Kashmiri Youth: The Victims of an Unending Political Dispute
Amir Sultan Lone*
In the past few years, the political milieu of Kashmir has undergone an unprecedented change with a large number of youth taking the course of stone pelting and many yet joining the rebel ranks. The fear psychosis which had carefully been crafted by the government forces in the valley is vanishing 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(s). These youth who now fearlessly chant the slogans of ‘Azadi’, hurl stones on the security forces and even come to the rescue of besieged militants, one should understand, are the true witnesses of the atrocities that have been unleashed by the security forces in Kashmir since decades. Not many children who fight in the streets actually know the cause of Kashmir dispute but they surely know that they are fighting against the oppression. These youth were the unfortunate children of an unending dispute, of fear, of war and unlike those who spent their childhood in peace; they were raised amidst the ammunition and the war machinery. Today if you ask these youth about their childhood days, many of them will share memories of rifles, Kalashnikovs and grenades. Such was the political situation in Kashmir during 1990’s 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 the military personnel while others as the militants. To act as militants in the game was a craze among the children. This sounds astounding, but this is what shaped their personality.
The youth of Kashmir garnered these memories and turned them into the anger against the Indian establishment. People in peaceful regions of the world have their own cheering and mesmerising stories, but Kashmiris have only their pangs and agonies to share—the stories about the crackdown, encounters and the frequent curfew. They witnessed sudden disappearances of young men, only to find out that they had crossed the border to join the militant ranks. They continue to watch the spectre of their own folks being killed; some in encounters and others in judicial custody. They have mourned reckless bloodbath. These youth also have the 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. This, it should be noted, was a deliberate use of civilians as human shields. Ask anyone in Kashmir and they will tell you the code names of the army regiments—15-Punjab, 26-RR, the Gurkhas etc. They have the fresh memory of the best of their lands in their villages turning into army camps overnight. These are the same youth who were forced by the army to salute them with the chant ‘Jai Hind’. These youth have also seen army mercilessly beating the people of Kashmir for not hoisting Indian flag on their cars, bikes and bicycles. Such was the grim situation in Kashmir that even selling or buying a pencil battery for your radio or a wall clock could land you in trouble since these batteries were also used in the wireless sets. These youth, who are radicalised now, were raised when militants used to make rounds of the villages laden with AK-47 and Kalashnikovs seeking shelter and meals. The fear of reprisal by armed forces undoubtedly there, yet people used to open their doors to feed the rebels or Mujahids as they call them. The motive behind this courtesy was the hope to see their wailing vale liberated. These youth I may tell you were born coinciding this agonising period of the Kashmir’s history.
This youth has also witnessed quite surprisingly the skirmishes between militants of different organisations also. These clashes were ideological in nature as we came to learn later. One group, the JKLF being pro-independence and another Hizbul Mujahedin was pro-Pakistan. Both these ideological groups were trying to create a space for themselves and thus earn public sympathy in their favour. However, JKLF which raised the pro-Independence slogans (Independence from both India and Pakistan) 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 Indian army later formed 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 indigenous ‘militants against militants’ and they were successful to a very large extent. Some of the top guns which belonged to that group were Rashid Billa, Kuka Parrey, Rashid Khan and Muma Kan (ironically Muma Kan or Ghulam Mohammad Mir became the awardee of the Padma Shri by GOI in 2010) who used to be a talk of the town back then. 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. Kashmir has other shareholders to her atrocities. Circumstances compelled them to flee.
This is the same youth who time and again demanded justice for Kunan-Poshpora rape, Shopian rape, fake encounters, the return of the mortal remains of Maqbool Bhat and Afzal Guru, the justice for half-widows, the revocation of AFSPA and the solution of the very core issue—the Kashmir dispute itself. But 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 are becoming radicalised they should understand that the political masters sitting in Delhi and their lackeys in Kashmir have failed the people of Kashmir. 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 gun solution is no solution. For every person you kill you create many more militants. You have alienated the youth of Kashmir and the eight-kilometer tunnel is not going to bridge that gap. The wounds of the exploitation are deep and festering. Displaying machismo by the Indian security forces only dampens the situation. Seeking civil discipline by coercion seems unacceptable to the new generation of Kashmiri youth. Emboldened by their sense of ‘Kashmiri identity’ and driven by their unwavering faith in the legitimacy of their cause, these youth are serious to script their own political future. Before it reaches a point of no return, India, in her own interest, should read the writing on the wall and reach out to the disgruntled population through democratic means. Empires which survived by brute force have ceased to exist long ago. India needs to understand this.
Kashmir is a political issue and demands resolution by political means. Else radicalization is the logical consequence.
*The author is a Doctoral Candidate at Centre of Advanced Study Department of History, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh . He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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