A year after Burhan Wani, Kashmir is Locked in a Worsening Cycle of Despair & Violence

Written by Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal | Published on: July 11, 2017

A worrying trend is sections of militants making the departure from fighting for independence or merger with Pakistan to fighting in the name of khilafat. Two months ago, Zakir Musa, broke away from Hizb-ul-Mujahideen by first threatening the Hurriyat leaders. The likes of Zakir Musa and the theory of khilafat may not find much currency in the Valley which is still bound to its traditional syncretic culture.


Kashmir

Almost a year after Kashmiri militant Burhan Wani’s killing, a cop Muhammad Ayub Pandith was lynched by an angry mob outside Srinagar’s Jamia Masjid while night long Jumat-ul-Vida prayers were going on inside the mosque. The cop was dressed in civvies and generated suspicions while he was taking photographs at the gate of the mosque. An altercation with some people who objected to his presence prompted him to fish out his gun, possibly in self defence, and press the trigger, injuring three people. Whether the provocation to thrash him till death stemmed from the firing, his allegedly suspicious behavior, his identity as a cop, or all of these; the incident marks a new low in Kashmir, where back in the eighties (1980s) murders and stabbings were almost unknown.

How did the Valley descend into this level of desperation, frustration, anger and hatred? The seeds of discontent lay in the preceding years.

Anti-India sentiment was already deepening due to Indian government’s failure in politically resolving a long pending dispute during the decade of comparative calm. Added to that the exacerbating human rights situation despite a diminishing graph of militancy with targeting of peaceful assemblies and stone pelting protestors brutally had already made the Valley restive by 2010, pushing smitten and humiliated young men to join the ranks of militants.  

Burhan Wani belonged to the same crop of young men and became the poster boy of new age of militancy. His death inspired many youngsters to pick up the gun. But there are several other factors that have pushed teenagers and youth to that path.

The repressive action against protestors and by-standers, in the after-math of his death, especially, the liberal use of high velocity lead pellet guns by police and CRPF is one of the main factors. Pellet ridden bodies and blinded faces of children as young as four years old became the most defining images of Kashmir in 2016 after Burhan Wani’s killing. This brutality was seen as continuum and worsening of human rights situation.

Anger was also fuelled by the shabby relief and rescue work during the 2014 floods and in far greater measure by the unholy alliance between PDP and BJP. The PDP, which sought votes in the 2014 elections on the promise of keeping saffron out of the Valley, finally made its peace with BJP and formed a coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir. PDP’s strongest bastion – South Kashmir – is today a hotbed of militancy and reportedly many youth who canvassed for the party in 2014 elections eventually joined the ranks of militants.

An altering idea of India with beef bans, lynchings, Love-Jehad and anti-minority violence by hooligans, patronised by the BJP in power at the Centre, and scripting a new discourse across the country also deepens the insecurities, anxieties of the Kashmiri youth, transforming the already deepening anti-India sentiment into hatred. Needless to point out that this conflict generation has seen only a militarized and brutal face of India, never its democratic one. The sole event of periodic elections since 1996 has been bandied about as democracy, the benefits of which have been insufficient to not just address the political aspirations of the people but also their day to day needs like development and employment.   
  
Post Burhan Wani, Kashmir has been a story of over-all despair where normality has a new definition and where militancy and protests are churning a complex narrative. Even though the Valley has witnessed comparative calm since last October, more and more youth are mesmerised by the idea of picking up guns. They are either inspired by their own harassment, prison terms under the draconian Public Safety Act or the collective oppression around them or they are ex-militants. Some of them are engineering and IT professionals or studying in professional colleges with promising careers. Even some cops deserted their posts and are believed to have joined militant groups. Religious radicalization is also a source of inspiration for some of the new entrants into the fold of militancy.

The newer trends in militancy reveal a far greater brotherhood with foreign militants, teenagers joining militancy and starved of arms and cash, this militancy by and large remains indigenous. Increasing incidents of looting of banks and arms from police installations and ill-trained but determined militants further corroborates that point. The proliferating numbers are not so huge as to ring alarm bells. But respect, sympathy and support for militants across the Valley certainly is. Massive funerals are held for slain militants, including foreign militants. But more significantly, swarms of people descend on the encounter site to shout slogans and pelt stones and queer the pitch for the security forces by making all efforts to rescue holed up militants.

Across the Valley, occasional stone pelting protests over the slightest of provocation has become the new normal. School and college students including young girls, though still very rare, initially provoked by the killing of a student by security forces inside the college campus in Pulwama, have also begun joining street protests, often with stones to pelt.

Anger was also fuelled by the shabby relief and rescue work during the 2014 floods and in far greater measure by the unholy alliance between PDP and BJP. The PDP, which sought votes in the 2014 elections on the promise of keeping saffron out of the Valley, finally made its peace with BJP and formed a coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir. PDP’s strongest bastion – South Kashmir – is today a hotbed of militancy and reportedly many youth who canvassed for the party in 2014 elections eventually joined the ranks of militants.

