Are youth in Kashmir dying cheap?

  • Omair Ahmad
  • Publish Date: May 3 2016 11:10AM
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  • Updated Date: May 3 2016 11:10AM
What is it that these young men are trying to achieve, and are they succeeding?


     It has been almost twenty six years since the violent insurgency began in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), and while it has changed in form, it remains a creature that swallows young men and older boys, and spits out corpses. Different boys die now than the ones that died earlier – they come from South Kashmir, far away from the Line of Control and the camps on the other side. They come now from well-off families, with good marks in their school examinations from time to time, but they still turn up dead – killed by the military in encounters, or buried in the rubble of houses dynamited around them. Or they just turn up as corpses on the mountainside – frozen, or shot, either way, dead.
     In dying, they win the favour of their community, and hundreds – even thousands – attend the funerals nowadays. Villages fight to host the funerals, and although the majority of the militants operating – and therefore killed – in the Valley remain Kashmiris, even foreign militants receive the same treatment. It was more than was extended to Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, the former Chief Minister of J&K. But other than the cumulative grief that the community – or communities – express, what is it that these young men are trying to achieve, and are they succeeding?
     The simple answer to the question is, of course, azadi – freedom – and specifically freedom from India. If that is the case, then the young men are giving their lives up for nothing. Since 2001 the incidents of militancy, and with it, the fatalities, have been declining steadily from over 4,000 deaths a year, to between a hundred to two hundred deaths a year. To put this into perspective, more than a thousand people die due to traffic accidents in J&K every year. While no traffic accident is likely to generate the public pressure that the funerals of militants, so this is a not an exact comparison, nevertheless it should give an idea of how little – in actual terms – the deaths by militancy actually mean. Almost ten times the number of people die due to the traffic compared to deaths linked to militancy.
     Every year the Indian state and security agencies become stronger and gain more capabilities. In 1989-90, some people might have believed that a group of militants with guns could spark off an insurgency that would lead to the separation of J&K, or at least the Kashmir Valley, from India. If anybody still believes this is the case, then they have not been paying attention to the numbers, and relative capability of the militants versus the security forces.
If the militants cannot achieve freedom, then maybe they are trying to correct injustices? Human rights abuses are no rarity in Kashmir. In 2011 more than 2,000 unmarked graves were found in Kashmir. Since then no agency, no government or non-governmental body has done research to find out whose bodies are buried in those graves. If abuses on such a massive scale go uninvestigated, then the number of violations on a day to day basis is likely to be great. And yet, militancy has not led to any justice. Abuses have not decreased because people picked up the gun, but increased. Where there was once a conflict between the militants and security forces, with the local population caught in between, now it is militants, the military, counter-militants, criminals and God only knows who else, who use murder and coercion to prey upon the larger population.
     There has not been one case, from the murder of the lawyer Jalil Andrabi to the rape cases of Kunan Poshpora, that have been resolved since the “boys” picked up guns. If justice is what they aspired to bring to the Valley, they have been spectacular in their failure.
     So, if not azadi, if not justice, what it is it that is driving these young men to guns, that has meant that the graveyards where they are buried are treated as the resting place of martyrs while the politicians elected into the local assembly, and into Parliament, are neglected? Maybe more than anything else the “boys” setting out with guns are the cumulative cry of despair that is welling up from the Valley, where a generation of young men still see no real hope of a just future. It behoves us to listen, before it is too late – as it already is, for those that have taken up the gun, killed, and died.