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Religious Radicalization In Kashmir: ‘Death’ Of A Society – OpEd

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On broaching the issue of religious radicalisation in Kashmir, the stock reply is that this is sheer propaganda as there’s no such thing here. This reply is invariably followed by a lengthy monologue on the inimitable and age-old ‘Sufi [Muslim ascetic] -Reshi’ [Hindu sage] culture this region boasts of, which being pluralistic and extremely tolerant in character, blocks ingress of radical religious ideology into the Kashmiri society. However, while Kashmir’s inter-faith bonhomie and secular coexistence was undoubtedly the envy of any cultured society in the past, unfortunately, the same cannot be said today.

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What makes this whole issue all the more tragic is that even as Kashmiris brazenly fanned religious intolerance during the nineties, members of Kashmir’s civil society and intelligentsia [either unwittingly or intentionally], failed to raise their voices against such fanatical religious indoctrination which allowed the self-debilitating scourge of radicalisation to spread unchecked. Those who disagree just need to reflect on what Kashmir has been through since terrorism erupted here more than three decades ago and the truth will automatically unfold. So, let’s recapitulate.

When the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front [JKLF] started the so-called ‘armed struggle’ in Kashmir, wasn’t ‘azadi’ [liberation or freedom] its singular objective? However, since the Pakistan army had failed to wrest control of J&K twice [in 1947 and 1965], even a novice would know that expecting a ragtag group of youth, hastily trained and armed by the Pakistan army would be able to defeat the Indian army was an absolutely misplaced idea. So, it’s obvious that Pakistan army’s spy agency Inter- Services Intelligence [ISI], had cunningly played the ‘azadi’ card just to beguile gullible Kashmiri youth into picking up guns and then use them as proxies to wage a ‘shadow war’ against India!

Let’s for the sake of taking this discussion forward, give JKLF the benefit of doubt, and for a moment accept its claim that the so-called ‘armed struggle’ envisioned an ‘independent’ Kashmir’ for all its indigenous communities, which would be free from any control or influence of both India and Pakistan. However, if this is true, then what explains senior Hurriyat leader Prof Abdul Ghani Bhat’s factual revelation that “This movement [terrorism in J&K] started with the assassinations of thinkers and the people who held an opinion”? If ‘azadi’ was really the popular demand of the masses in Kashmir, then where was there a need for JKLF to kill “thinkers and the people” who were championing this very same cause?

The answer is simple- it was JKLF’s radicalised mindset that made elimination of revered influencers with secular antecedent imperative. Such killings also terrorised others into silence and thus JKLF was able to execute its ruthless pogrom against the minority Kashmiri Pandit [KP] community and compelled them to leave the Valley. With no one willing to expose this shameful act of communal violence, the pro-Pakistan lobby went about denying the forced exodus of KPs and even conjured a bizarre ‘conspiracy’ theory of this exodus having been orchestrated by the authorities.

Once the genie of religious radicalisation in Kashmir came out of the bottle, there was no way of pushing it back and soon the much-hyped ideals of ‘azadi’ and ‘self-determination’ were overtaken by fundamentalist religious ideology. Self-styled ‘mujahideens’ forcibly enforced their own version of Islamic tenets- women not wearing burqas [a long, loose garment covering the whole body from head to feet, worn by Muslim women in public] risked being shot in their legs or having acid being thrown on their faces, while beauty parlours were asked to shut shop.  Movies were considered ‘un-Islamic’ and grenade attacks in cinema halls forced their closure, and people selling liquor and cigarettes were targeted and their shops vandalised.

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It was renegade HM terrorist Zakir Musa who by taking charge of Al Qaida’s newly created cell called ‘Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind’ in 2017, brought Kashmir on the global terrorism map.  Musa was a pathetic bundle of contradictions-while on the one hand he said, “We request Kashmiri Pandits to return to their homes. We take the responsibility of their protection,” on the other hand he declared that “I will not fight for Azadi for a secular state,” emphasising that “I will fight for azadi for Islam, for the establishment of an Islamic state.” He also lashed out at the separatists by saying, “I am warning all those hypocrite Hurriyat leaders. They must not interfere in our Islamic struggle. If they do, we will cut their heads and hang them in Lal Chowk.” [Emphasis added].