This generation is no longer deterred by the brutal clampdown of protests or of the lethal consequences of picking up the gun, revealing the depths of desperation.

A young lawyer, I have known since he was an enthusiastic law student with tremendous positive energy, told me in November 2016 of the immense frustration that overcomes him when he is fighting against a legal justice system that fails to deliver or when he witnesses how ten year old boys have been detained because the police wanted to arrest their elder family members. “Sometimes, out of helplessness I myself want to pick up the gun.” The young professional is far too mature and seasoned to do that but even for a thought like that to creep in his mind is disturbing, encapsulating the extent of frustration, desperation and loss of sense of fear that pushes many to take on the mighty Indian State and its security apparatus with guns, stones or even bare hands. What is even more disturbing is that they know that the State will not budge, but for them it is a choice between enduring constant pain and humiliation and committing, what may well be, ‘honour suicide’. 

A worrying trend is sections of militants making the departure from fighting for independence or merger with Pakistan to fighting in the name of khilafat. Two months ago, Zakir Musa, broke away from Hizb-ul-Mujahideen by first threatening the Hurriyat leaders. The likes of Zakir Musa and the theory of khilafat may not find much currency in the Valley which is still bound to its traditional syncretic culture. However, expressions of anger against the Indian State as well as their remote-controlled regime in Jammu and Kashmir, brutality by the security forces and even a weakened and corrupted Hurriyat have turned Zakir Musa into a hero, as witnessed during the night of Jumat-ul-Vida inside the Jamia Masjid where slogans in his support were raised, while a lone cop was being lynched outside. 

As I write this, reports pour in of 7 Amarnath yatris killed and several injured in a militant attack in South Kashmir. At this moment, it will be jumping the gun to presume this as a new norm. It is still not clear whether the attack was a pre-meditated one or a case of being caught at the wrong place and wrong time. Besides, such attacks, even though aberrations, have happened in the past in the Valley.  

Like the cop’s lynching, the attack on the pilgrims has been widely condemned in the Valley which continues to be mesmerized by the plural traditions of the pilgrimage. Many in the Valley believe that the radicalised militants are backed by the Indian agencies, though there is no evidence to suggest the same. Some others fear that the radicalised militants may gradually gravitate towards Islamic State operatives or may already have. Whether or not there is an element of truth in such assumptions, the choking of civilian space and the targeting of liberal voices among those espousing a separatist ideology through constant militarization and brutalization of the society is enlarging the base of radicalized elements.      
 
Massive human rights abuse and the worsening patterns of impunity that have made the transition from silence and inaction over complaints to harassing, intimidating and even registering cases against complainants and victims keeps the pot of frustration and anger boiling. The situation is typified by the haunting image of an army officer strapping a young man to a jeep and using him as a ‘human shield’ for over five hours and its justification by accusing the man of pelting stones and its far more brazen legitimization by rewarding the officer of violating military norms in doing so. Either the Indian government has no policy on Kashmir or it dangerously hopes to cash in on the rich electoral harvest (elsewhere in the country) of demonising Kashmir by pushing it towards chaos through perpetuation of brutality and injustices.

This sense of injustice primarily pushes the Kashmiri youth to make their choices within a choked space of absolute despair – to pelt stones, pick up the gun or carrying on with their mundane life.

Anger, alienation and despair finds manifestation in various forms. Many youngsters transcend their own personal and collective sense of helplessness to punctuate Kashmir’s chaos by charting a creative and imaginative narrative by writing and painting about Kashmir’s despair as well as by making positive interventions by organising relief work for those distressed by the conflict, documenting their tragedies or holding dialogues and workshops on conflict transformation or issues like Right to Information and Climate change on a smaller and low-key level.  On their shoulders, these young people keep aloft the simmering of hope that has no takers in New Delhi.   
     
The Indian government, which wants to believe that the problem is only “5 percent” stone pelters and militants operating in “three districts” of the Valley, turn a convenient blind eye to such positive energy. Recently, a documentary film, “Under the Shade of the Fallen Chinars”, show-casing artistic pursuits of students as an expression against the brutalization of Kashmir, was banned.

It does not suit the official narrative of denial about the causes of Kashmir’s anger and convenient naming of an enemy across the border that “engineers and motivates youth” to pelt stones or pick up the gun. Though motivation through religious radicalization and money cannot be out-rightly denied, there has to be enough sense of desperation to come out on the roads in protest with all the risks involved.  

As long as Indian government’s policy is locked in a grid of denial, obsession with Pakistan, military doctrine and ruling Kashmir through jackboots, disregarding not just the voices of protest but also the sometimes sage advice of the state government or other civil society members, Kashmir will continue to be locked in this vicious cycle of tragedy, pain, grief, brutality and violent reprisal. Only, it will continue to get worse.

(The author is Executive Editor Kashmir Times and a peace activist)