As an earnest researcher and a person of avid interest in Kashmir sociology, I keep on interacting with my fellow Kashmiris – both inside and outside Kashmir – to take cognizance of their views on the current situation prevailing in this sylvan vale. While talking to youths in a few group discussions on the themes of ‘Thinking Kashmir’, ‘Is Kashmir growing’, ‘Kashmir’s Young Voices” etc, one comes across a varied set of propositions and sometimes confusing, narrow, biased and conservative thought processes. A large number of youth (though not substantial), directly brand the entire Kashmir issue as an Islamic issue and desire its redressal to live as an Islamic state, even some of them brazenly (mis)quote verses of holy Quran to substantiate their emotional arguments and religio-political rhetoric. They also believe that Kashmiris are subjected to Zulm (oppression) by the statecraft and to them striving for Azadi (freedom), is synchronous with getting rid of the Zalim (oppressor)! Though much is yet to be set right in the system however youths’ pseudo-theological connotations and their motivating aim is to paint the whole idea of the Kashmir issue as religious, which it definitely is not!
I also met a group of young teachers in a school in south Kashmir a few months ago; most of them abuse the concept of modernity and believe that this very modernity is their enemy and also treat the west responsible for all the contemporary evils on the globe. I owe this drastic (mis)understanding to our faulty education system and lack of reading habits and intense motivation of the vulnerable. On the vital K-issue, they even ignore the voices of the minority like those of other communities in Jammu and Kashmir and many a times feel justified with such a bias and exclusivist rhetoric. Even the voices of the Kashmiri Muslims living in frontier areas do not matter to most of such self styled analysts. The other majority of youth, though somewhat in a similar tune, talk about the need for efforts to change the mainstream perception (of being Indian) among Kashmiri youth and gives credit to the whole concept of Tehreek (Movement) that formally started way back in 1989.They laud the same Tehreek, however argue simultaneously that this very Tehreek was initiated very hurriedly without a proper designing and methodology and that is why it is still on and lacking any future direction. They ignore the civilian killings and violence perpetrated by non-state actors (NSA’s) during times of turbulence and brand all bloodshed and devastation merely as sacrifices by the people. I was wondering as to how we could brand peoples’ killing/murder/deliberate torture by forces or other violent elements, as sacrifices. Same happens in Pakistan where even VIP’s are brutally killed and later branded as Shaheed. The question is, were those people really willing (the ones who made such so-called sacrifices), whereas actually their victimization was being legitimized now. Some youth even hail the contribution of the last few (devastating) summer uprisings (2008-2010) and believe that uprisings worked in favour of Azadi and transformed a mélange of motivated minds back to the sentiment of Azadi due to the oppression and killings by the forces. The fact remains that Kashmiri’s were subjected to torture by all forces, whether state or non-state actors, and people who identify themselves with the Azadi loving brigade, treat the forced victimization of people as sacrifices, while the mainstream block treats it a collateral damage (ye sab hota rehta hai ideology). The cruel fact remains that under the shadow of the gun, of all stakeholders of conflict, the entire valley faced the brunt of violence and suffered at the hands of all.
Another segment of the youth argues that Kashmir needs a psychological transformation among the young people so that we can transform those minds who do not identify themselves with the freedom sentiment either fully or partially. “Ab Ek Naya Rujhaan Ban Raha Hai Azadi Ka”, (a new thinking for freedom is developing now), says a student in an emotional gesture. Some more voices, while criticizing and rubbishing each other’s arguments, shout, “What exactly has our so called separatist leadership done so far? The plain and simple answer is “nothing”. We are in an utter leadership crisis, had it not been so, we would have achieved freedom a long time back.” A smiling voice in the middle of the discussion utters, “I have to be aware about things around, I need to know what is right and wrong, why should I follow some leader blindly, it is not necessary to follow leaders, I am a leader of my own self.” What I could make out from all these emphatic emotional outbursts was that a small chunk of youth is fed up with the hollow slogans and discard any leadership or their ideologies, while a substantial number of youth greatly identify themselves with the freedom sentiment but are not very happy with the separatist leadership.
I came across some voices who believe that ‘Our Being Muslim’ is actually our problem otherwise America (USA) and the other big world powers would have pressurized India to liberate Kashmir. On enquiring whether the K-issue is all about Jihad and a fight for the sake of Islam, many of them seem to be sure of that but most of the times contradict their own statements by talking of Azadi for all citizens! It reflects upon the fact that there is so much rampant confusion in understanding the true lexicon of the conflict itself and even the youth who volubly articulate about secession, are not clear about what they exactly want and how they envision the future of Kashmir.
