elucidated quite a different picture of Wani. The fact that he was able to defy all odds and expectations and survive previous assassination attempts turned him into a legend. There were stories that he sometimes visited home dressed as a girl and left money behind for those that needed it. There were rumors that local girls from Kanpur desired to marry him and wrote his name in their blood. He was frequently discussed over cups of chai and the stories, myths and legends surrounding him immortalized him as somewhat of a folk hero and local celebrity with parallels to Robin Hood. Moreover, his young age set him apart from others and thus, he was seen as a champion to the youth of Kashmir. It’s rare to see someone at his age in a high position of power with significant influence over people. Despite many in the local community being sympathetic towards him, it should be noted that he was an extremist and the commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen, which is a designated terrorist organization responsible for dozens of attacks claiming the lives of thousands over the years. The Hizbul Mujahideen also has more than 10,000 fighters and has massacred non-Muslims and people not supportive of it. In order to fully understand Wani’s role and the political situation in Kashmir, it is important to examine the history of Kashmir.

A Brief History of Kashmir
For numerous centuries, Kashmir was an independent state in South Asia. The present day state of modern Kashmir is landlocked in South Asia and is surrounded by India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, and Tajikistan. Even when Kashmir was ruled under various kingdoms and empires such as the Mauryan Empire, the Kushan Empire, the Ghandaran Kingdom, the Durrani Kingdom, the Mughals, and later Sikh Rule, Kashmir maintained its autonomy due to isolation in the north and the mountainous terrain that surrounded it. In other words, it recognized the authority of larger empires, but was practically an independent state since it exercised almost complete control over its own affairs and was relatively self-autonomous.

Additionally, rulers of Kashmir were of differing faiths and backgrounds throughout the years. Kashmir has been ruled by Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, and others. Thus, it is not a surprise that people of various faiths were able to live peacefully together and intermarriage between different faiths was not uncommon. Due to this isolation from the rest of South Asia, Kashmir developed a culture distinct from the rest of South Asia. For instance, while much of South Asia had a relatively intransigent caste system and a patriarchal society, Kashmir did not have a rigid caste system and was relatively egalitarian with equal rights granted to even women. Furthermore, the language in Kashmir, Koshur, differed markedly from those spoken in South Asia and had more in common with Dari and Farsi. The cuisine, customs, and clothing were also dissimilar and antithetical from those of South Asia. The people of Kashmir developed a distinct culture and identity of their own and some saw themselves as their own independent state.

However, the situation of Kashmir drastically changed during the British occupation of South Asia. In 1947, when the British left and granted South Asia its independence, they partitioned it into two states of a Muslim majority Pakistan and a Hindu majority India. Kashmir, being located between India and Pakistan, was expected to join the Muslim majority state of Pakistan since Kashmir had a majority Muslim population in many parts. However, the king of Kashmir, Hari Singh, desired to maintain an independent state of Kashmir. Unfortunately for him, Pathans from Pakistan who disagreed with his idea of independence invaded Kashmir. After receiving help to fight off the invaders, Kashmir was forced to make a decision of whether to join Pakistan or India. Prime Minister Mehr Chand Mahajan made the controversial decision to join India in late 1947 viewing it as the safer option. Ever since then, the conflict was never fully resolved.

Kashmir Today
Today, in some parts of Kashmir, over 95% of the people desire an independent state.[1] On the other hand, both Pakistan and India claim that Kashmir belongs to each. Border skirmishes and wars between Pakistan and India over Kashmir have been recurrent throughout the years. In fact, this remains the oldest unresolved United Nations conflict. In 1999, the conflict nearly escalated to nuclear war. Kashmir is the sole natural gas provider to Pakistan and has a huge agriculture industry that India profits from.[2] Both nations are unlikely to yield their holds over Kashmir anytime in the near future. As a result, this has inflamed numerous people living in Kashmir since they are caught between the conflict of India and Pakistan. Individual Kashmiris sometimes find themselves harassed and mistreated by the armies and police of Pakistan and India and they’ve seen their homeland transform into a warzone.

