After the horrific suicide attack on the CRPF convoy at Lethapora, Pulwama, on the Srinagar-Jammu national highway by a Kashmiri militant named Adil Dar, which resulted in the death of more than 40 CRPF personnel and injuries to many, it has become all the more evident that in the heady scenario in Kashmir nowadays, a new generation of militants has emerged who are more radicalised and more firm in their convictions than their predecessors.
What is more worrying is their taking to extreme violent means like we saw in Lethapora or other instances post 2014. Lethapora, in many ways, was just the high crest of this extreme violent surge. This kind of militancy is consuming many precious lives, be it civilians, security personnel or even young Kashmiris militants themselves. As cynical as it may sound, it does not look as if this kind of militancy is ending soon, given the grandstanding and posturing that India is witnessing in the aftermath of the attack, and the constant refusal for a serious appraisal on why Kashmiri youth are leaning towards militancy?
As this piece was being written, another encounter was going on in Pulwama district in which more killings of soldiers, civilians and militants have been reported. The state may have disdainfully bragged about the number of militants it has killed in the past two years in Kashmir, but the fact remains that there has also been an unprecedented rise in the number of militants operating in the Kashmir valley with South Kashmir, to which this writer also belongs, emerging as the core hotbed. This goes along with the disproportionate rise in sympathy for the militant cause and an increasing anger, hatred and repulsion towards anything that is seen as representative of the Indian state.
The Lethapora attack was undoubtedly the most ferocious of them all, but it is also a fact that the militants have been frequently attacking the Army, paramilitary forces and police with nonchalance since 2015. The number of people attending the funerals of militants is often massive. The militants enjoy huge public support and sympathy; in fact, they had it right from 1989, but now, the new generation of Kashmiri youth is more overt in this. They repeatedly resort to stone-pelting near the encounter sites so that militants have a free escape. Most of the times, this proves successful because of the obvious distraction and the apprehension of civilian casualties on part of the security establishment.
BJP Govt’s Apathy and Indifference
All this while, the right-thinking people have been anxious as the volcano of Kashmiris’ deep distrust and alienation towards India, which frequently gets manifested in the protests on streets and near encounter sites, funeral processions and Friday prayers, or even on social media, is rising. One should not, however, mistake the massive number of people rushing to encounter sites and attending funerals of militants as a manifestation of people’s direct endorsement of the path of violence that militants adopt; for, it is the only outlet that people are now finding to express their muzzled voices. It seems more an expression of their anger and exasperation at the apathy and indifference of the Indian state toward them. This apathy and indifference have taken new heights during the rule of the current Bharatiya Janata Party-led government through the linking of its agenda of Hindu nationalism to the issue of Kashmir.
The political and security establishment does not seem to have acknowledged this disturbing trend. Had it done so, there would have been an honest assessment and consequent remedial measures of this problem even before the Lethapora attack. But dismissing and bracketing this militancy, which is totally local in its orientation, as entirely being the handiwork of the neighbouring country’s intelligence agency is surely not an honest and prudent assessment.
The questions that need to be raised by everyone are: from where does this alienation emanate? And how to achieve an end to the deep-rooted sense of alienation and frustration among the youth?
While conversing with youth in various localities in the deep hinterland of South Kashmir, one gets a sense of how the youth are filled with hatred towards India that they do not care about either embracing or inflicting pain on others. Deep down in their hearts, they also do not rejoice the killings and violence, as is being made out, but are compelled to do so as they the same is structuring, shaping and influencing their lives. The story of current day Kashmiri youth is not about any sadistic indulgence in violence, but a means of responding to the same, however uncomfortable that may sound to us. It is not fanciful heroism or illusory abstractions that are driving Kashmiri youth towards the vicious cycle of violence and death, but there are some real time causes and circumstances that are predominantly political and leave no choice for them.
State Repression and Counter Reaction
When the state defines itself by sanctioning violent practices, there is bound to be a counter-definition which, at times, like in the case of Kashmir valley, takes things to another extreme. While it is true that between 2006 and 2014, there had been a steady decline in militancy in Kashmir, one thing which has constantly got overlooked, is the extreme state oppression which has exacerbated during the later years of the same period. These years were undoubtedly characterised by a handful of youth joining militant organisations, but there was huge repression beginning 2008, which saw an unparalleled method of choking the democratic space, recurrent rights violations by the forces in the form of killings during the 2008, 2009 and 2010 civil agitations, the brutal rape and murder of two women in Shopian in 2009, failure and incompetence of police in tackling small law and order problems, which resulted in high-handedness, atrocities and humiliations that an average Kashmiri still faces on almost a daily basis, and above all, the immunity enjoyed by the erring personnel.
There was a repeat of this in the 2016 unrest with more than 100 youth killed and hundreds blinded by pellets during the street protests. In the last couple of years, over 100 youth have been killed during protests near encounter sites. Many more have been imprisoned under draconian laws or subjected to torture and interrogation in unlawful detention centres. In many ways, the character of once a normal teenager, Burhan Wani, and the manner in which he was brutalised by the repressive state mechanism to turn into a mutineer, has become emblematic of the Kashmiri youth’s tryst with state oppression.
If reports are to be believed, Adil Dar was also once a normal teenager (who had no real interest in religion and was a staunch fan of the Indian cricket team, according to his parents) before being brutalised by the state forces. The led him to the militant ranks and he ended up being a suicide bomber. This is certainly not to condone his act in any way, but just an illustration of how the circumstances work in Kashmir these days. What this also implies is that the conflict is not determined by religious fundamentalism, as the reductionists allege. In other words, religious fundamentalism is only an effect; it is not a primary cause, and the primary cause is still political repression, which creates a void and vacuum that is exploited by those with an extremist consciousness.
Instead of trumpeting for war and more violence, what the times require is an immediate redressal of the essential political question of Kashmir, as the dignity and security of Kashmiris and also other people in the region, is contingent on it. Until this is genuinely resolved, the dream of peace and stability returning to Kashmir and, by implication in the region, will remain aloof. This is what everyone needs to realise by coming out of denial and posturing. The issue needs comprehensive redressal and that begins from outlining the historical root causes of this problem, which are replete with broken promises and constant snatching of political aspirations ever since the State’s accession with the Union of India. After all, we cannot have peace and militarisation functioning together.
The response to this problem cannot be through neutralising militants physically; after all, they are persuaded by certain political aspirations, and how can political aspirations be killed with bullets and mortar shells? To put an end to the vicious cycle of violence and all types of killings, it becomes more imperative than ever to engage with Kashmiris by listening to them, and work for a dignified solution, which is, believe me, what some of these young militants also want. It is in everyone’s interest and more so in the interest of Kashmiris to move towards the resolution of this conflict through a serious dialogue, which is the only democratic way; there is no other.
The writer is a youth activist based in Kulgam, Kashmir. The views are personal.