Yet another section of the youth does not totally subscribe to the radical Azadi sentiment and solution through the barrel of the gun; they believe education is the real weapon to liberate oneself from the shackles of slavery and oppression. They feel the fight or chaos is all an outcome of a paucity of the “feel secure psyche” and once the “feel secure psyche” and human dignity is restored, one is automatically Azaad (free). A gentleman in the middle of the group stands up and cries louder, “stop this emotional stuff, we need some substance to talk upon, we need some solid arguments, we need to fight the oppressors’ arguments with strong and equally valid arguments only, we need to fight their literature with authentic counter literature only, the gun has destroyed us, books will liberate us”. He goes on with his tirade and even maintains, “One feels ashamed to see our leaders, both mainstream and others, representing the Kashmir issue or problems thereof, on TV shows or news channels. What do they say? Nothing, except for some broken English and emotions and some of them even abuse the anchors and display their immature selves”. But a young student, interrupting him yet again, starts reciting Quranic verses (perhaps knowing that none of us know the meaning), trying to justify the need for Jihad in the contemporary era of tyranny. What I could gather from both the outbursts was that two extremes exist at the same time; a category of youth in their thirties wants to represent Kashmir and its woes via ample knowledge, sound arguments, inclusivity, and clarity of thought and emergence of genuine voices without any rhetoric. They feel education is a tool to fight the oppressor. But another category of youth in their late twenties, are highly volatile and always manipulate religion, misinterpret religious commands and are full of emotions and hatred for everyone, except people of their own brigade.
A student sitting in the corner refers to the devastating Arab Spring as a big change maker and aspires for a Kashmir Spring without even admitting the mess and fallout of the self-same Arab Spring in all the post-pseudo revolution states. During all these discussion, a small group of youth almost utters nothing but smiles at the discussants. On asking why they don’t say anything, they argue that thinking on a peaceful Kashmir is nothing but a utopian dream because it will never be so. On further inquiry, they open up saying that we label it badly as a religious issue, which it is not, we dream of Pakistan, we dream of referendum, sometimes demand right to self determination but again we, the same people, participate in all elections, even get elected as Panchs and Sarpanchs,etc, so it is nothing but a fight for employment, Bijli, Pani and Sadak, fight for opportunities to govern and get access to resources. “We are still with the false belief that the world is looking at Kashmir and the Kashmir issue is being seriously pursued by Pakistan, UN, USA and other powers. We are living in complete ignorance and overlook Pakistan’s internal chaos and its priorities like it is so keen to grant MFN status to India, its Taliban mess and burning frontiers, etc,. We ignore healthy US and India relations; we ignore UN and its cold response on the K-Issue now.”
Listening to their talk, another group of youth, apparently of the die-hard hardliner mentality argue, “suppose all these issues like unemployment, Bijli, Pani and Sadak are addressed (though such problems will prevail for ever here), do you guys believe that Kashmir will be all peaceful and quiet for all times to come?” This argument shocked me also though I was merely moderating the discussion. I realized that something has seriously gone wrong with the people’s hopes and aspirations and that is why such a negative collective mindset has developed. I owe such a mess to continuous crisis mishandling and civilian killings, closure of important HR violation cases like nameless graves, Shopian case, Pathribal, Kunan, Half widows, army of Orphans, etc,. I realized that the scars of suffering and injustice meted out to the common people, have led to such a mentality. Kashmir has, though, slowly produced an alienated social collective, a hopeless society and produced a radical hope-the hope of oppression free Kashmir in the future.
When I was leaving the group and wishing them all goodbye, a young boy told me,” Sir Tehreek Dubti Zaroor Hai Lakin Marti Nahi, 200 Saal Baad Hi Sahi, HamKo Azadi to Milegi” (a Movement though is suppressed but it hardly dies, even after 200 years we will achieve freedom).I realized the earlier indoctrination of the younger lot that has now tuned in to a spirit of radical thought process and is now reaching its peak. I also realized that for people the K-issue is a long haul that will continue perhaps for many more decades to come. Most of them (the Kashmiri youth) want a leader like Geelani Saheb to fight for Kashmir’s oppression. One gentleman even told me, “I wish Geelani Saheb had been in his early forties at the moment”. When I inquired what he meant by that, he said, “Can you imagine if the head of the family (Father) dies when his children are too small and helpless, what happens to his family? They turn orphans and the family with all its dreams, collapses”.
