Why this Fire in South Kashmir?

  • Imran Nabi Dar
  • Publish Date: Jan 19 2017 1:48PM
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  • Updated Date: Jan 19 2017 1:48PM
Why this Fire in South Kashmir?

                                                                 Illustration by Suhail Naqshbandi

When the now deceased Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani started his sojourn, not many knew about him but over the last couple of years, he had become an internet sensation. With his novel ways of putting across a viewpoint, many youngsters that I observe or interact with saw in him a ‘hero’. 

Whether one likes it or not, Burhan had become a rallying point for many. This is a fact and it will be good for everyone if GoI acknowledged it. The sweeping generalisation of labelling everybody a paid agent will do no good in this scenario. Considering the swelling number of young Kashmiris attending the funeral prayers of deceased militants, and more and more women coming out in open to condone the trend, Burhan had established a strong constituency in the valley, a constituency in the young psyche.

Following the sudden news of his killing, past five months in Kashmir have been deadly. After 2008, 2010, Valley witnessed another deadly cycle of protests this year resulting in death of almost 100 people, injuries to over 10,000, blinding of around 1100 people followed by arbitrary arrests. This year however saw south Kashmir taking the hit. A number of developments on the political and social front have led to the dramatic resurgence of violent protests throughout the valley particularly the rural south. The reasons are many; some are internal, confined to local politics whereas many are associated with politics at national level. 

 

Politics of Perception

Kashmir has been witnessing the Politics of Perception for a long period now. Currently there is a perception that ‘Harm’ has been institutionalised in Kashmir. The way state has dealt with the protests has strengthened the belief that the government knows only one way to silence protestors in Kashmir and that is by inflicting harm. Over the years this perception is steadily growing and strengthening. 

Never before have so many people been jailed, slapped with PSAs and despite the so called improvement in situation, elderly, youngsters and those with the remotest association with public angst are locked up.

In 2010, the then Opposition, PDP created a ruckus and tried every trick on earth to paint the ruling coalition led by Omar Abdullah the villain. It pledged to ban the pellet guns that had been freshly introduced with the intent of stopping the mobs and put a halt on the spiral of killings that had unfortunately taken place. 

When the PDP came to power in 2015, the clamour for banning pellet guns was conveniently forgotten. As a result, these guns continue to be misused and have maimed and in extreme cases killed people. As per the statistics available 11 people died after shot with pellets. The perception of harm is therefore proving to be true. The state’s regressive and oppressive policies, ignorant or oblivious to the fallouts of such regimes, are being implemented in Kashmir. 

 

Hinterlands Changing

The valley simultaneously is witnessing a major repositioning of militancy particularly in south. And as a reminder to those who thought only those from economically challenged sections of society are joining militant ranks, the recent killings of two militants in Bijbehara and Arwani who come from well to do families will make them think otherwise. The new age armed militants are not confined to class anymore.

In 2010 the protests and killings were mostly based around the city and towns but in 2016 it was far off Kashmir villages which became the epicentre of anti-government protests.

Damhal Hanji Pora, a constituency in Kulgam district is one case that has baffled many. In the past two decades, this area had always given protests a miss no matter what the situation or issue would be, and even if whole of Kashmir had erupted over it. Immediately after the Kokernag encounter, three people including a woman died in police firing, the first casualties of the spiral of deaths that took place in 2016. Subsequently police station at DH Pora was torched. 

Like DH Pora, Chawalgam, the place which has been a hot bed of mainstream politics, also witnessed an uproar and so did many other places, that had never known protests before. 

The trend of virgin spots enrobing themselves into the fatigues of rebellion is a result of a long buried angst. There, no doubt, is a massive shift of ideological orientation and it is youth that are spearheading this. I am sure many would have taken note of it but as a keen observer of people’s mood, I think this shift is much greater than what it appears on the face value.

 

Role of media

As a child I would often see the grown-ups in the neighbourhood tune-in to BBC Radio Evening News, considered to be most credible news source then. The next day I would see the last evening’s news getting discussed outside the shops, where young and ‘rebellious’ men would gather for a smoke, or outside the mosques where elderly and ‘disillusioned’ men would congregate after the prayers, or even in the schools. 

Talks would resonate elation if Kashmir’s ‘agonies’ had found a mention in news, fury if there had been no mention of what was perceived as the most important event of the day, and greater fury if the radio version did not match with the widespread local version.

A replica of that can be seen today. With most of Indian broadcast media (Hindi as well as English) adding fuel to the fire, sides are well defined and outlined. Instead of empathizing with the families whose loved ones have been killed or maimed for life, TV channels in a bid to garner more TRPs by appeasing the masses, started demonizing the victims. 

Rather than presenting a balanced report where the views of both sides get due space, their reportage is such that it would make any sane Kashmiri, no matter what the political ideology he or she professes, hurl choicest of abuses on the news package. 

A dangerous cocktail of anger and resentment among the young continues to brew and has spread like fire in Kashmir. Violence is but a manifestation of this frustration. 

Over the years, genuine grievances and dissatisfactions of people have often been rubbished by the New Delhi leadership. It has resulted in brewing up a perception that the only effective way to register a point is by creating a noise about it. The noise sometimes gets too noisy due to the policies that are devised far from Kashmir, far from its people and their representatives. 

 

Political baggage

Governments in New Delhi, over the past 70 years have resorted to a policy of gagging dissent. It is this context that needs to be addressed. But unfortunately policy makers in New Delhi have failed to convince PM Modi and his coterie on this. Instead they have gone into the mode of flaunting their jackboots only. 

The refusal to acknowledge Kashmiri separatists as stakeholders is proving to be major policy failure of this government. This too after the present coalition of PDP and BJP had principally agreed to hold talks with separatists in their now forgotten ‘Agenda of Alliance’. 

Following the dramatic political developments in the state when PDP aligned with the right wing BJP, people particularly from the south which happened to be the major constituency of PDP felt betrayed. The feeling of this betrayal got compounded when Late Mufti Sayeed and now Mehbooba Mufti silently gave in to the arm pulling of its coalition partner on numerous occasions. 

The state flag controversy and the infamous beef ban all played their parts in building up anger among Kashmiris. This anger reached to its crescendo when an innocent truck driver from Bijbehara was hacked to death by right wing goons in Udhampur and the state apparatus failed to provide justice by letting them go scot free. 

In Handwara when six young people including a promising cricketer was killed by police firing after an alleged molestation bid on a minor girl by forces, no cabinet meeting was held in New Delhi. Instead government blamed people for pivoting riots. During 2016 Yatra, government felt the need of conducting a meeting, making it amply clear that PM and his office is concerned more about Yatra than the ones who are getting killed by government forces. 

Such double standards by New Delhi have accentuated the trust deficit here in Kashmir. Yatris have always been cared for by locals no matter what the situation is and will always be welcomed by Kashmir.

GoI’s blatant advocacy of moves that were essentially seen as a threat to the mass interests in Kashmir by most sections of people, have accentuated the feeling of alienation, deprivation and deceit. Be it separate colonies for retired army men, townships for Pandits or the New Industrial Policy, the matters could have been handled better.

This sense of defeat particularly among Kashmiris has been building up. The killing of Burhan acted as a natural vent to all such frustrations. 

The ‘Healing Touch’ of PDP proved to be a Harming Touch. People in south Kashmir are just shaking the sensation of an uncomfortable touch away. And this shaking is convulsive. 

The author is Provincial Spokesperson JK National Conference