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Why Do Kashmiris Rush To Encounter Sites And Help Militants?

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It’s been a decade now. His memories may have significantly faded and withered, and the potency to hark back to the past and reproduce all the events has touched a symbolic low. However, my uncle’s recollections of the dreadful night in which five Hizbul Mujahideen militants were cornered by a massive number of paramilitary solders are still afresh and painful.

Strong feelings exuded from his face, while describing the incident to me – he vividly remembered every minute detail about the event. There were signs that the barbarity of the incident had affected his soul deeply. Perhaps, that’s the reason why he could recall each aspect of the situation.

Clifford Nass, who co-authored “The Man Who Lied To His Laptop: What Machines Teach Us About Human Relationships”, says“Negative emotions generally involve more thinking, and the information is processed more thoroughly than positive ones, he said. Thus, we tend to ruminate more about unpleasant events — and use stronger words to describe them — than happy ones.”

 My uncle remembers all this. In his words – “Insurgency was getting a stronger grip on Kashmir. New Delhi had issued clear instructions to the state armed forces to break the back of militancy. It was like any other day – we were enjoying the melodious voice of Mohammed Rafi while weaving carpets in a shanty room. Around noontime, a sudden eruption of fuzzy voices bothered me. I went outside, walked myself to the lawn of our house and what I saw sent shivers down my spine.”

“An enormous number of military vehicles had made a layover in our village. Innumerable Casspirs (a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle), military Gypsies and an ocean of infantrymen were moving on the path. It was a siege and loudspeakers were used to declare its purpose. Apparently, around five top militants of Hizbul Mujhaideen (HM) were holed up in the village. While witnessing this, a feeling of terror engulfed me but I made my mind to stay there on the lawn and watch how the situation unfolded.”

“As I was keenly listening to the words of an army major speaking on the megaphone, father assaulted me with his usual set of cuss words. ‘Wuchya lanath (curse on you!) – go inside and hide behind the wardrobe. I don’t have money to buy a shroud for you. This is a bloody encounter! Five militants are trapped, do you understand anything? You will be dead any minute. Just rush inside,’ he shouted.”

 Now, a decade after the incident, my uncle is perturbed by the current situation. A father of three, he is someone who prefers to be informed about every development in the resolution of the Kashmir situation. However, this new trend of people from the newer generations rushing to encounter sites baffles him. He accepts the fact that while the situation was more tense in the 1990’s, the kind of resistance he is witnessing in contemporary times was nowhere to be seen back then.

The younger generation, many of whom are the children of the infamous uprisings of the 1990s (Tehreek), swarm to encounter sites to disrupt proceedings without caring about their lives. This type of turnabout started from 2015. Since then, many incidents have taken place in which civilians have allegedly endangered their lives to provide a safe passage for militants. And this has, in turn, led to civilian deaths. This year alone, nine people have been killed in encounter sites – the two most recent causalities being from the Arwani encounter.

In February this year, Army chief Bipin Rawat had warned Kashmiris that civilian protesters obstructing encounters would be treated as ‘over ground workers of militants’, and would be dealt with ‘harshly’. He also added that the army could go ‘helter-skelter’. The statement came after after four soldiers, including a major, and four militants were killed in two gunfights in Bandipora and Handwara areas on February 14.

But the Army chief’s warning had no results on the ground. Since his statement, there have been many incidents where the Army has had to deal with both militants and civilian protesters, simultaneously.  For instance, during the encounter with Sabzar Bhat (alias Soab Don) in Saimoh village in South Kashmir’s Pulwama district, four civilians were injured while clashing with the government forces. More recently, in the encounter of Junaid Mattoo (commander of Lashkar-e-Toiba in south Kashmir) in Arwani village of Anantnag district, one civilian was killed while 12 others were injured.

Kashmiri students shout slogans during a protest in Srinagar
Should this be the nature of resistance in Kashmir? (Photo by Waseem Andrabi/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

In a recent statement addressed to the masses of Kashmir, the divisional commissioner of Kashmir, Baseer Ahmad Khan, appealed to the people to stay away from counter-insurgency operations. He said that assembling at encounter sites is fraught with danger, as nobody can predict the trajectory of a bullet, as well as the danger of bullets hitting people after ricocheting. He also said that people should remain away from such sites to ensure their own safety.

In spite of the advice and warnings pouring in from every direction, Kashmir’s youth seems resolute in following its own conventions. The major reason behind the rise of this trend is the feeling of distrust and alienation from the mainstream political and separatist parties in Kashmir, who have comprehensively failed to find a resolution and bring peace to the valley since 1947. We saw the beclouded consensus among the people when Zakir Musa, former commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen, censured Hurriyat leaders in his statement. Though the outfit distanced itself from Zakir’s views, the remarks were apparently welcomed by many Kashmiris, albeit secretly.

The extensive and excessive use of force on the protesters have re-kindled resistance in the youths. Most importantly, the killing of poster boy Burhan Wani in 2016 has reinvigorated and given a new life to the resistance. The incident was a watershed event in galvanising popular support for militants. Now, there seems no end to it. These days, the militants are seen as the lone saviours, who are actually risking their lives to fight oppression.

As Michel Foucault has rightly said: “Where there is power there is resistance.”

 The rage against government forces can be seen throughout Kashmir. The most-recent manifestation of this was the student rebellions in various districts of Kashmir. It all started on April 15, 2017, when the the police beat up the students of Pulwama Degree College. Following this, student protests spread throughout Kashmir.

Though the youth in militancy-affected areas seem to strongly believe in obstructing encounter operations and helping militants to flee, youngsters in areas less affected by militancy don’t agree to this.

Regarding this, my friend (who wished to stay anonymous) said: “It is insane that these youngsters are gambling with their lives, while obstructing counter-insurgency operations. The moment a person takes arms and wills to fight against government forces, he/she willingly embraces death. According to their ideology, they embark upon the path of martyrdom. Going with the logic, isn’t that civilian obstructing their martyrdom (which is a path of salvation), when he tries to save the life of a militant? Why should you save their lives when they have pledged to die? And ironically, while saving them, innocent civilians get killed.”


Image Source: Waseem Andrabi/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
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