There are currently 153 militant organizations operating throughout Kashmir.[3] Kashmir’s poor and undeveloped infrastructure, along with large areas being warzones, has enabled Kashmir to turn into a hotbed and breeding ground for militant radicalism. Oppression by both sides has fueled negative sentiments towards Pakistan and India with many people resenting the police and military. History has shown us that when people are oppressed, a backlash will occur once oppression reaches a certain point. The lack of opportunities in Kashmir compels many youth to join militant organizations where sadly, many are brainwashed into not only attacking the police and military, but also performing atrocities and targeted acts of violence on innocent civilians. As troubling as this is, there isn’t anything to celebrate about the deaths of brainwashed youth.

Although the commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen is dead and his death is seen as a victory for those fighting against terrorism and militant radicals, others see it as the story of a lost child brainwashed into a killing machine. The oppression in Kashmir has led many to sympathize with militant commanders in Kashmir.  In fact, over 20,000 people attended Burhan Muzaffar Wani’s funeral and the number of youth that will now join militant organizations is expected to increase exponentially. Already, there have been mass protests regarding his death and dozens of innocent bystanders have been killed in the ensuing turmoil in the past few days. Wani is now seen as a martyr and it’s likely that the people will never forget about him.

Following these mass protests, the entire state of Kashmir was placed on lockdown and under curfew. Additionally, internet access and telephone communications were suspended. While the Chief Minister of Kashmir, Mehbooba Mufti, believes that Wani’s death will not have a long lasting impact on Kashmir, legislative assemblyman and former Chief Minister of Kashmir, Omar Abdullah disagrees. On twitter, Abdullah voiced his concerns that the intended effects and goals of the operation to kill Wani will fail in the long run. “Mark my words. Burhan’s ability to recruit in to militancy from the grave will far outstrip anything he could have done on social media,” Abdullah tweeted.

This attempt to control violence and suppress the chaos backfired and instead more protests and attacks occurred resulting in more deaths. Violence has escalated and hopes of peace reaching Kashmir now become a distant unlikely reality as brutality and pandemonium materialize. After all, violence usually does not quell down violence but in a state in which people are oppressed, a lack of resources is present, and violence is constantly occurring, it seems as though violence is indeed inevitable. Many can disagree on the significance of Wani’s death and whether it was a tragedy or triumph but many will agree that his death will lead to more violence. Perhaps Wani should have been captured alive.

[1] Robert Bradnock, “KASHMIR: Counting in Kashmir.” The World Today 66.6 (2010): 27-28. JSTOR.

[2] S.D. Surendra, “Explaining Social Mobilization in Pakistan: A Comparative Case Study of Baluchistan and Azad Kashmir.” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 29.2 (2009): 246-58.

[3] K. Santhanam, Jihadis in Jammu and Kashmir: A Portrait Gallery. New Delhi: Sage, 2003. Print.

Image by Kashmir Global

WHY I STUDIED ABROAD (AND HOW I AFFORDED IT)

13570164_10204808309366899_1697912367_oBy James Long Truong
Staff Writer

This is part 1 of a 2-part series focusing on “How I Afforded It.” “Why I Studied Abroad” is part 2 of the series.

Summary: This article was written with the intention of breaking down the first barrier to scholarship writing, so that it becomes a little easier to express the power of your story and voice into writing.

Alongside the slew of graduation posts on social media around this time of year comes yet another prolific phenomenon: enthusiastic posts, pictures, and blogs about getting accepted to X university and living in Y city, where Z is happening; the exuberance from which follows the aforementioned illustrates an evident rise in popularity of studying abroad. Statistically, “over the past three decades, the number of international students has grown substantially, from 0.8 million worldwide in 1975 to almost 3.7 million in 2009, a more than four-fold increase.”[1]

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Source: Institute of International Education

Often perceived as a getaway from the rigorous trenches of one’s own academic endeavors, going on exchange is outstandingly beneficial in ways neither limited to the experiences nor the individual themselves. This statement speaks not only to the frequent traveler or city explorer, but includes even the modest study abroad student who seldom leaves the flat to wander and experience a taste of a new city, culture, and/or lifestyle.

