In the spring of 2003, when Atal Bihari Vajpayee , the then Prime Minister of India came to Kashmir and talked of finding an amicable and congenial solution within the realms of “insaniyat, Kashmiriat, jamhooriat’ , the waves of hope engulfed the whole valley. It was perhaps for the first time the youth of the valley heard the words of solace from the Indian side and that too from the man who mattered the most. Thirteen years have passed since then but nothing has changed on ground. Kashmir continues to bleed with consistent intermittence.
The extent of affliction and anguish the whole valley continues to simmer in over the recent killing of a new-age rebel icon Burhan Wani sums up the level of disconnect with the Indian state. Burhan’s killing is being termed as a major success for the security forces by many defence pundits and officials. However, children, women and the youth eulogising him reflects the magnitude of augmentation in sentiments of abomination and detestation for the Indian state. Even the most pro-Indian politician from the state, Omar Abdullah conceded that his death is more of a setback rather than any gain. “Mark my words – Burhan’s ability to recruit into militancy from the grave will far outstrip anything he could have done on social media”, Omar tweeted. Nonetheless, it always has been state and centre (of which Omar Abdullah too has been a part) and their poor handling of the affairs , which is to be blamed for the emergence and surge of this new age militancy. There had to be some repercussions of the cutthroat handling of the 2008 and 2010 agitations in the state. Even during recent protests against the killing of Burhan, pattern of injuries sustained by the protesters clearly indicate violation of Standard Operation Procedures (SOP) and use of disproportionate force to quell the protesters.
The Indian state currently finds itself in murky waters on the Kashmir issue. Yet, at the time of partition, India was the first choice of Kashmir, ahead of Pakistan despite the religious and regional similarities between Pakistan and Kashmir. India’s decision to take the dispute to the United Nations made Kashmiris realise that it was not a mistake. However, what followed from the Indian state in subsequent years and decades made Kashmiris rue their decision. The anger and exasperation brewed as India began to treat Kashmir as a colony. How India back-stabbed its own hero Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah by arresting him in 1953 left no doubt in the minds of Kashmiris as what was to follow. Puppet governments were installed from the centre which further fuelled the discontent and anger among the masses. Democratically elected governments were eliminated throughout Kashmir’s post independent history.
Although a rebellion was always on cards, somehow an easy calm prevailed. Situation took an ugly turn, when centre rigged the 1987 elections fearing that Muslim United Front , a former alliance of Islamic parties may sweep the elections and harm India’s interests. This proved to be the final nail in the coffin. An armed insurgency followed, which continues to have catastrophic repercussions. The ruthless and iron fist tactics employed by the state machinery to bring down the uprising still haunts the masses of Kashmir. Indian state’s unfriendly and rather regressive policies, excessive and brute use of force and crackdown even on peaceful protesters abetted escalation in violence. According to this report from the Times of India in 2011, 43,460 people died since the beginning of the insurgency in 1990 as per Jammu and Kashmir government data. Unofficial figures quote the death tally to be above 1,00,00.
Although Indian state continuously used to put on a brave face and made it look like things are under control, but now even some in the army concede that they are losing it in Kashmir. Lt. Gen. DS Hooda, senior military commander in Kashmir recently confessed that militants had far more public support than armed soldiers. He said, “Militarily there is not much more to do than we already have done.” The current turbulent scenario can be directly attributed to the maltreatment of the Kashmiri masses, especially the youth. The systematic manner in which their voices have been suppressed. For all genuine reasons, the Kashmiri youth continues to feel aggrieved. There is an absence of any forum for them to register their protest. On streets they find bullets being fired at them and when they protest using the platform of social media, state blocks internet for days altogether. The youth feels choked and wants space to express itself, to protest, to grieve, and to mourn.
Whether majority of the Indian citizens would like to believe or not, the fact remains that gross human rights violations have been committed by the Indian state machinery in the name of maintaining law and order. The ground situation is completely different from what is being portrayed to them by an overly jingoistic media. It is high time to stop looking at Kashmir through the prism of only Pakistan and Islam. Address their grievances at least within the ambit of what Vajpayee used to call “insaniyat, Kashmiriat, jamhooriat,” because it is in nobody’s interest to see Kashmir explode again.