It was yet another bloody Sunday in Kashmir on May 6 when 10 young Kashmiris, five of them militants, were killed and added to a long list that has become a new normal given the violent turn the situation has taken in the past few months.
It was like a replay of April 1, when 17 people were killed in a single day. Sunday’s killings serve as a grim reminder about the highly charged situation in the valley. A day earlier, eight people were killed mercilessly, some of them by unknown gunmen as no one took responsibility. However, condemnations poured in from all sides. Kashmir has not seen this type of violence wherein civilians are placed in the line of fire while government forces try to track down the militants. In the end, whoever is killed is Kashmiri. Notwithstanding the mayhem of 2008, 2010 and 2016, when bullets became an answer for stones, killing nearly 300 people, injuring thousands and blinding hundreds, this new shade of violence has put tongues wagging about a dark future.
What is disturbing is that among the civilian population, it is mostly the youth which has donned a new role. They resist government attempts to take on the militants. When the army, the paramilitary forces and the police cordon an area to search for a militant, it is a civilian who puts up resistance and, in the end, both the militant and the civilian dies. In one case, in Kulgam last month, civilians preferred to die to help militants escape. Four civilians lost their lives while facilitating the escape of three militants. Indeed a huge cost. All these civilians are not militants, yet the government justifies their killings, under the garb of restoring “normalcy” in the region. Sunday’s events have cast a gloom over the valley and the outrage is genuine.
Who is pushing these youth to pay this price and why? This question merits an answer. The government must answer as to how these killings are taking place. It is the failure of the current set-up to control despondency and frustration. At the same time, the Kashmiri society should also reflect on why the youth, who are not holding guns, ultimately become cannon fodder in this grind of violence. Are there no alternatives? Or do we have to force ourselves to be content with the idea that when you throw a stone, stage a protest or pick up the gun, the response is same – the bullet?
The blood that is splattered on the streets might be an elixir for the resistance against Indian rule but how long can we afford that, and that too without any proper direction? The leaders who are leading under the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL) have a responsibility to lead in a direction that does not take us to violence. They cannot shirk their responsibility by saying that only the Indian government is responsible. They also have a role to play and it is for them to define that.
Policymakers in Delhi think that they have nothing to lose and a tough stance on Kashmir seems to be helping the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of the 2019 general elections. Does that mean we are helping the BJP to achieve its goal?
Today’s renewed resistance in Kashmir is youth-driven and they are perhaps not amenable to counselling by the leaders of the Hurriyat. Their angst against the state has reached a crescendo and the daily cycle of killings is adding fuel to the fire. But that again brings us back to the point. Is violence the only and final solution?
More disturbing was the presence of Kashmir University’s Assistant Professor Dr Mohammad Rafi at the house where other militants were holed up. Rafi was not yet a militant and had probably joined the group just a couple of days before. He had certainly chalked out his course as was evident from his final call to his parents. He is not the first such young man with good education who chose guns over political argument. There are many who have had degrees and joined militant ranks. His joining, however, brings out another facet. He had a dignified job and he still chose this path. Dr Rafi’s joining the ranks has belied the often-parroted narrative that Kashmir’s problem was about the unemployment.
Though long queues could be seen outside the recruitment centres, the larger reality behind this new phenomenon is that the denial of Kashmir being a political issue and the denial of political space for dissent has pushed these young boys to violence. With these recurring examples, the government of India’s reaching out through jobs, sports activities and other measures have failed to keep them at bay. In the past, thousands of jobs were created, infrastructure built, roads macadamized but that had little effect on political realities. In fact, in the last four years, Kashmir has gone through a complete transformation in which the anti-India sentiment has been changed into a “hate India” sentiment and that is what is drawing the educated youth closer to militancy. A civilian population resisting operations by the government forces to protect militants is nothing but societal sanction for violence. The political nature of the dispute has surely overshadowed the sops of employment and development.
While Kashmiris look towards the international community to take cognizance of the state violence that takes away lives of young people, it is important to note that violence is not an approved path (with these powers) to end political conflicts. Delhi’s continuous denial of Jammu and Kashmir as a political dispute has opened up this new chapter of violence which Kashmiris had left behind long ago in mid-1990s.
That transition did not help achieve any breakthrough. The onus of changing this pattern lies on Delhi alone though other actors too have a role. Today’s situation also demands a rethink of the coalition between People’s Democratic Party and the BJP. The BJP has continuously provoked people and tried to deligitimise the political realities. The challenge is to put an end to this cycle and save people but at the same time deliver justice. Delhi can no longer cover its head with sponsored theories, it must own responsibility.