–       For the philosopher: one might contend one needs not experience to fully ‘know’ what, e.g., culture is like, although that is not the point here. One might counter and say that this type of ‘knowledge’ does not encompass the unique knowledge gained from experience. For a brief musing, see Mary’s Room Thought-Experiment.

As someone who underwent 3 exchanges (with a fourth looming in the end of August), I—too—have experienced these benefits (which I mention in part 2. The focus of part 1 is on scholarship writing). While each of my exchanges was distinctly positive, I briefly shed light on them in this piece. My reason for writing Part 1 to share with you how I was able to afford all of them.*

–       *I hope my advice is helpful in its own right with respect to scholarship writing. To perhaps reassure you if otherwise, I have won over $35,000 out of 15+ scholarships. All of them involved essay(s).

One method of raising funds is simple and obvious, viz. scholarships, but I believe it is quite inconspicuous in an important respect, and that subtlety often serves as an underlying reason why one might not always succeed in this endeavor, including myself. I have failed many times, but I have understood it could be for several reasons I detail all below, but will mention one now: perhaps that particular scholarship might not have been the right fit for me! Other avenues, of course, exist and could be feasible to many, e.g. crowdfunding, support from close networks, grants, etc.

This article is targeted towards those who are simply eligible for any scholarship, but it is worthy to note most of my scholarships gave some preference to first-generation, low-income, ethnic minority, and/or high-achieving students. In saying this, I provide an outline that is broader (for inclusiveness purposes) and pertains to the mindset of writing a scholarship essay, a common writing structure, and some reasons why even the best personal statements might not succeed. While general in structure, this piece is naturally tailored to students who fall under said demographics (low-income, ethnic minority, first-generation college student) applying to need-based scholarships, but by no means is it limiting in content to other students.

Mindset of Writing a Scholarship Essay

First, we need to understand the following:

1)    Why do scholarships exist?

a.     Scholarships exist because donors want to invest in their beneficiaries, whether because they support their causes and/or simply believe in the beneficiaries themselves. Scholarships are ways of empowering one or the other or both.

2)    What do scholarships do?

a.     Scholarships provide (but are not limited to) financial support with the aim of easing the burdens one would otherwise endure with the absence of a scholarship. It lowers the opportunity cost of pursuing whatever the enterprise may be (e.g. studying abroad, attending university, pursuing a program, etc.).

b.     In a way, scholarships provide the means to develop the human capital[1] and social mobility[2] of their beneficiaries by removing a (tremendous) barrier, be it affordability or sustenance. The accumulation of scholarships can noticeably impact a student’s sense of creative/ambitious feasibility by lengthening the boundaries formerly imposed by the lack of affordability.

3)    How should scholarships be perceived?

a.     I think of scholarships as investments in social businesses. Unlike a traditional business, which focuses on maximizing profits to maximize stockholder returns, a social business is a “cause-driven business,”[3] i.e. seeking to maximize human welfare by addressing a cause they care about. To compare, one invests in a traditional business to maximize stockholder returns via juicy dividends, higher stock prices, etc. One invests in a social business to maximize human welfare via microcredit, encouraging local entrepreneurship, etc.

i.     Although arguably similar, do not think of scholarships as charities. Neither is superior/inferior by any means. Scholarships are different than charities because it is competitive; not freely given; and evaluated by performance metrics. This is what makes scholarships typically difficult to obtain.

4)    How should I, as a writer, perceive scholarships? [IF THIS MAKES SENSE, IT MAKES WRITING A SCHOLARSHIP ESSAY A LOT EASIER]

a.     First, perceive scholarships from the point of view of the donor (see above).

b.     Second, understand the intentions behind the scholarship (see above).

c.     Third, ask yourself whether the scholarship’s intentions align with your goals.

d.     Fourth, ask yourself whether receiving the scholarship furthers the donor’s goals of the scholarship through the advancement of your own goals.

e.     Fifth, if yes, keep that connection in mind when writing your essay.

f.      Note: While the language used refers to sole-benefactor scholarships, it is equally effective with group-benefactor scholarships.

