In the past few years, the political milieu of Kashmir has undergone an unprecedented change. A large number of the youth have taken the course of stone pelting and many have joined the rebel ranks. The fear psychosis which had been carefully crafted by the government forces in the Valley is blurring with more and more youth defying the authorities.
The political analysts and the media, who try to portray this growing ‘radicalism’ among the youth in the light of immediate causes need to delve deeper to the root cause. These young people, who now fearlessly chant the slogans of ‘azadi’, hurl stones on the para-military forces and even come to the rescue of besieged militants, one should understand, are the true witness of the atrocities that has been unleashed by the Army in Kashmir for decades.
Not many children who fight in the streets actually know the cause of the Kashmir dispute but they surely know that they are fighting against oppression. The young people are the unfortunate children of an unending dispute, of conflict, of fear, of war. They are not as fortunate as those who spend their childhood playing with toys.
Today, if you ask the youth of Kashmir about their childhood days, many of them will share memories of rifles, Kalashnikovs and grenades. Such was the childhood in Kashmir during the 90s that the children were particularly fond of a game locally called ‘military-mujahid’. Kalashnikovs made of wood were used in the game as a weapon in which some would act as a military personal while others as militants. To act as militants in the game was a craze among the children. This sounds astounding, but this is what has shaped their memories.
The youth of Kashmir has garnered these memories and turned them into an anger against the Indian establishment in Kashmir. People have their own cheering and mesmerising stories, but Kashmiris only have their pangs and agonies to share. The stories about the crackdown, encounters and the frequent curfew. They have witnessed sudden disappearances of young men, only to find out that they crossed the border to join the militant ranks. They have seen their own folks being killed; some in encounters and others in judicial custody. They have mourned reckless bloodbaths.
The youth also has memories of people being picked up by the Army during their morning patrol to check for any live explosives in the bushes and under culverts. Ask anyone in Kashmir and they will tell you the code names of the army regiments — the 15th Punjab regiment, the Gurkha regiment, etc. They also have a fresh memory of the best of their lands in their villages turning into army camps overnight. These are the people who were forced by the army to salute them with the slogan ‘Jai Hind’.
The young generation has also seen the Army mercilessly beating the people of Kashmir for not hoisting Indian flag on their cars, bikes and even bicycles. Such was the grim situation in Kashmir that even selling or buying a pencil battery for your radio or wall clock could land you in trouble since these batteries were also used in the wireless sets. These youth, who you think are radicalised, were raised when militants used to make rounds of the villages laden with AK-47 and Kalashnikovs, seeking shelter and meals. The fear of armed forces undoubtedly loomed around, yet people opened their doors to feed the militants or Mujahids as they call them. The fantasy behind this courtesy was the hope to see their wailing vale liberated. These youth, I may tell you were born coinciding with this agonising period in Kashmir’s history.
This generation has also witnessed the skirmishes between militants of different organisations also. These clashes were ideological in nature as we came to learn later. One group, the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) was pro-independence and Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) was alleged to have links with the state of Pakistan.
Both JKLF and HM were trying to create a space for themselves and thus, mend the public sympathy in their favour. However, JKLF, which raised the pro-independence slogans broke as an organisation and was pushed to oblivion. This does not end here as they also saw some of the militants who surrendered to the Indian Army later, form a counter-insurgency group called the Ikhwan (pro-government militia, who were in no way accountable for whatever they did).
This sanguinary group, which was a nightmare for every Kashmiri, young and old, was created so as to use ‘militants against militants’ and they were successful to a very large extent. Some of the top guns which I remember from this group are Kuka Parray, Rashid Khan and Muma Kana. Muma Kana or Ghulam Mohammad Mir became the awardee of the Padma Shri by the Government of India in 2010. He used to be the talk of the town.
The mere presence of these people in some villages created a wave of psychosis and trepidation. These renegades would ask for money (as contribution towards Ikhwan), force you to join their group, forcibly demand someone’s daughter in marriage and if somehow, you dared to refuse, there was every chance that your body would be found the next day dumped in some marsh or on the roadside as a reprimand for others. We have other shareholders in atrocities committed against us. Circumstances compelled them to flee.
This is the same youth which time and again demanded justice for the alleged Kunan-Poshpora rapes, Shopian rape, the return of the mortal remains of Maqbool Bhat and Afzal Guru, the justice for half-widows, the revocation of the AFSPA and the solution of the very core issue — the Kashmir dispute itself.
However, the people of Kashmir have only seen the words ‘Justice’ and ‘Peace’ in the pages of a dictionary. Today, when someone says that the Kashmiri youth is becoming radicalised they should understand that the political masters sitting in Delhi and their counterparts in Kashmir have failed the people.
It has been seven decades since the Kashmir dispute started and the two countries are yet to understand that their hard stand over this issue is only complicating the already complex situation. New Delhi should understand that the current attempt to solve the crisis using guns isn’t helping anyone. For every person you kill, you create many more militants. You have alienated the youth of Kashmir and the eight-kilometre tunnel is not going to bridge that gap. Besides, your macho-men (Indian Army) are only aggravating the situation. This is a political issue and should be tackled politically unless you want to radicalise every single person in Kashmir.