Surprisingly, despite belittling the so-called ‘armed struggle’, as well as threatening the separatist leadership and mocking Kashmir’s traditional ‘Sufi-Reshi’ culture, thousands turned up to pay homage after Musa was killed in an encounter with security forces. Senior Hurriyat leaders and even HM chief Syed Salahuddin against whom Musa had unsparingly spewed vitriol, heaped praises on him and prayed for his acceptance in paradise! If this isn’t a clear sign of widespread radicalisation, how else does anyone explain such extraordinary public obeisance to a person who openly junked ‘azadi’ and vowed to work towards converting Kashmir- not into an ‘azad’[independent] entity but an “Islamic state”?  

Similarly, if it’s not manifestation of radicalisation, then how else does one interpret the utter disregard exhibited by Kashmiri youth on Hurriyat’s most venerated leader SAS Geelani’s repeated appeals not to display Islamic State [IS] flags during protests? What does desecration of Srinagar’s historic Jamia Masjid by a masked youth who scaled its pulpit and unfurled an IS flag followed by sloganeering by his associates signify? Mirwaiz Umar Farook may try to convince people that this act has been perpetrated at the “behest of certain agencies and handlers,” but isn’t the IS imprint here too deep to ignore or conceal?

So, besides being highly implausible, this allegation also has a striking similarity with allegations the Hurriyat has been making in the past. For example, this separatist conglomerate claimed that Mirwaiz Maulvi Muhammad Farooq, separatist leader Abdul Gani Lone and JKLF ideologue Prof Abdul Ahad Wani were killed by security forces or intelligence agencies. However, in 2011, senior Hurriyat leader Prof Abdul Ghani Bhat exposed this decades-old-lie by admitting that “Lone sahib, Mirwaiz Farooq and Prof Wani were not killed by the army or the police. They were targeted by our own people.” Surprisingly, no shutdown or even a candlelight vigil was organised by anyone to express solidarity with these selfless leaders who were murdered by their own community members!

Can the terrorists’ current killing spree targeting KP community members including women be motivated by anything else other than perverse religious indoctrination that has radicalised minds to such an extent that people genuinely start perceiving that murdering innocent and defenceless men and women just because they are ‘non believers’ would earn their killers a coveted place in paradise! While the deafening silence of Kashmiris on such killings may not be directly related to radicalisation, it does indicate that probably such heinous killings don’t offend public sensitivities any more, which itself is dangerous as it creates an environment which is conducive for radicalisation.

Tailpiece: Those who still insist that the so-called ‘armed struggle’ in Kashmir has no link to radical religious beliefs probably haven’t heard HM chief Syed Salahuddin’s own admission on this issue. In a 2016 interview given to ‘The Telegraph’ he clarified that “The Kashmiri movement was Islamised from day one.” [ Emphasis added]. His reasoning- “Why do you think an educated young man, who has a bright future otherwise, is willing to die? Is he mad? ‘Azadi’ is not his objective. What will he do with ‘azadi’ if he dies during the struggle,”

The HM chief then goes on admit that “We tell him [the terrorist] that he would get into the “real life” after this death and he would get peace. Khuda usey raazi hoga [Allah will be happy with him].” Lastly, by saying that “He [the terrorist] is into militancy because he knows that if he dies for a noble cause, he would become a martyr, as per Islam,” [Emphasis added], Salahauddin himself accepts that the ongoing armed struggle in Kashmir is not being driven by the desire for ‘azadi’ or self-determination’ but is solely fuelled by radical religious ideology!

So, while developmental activities, employment generating and people centric initiatives would certainly improve quality of life in Kashmir, unless concerted action to effectively counter religious radicalisation in Kashmir Valley is ensured, peace will continue to elude this region. 

Nilesh Kunwar

Nilesh Kunwar is a retired Indian Army Officer who has served in Jammu & Kashmir, Assam, Nagaland and Manipur. He is a ‘Kashmir-Watcher,’ and now after retirement is pursuing his favorite hobby of writing for newspapers, journals and think tanks.

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