Common Writing Structure

These are different approaches to writing scholarship essays. The following are actual essay prompts I have written about with different character constraints, so you will have to proportion your own content. These prompts should, nonetheless, give you a broad but comprehensive understanding of how to approach essays in general.

1)    Provide information about your interest in your major.

a.     A strong essay includes elements of a broader picture, applicability, and uniqueness. E.G.
i.     Why philosophy? What makes philosophy unique as a major?
ii.     How is philosophy applicable, relevant, and important to today’s world or   my own or both?
iii.     How does philosophy apply to me?

2)    What does philanthropy mean to you?

a.     A strong essay answers the question and every important subpart the question may entail. E.G.
i.     What is my definition of philanthropy?
ii.     How does philanthropy apply to me?
iii.     How have I engaged or intend to engage in philanthropy?

3)    Why have you chosen your country of study? What factors led you to select this country?

a.     A strong essay demonstrates a robust consideration of the desired country of study via aspects unique to said country, relevance of said country, and importance of said country towards one’s future. E.G.
i.     Why China? What makes China unique from other countries?
ii.     What connections do I have with China? What sort of connections do I desire creating?
iii.     How will living in China impact me, help me, and/or transform me? How will my study abroad in China advance my career?

4)    Please describe any socio-economic, educational, familial, cultural, or physical hardships or challenges you have overcome.

a.     A strong essay describes a genuine hardship faced and how resilience and other relevant attributes enabled one to overcome that hardship. E.G.
i.     How did my hardship impact me? How has my hardship challenged me?
ii.     How did I address that hardship?
iii.     How did I overcome it?
iv.     How have I grown as a result? What future impact can I make from overcoming this hardship?

5)    Explain how your participation in XYZ will enable you to advocate more effectively for social justice.

a.     A strong essay describes the process through which one becomes empowered to be a better advocate for social justice. E.G.
i.     Why did I select this program? How is it beneficial to my cause?
ii.     How can I use this program as a springboard to accomplish my goals?
iii.     In what respects do I need it? Why is it the case?

In all—but not limited to—the above five prompts, some common themes arise: vision, connection, and action. For some prompts, it is about envisioning a better future. For others, it is arousing empathy to connect/relate the reader to the writer. And for others, it is about conviction. Remember, what also matters is understanding the purpose of the scholarship and figuring out whether you can connect to that purpose.

Scholarship reader(s) rely on essays as subjective measures of fit, depth, and consideration. They simply would not want to award a scholarship to someone who has not put much thought into their own projects, pursuits, futures, etc. The readers need to believe in that person qua person or that the person’s cause is worth investing in.

That said, there is no shortcut for teasing out the underlying motivation for whatever you are pursuing. What gets quicker, however, is the translation from thought to text by having formulated a mental outline of your essay structure as you are reflecting. This comes easier with practice.  After understanding the mindset of scholarship writing and establishing a common writing structure, we will now transition into the final section of part 1 of this article:

Why You May Still Not Receive a Scholarship After Writing a Well-Written Essay

The usual suspects: poor writing, grammar, & structure; insufficient reflection; and perhaps not enough practice writing essays. If none apply to you, read on:

A thoughtful and well-written essay is great. You are perhaps farther now than where you might have been if you once fell victim to the aforementioned mistakes. Still, you did not manage to procure the scholarship. At this point, it might simply be due to the fact that you are not the right fit for their scholarship.

Think of it as a soft-rejection, and if you have encounter this type—which, after some practice, is a process of self-identification for the most part—be a little disappointed you did not get it, but also be reassured it was not because of your competence, effort, and ability.

I mention competence because it is crucial. At one point in college, I made the mistake of writing an essay but not directly answering the question. The effort and ability to write well was all there, but those were not helpful to my cause if I did not correctly address the prompt-at-hand. Upon receiving feedback, the professor was right in indicating while I understood the question in some parts, I lacked a full understanding of the question as a whole.

Think of that moment when you are explaining something to someone until you finally say, ‘Do you get the point?’ and your friend gets it half-right. Their understanding is half-there, but ultimately not, and that’s probably how my professor felt. Moral of the story? Try to fully understand the connection between the scholarship’s aim and your essay, as the former dictates the type of writing for the latter.

To end, everyone has a good story to tell, but the ability to navigate through the process of translating experiences into structured, refined writing can be daunting. I encounter these hurdles still, although not as much as when I first started. I received help, consistent feedback, and support from those who believed in me. 15+ drafts later, I had a personal statement ready to send to universities.

Your essay—while only constituting a portion of your application—reflects a refined version of your effort, ability, and thought process, which is very insightful for scholarship readers when they assess your application. That said, good luck.

The next piece of this 2-part series looks into “Why I Studied Abroad,” which will be available shortly.

[1] Human capital–the skills, knowledge, and experience possessed by an individual or population
[2] Social mobility—the movement of individuals, families, households, or other categories of people within or between social strata in a society. It is a change in social status relative to others’ social location within a given society.
[3] Term created by Muhammad Yunus.

[1] OECD (2011), “How many students study abroad?”, in Education at a Glance 2011: Highlights, OECD Publishing.

Photo by James Long Truong

IT’S NOT ALL IN YOUR HEAD: HOW MENTAL ILLNESS MANIFESTS ACROSS CULTURES

By Becca Chong
Staff Writer

Depression affects 350 million people worldwide, It is the leading cause of disability, a major contributor to the global disease burden, and one of the most underfunded areas of healthcare in the world. Even in developed countries like the United States, where there is abundant research and resources dedicated to mental health services, the proportion of people who can access them is comparatively small.

In the United States, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is used to diagnose depressive disorders. There exists an overarching family of disorders, including major depressive disorder, mood dysregulation and even substance-induced depression. The criteria for these disorders are based off of symptoms such as a depressive mood and feelings of hopelessness, reduced interest in daily activities, the inability to sleep, and suicidal ideation. These diagnostic factors are specific to a Western population that has been extensively studied.

However, not all cultures and populations in the world experience mental illness in the same way. Many cultures have different “idioms of distress”; that is, they experience somatization in which psychological distress is often presented as physical symptoms of anxiety. The increased understanding of variations for depressive symptoms has shifted popular belief that depression is “an American affliction” to one that affects people on a global scale.

Take, for example, how depression presents itself in the Chinese population: as a set of physical symptoms that resemble heart disease and other illnesses rather than a psychological manifestation. Neurasthenia is one such example of how psychological distress leads to physiological symptoms such as fatigue, headache, heart palpitations and even high blood pressure.

The reasons for this difference in presentation are thought to be related to the culture-specific values of the Chinese population; the emphasis on interpersonal relations over intrapsychic concerns, the privacy of personal matters, a prevalence of the externalizing coping method, and an emphasis on physical well-being. All this, in addition to the stigma of mental illness, makes admitting to having neurasthenia much easier that admitting to having depression.

Structural factors also sanction the somatization of depression through physical symptoms that resemble neurasthenia. The work-disability system and the ability to claim chronic illness allow for a reprieve from the tedium of work in such way that the somatization of mental illness is beneficial. The history of using illness to withdraw oneself from a dangerous situation, such as the political unrest of the Cultural Revolution, is yet another reason that the category of physical disease is much more socially beneficial than claiming a stigmatized mental illness.

All this is to say that mental illness diagnoses are culturally-mediated and subconsciously constructed to best suit the environment that the people live in; it is a form of evolutionary survival. Western frameworks of mental illness are not completely compatible with other cultures and have implications for designing mental health care services that will be effective and useful for the people they serve. More research is being done worldwide to learn about these cultural differences that will hopefully bring us to a world where mental illness is treated extensively and competently as a physical diseases.

Image by: Internet Archive Book Images