A significant chunk of youth hardly consider the Jammu perspective or Ladakh opinions as valid and for Jammu and Ladakh’s different opinions about the conflict situation in Kashmir, a chunk of Kashmiris paint the whole struggle as Islamic, giving hardly any consideration to the aspirations of other people and other regions of the state.
From talking to the youth in the Kashmir valley and outside, I learnt many things perhaps that I couldn’t have conceptualized on my own. As a Kashmiri, who is living outside Kashmir for many years now, I realized that dissent is still prevalent, especially among the younger generation. The dissenting voices have increased though suppressed most of the time now. The question that struck my mind was ‘Why So’ and who is at fault? Forces, local police, crisis mishandlings by the security apparatus, the impact of last summer’s unrests and bloodshed on the psyche of the youth psyche – what? I also understood that a conflict generation has grown up who though do not subscribe much to the separatist camps or follow them staunchly, except the ailing Mr Geelani, but their psyche reflects that Kashmir is in a mess and it needs a solution. They are conscious of oppression and have developed a sense of alienation and simultaneously internalized hatred against the regime while living in the conflict and treating themselves the children of conflict. Most of them have even developed certain security phobias as well seeing the intolerance shown against Kashmiri students outside (attack on and expulsion of Students in Meerut, attacks on Kashmiri students in Rajasthan, etc). Some of them believe that Kashmiris are insecure everywhere outside their own territory; others argue that they feel insecure everywhere, even at home. Some believe intelligence agencies are after every Kashmiri and feel alienated both inside and outside Kashmir. The time has come when we need to think seriously about Kashmiri youth and need to restore the “ feel secure” psyche to them, think for their livelihood, education, stability and dignity.
Though we must never judge the entire Kashmir situation today by such small group discussions and generalize the total situation or collective mindset based on such a few voices, but at the micro level one definitely gets a perspective, a perspective of a hijacked psyche, a new conflict socialization that has made an impact, a new motivation among youth that they feel is true, a growing conflict generation, who feel alienated by the system, who have developed a culture of hatred against the other, a culture of dissent against the system, a new political culture shaping a new but an unstable Kashmir.
I also noticed that the most of the present day Kashmir youth are well informed on Kashmir. They have also developed an articulate critical sense. They blame separatists for not handling the previous unrests properly. They blame the state for acute extremism against the protesting youth. They also curse the absence of a dynamic separatist leadership. Reading the psyche of most of such youth clusters, I hardly found any idea of the aspiration for reconciliation in Kashmir or any peace building desire. Learning from listening to such youth clusters I myself proved one of my earlier hypotheses wrong, i.e. ‘youth are being motivated or indoctrinated’. This was true earlier during the violent conflict but youth now are self motivated, nobody re-socializes them or tries to induct them into the culture of turmoil. Perhaps they don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel and are hopeless with their ideology of a political utopia. Perhaps nothing substantial has been done for them and their welfare. The question is what makes even educated youth join militant ranks? Certainly the system is full of flaws. Somewhere it is mishandling of sensitivities, excessive regulation or torture of innocents or deviants while somewhere it is lack of mass welfare policies and somewhere else it is increasing corruption, waywardness, discrimination, unemployment, motivation, etc,. Also both internal and outer factors of political instability (like police/military atrocities in the valley and Syria, Iraq, Gaza happenings) are casting a deep imprint on Kashmiri youth.
The need of the hour is to have extensive field work on the conflict situation and workout some effective paradigms of reconciliation in Kashmir. Furthermore, interaction must be enhanced at the grassroots level by significant stakeholders to know the field in Kashmir and the other perspectives and aspirations of masses, especially of the vulnerable youth. A public dialogue policy must be initiated and unheard voices given genuine space. The youth of Kashmir need sympathetic listeners where they can express themselves freely and without any fear. The genuine woes of people need to be sincerely addressed and we should seriously ponder over the already hardened and growing conflict generations of Kashmir. Peace building efforts need to be enhanced; mishandlings checked to zero, zero tolerance towards HR violations and more infrastructures for education, employment and development is the need of the hour. Under the Modi regime, whole Kashmir is pinning high hopes of the return of the peace and previous glory. The new establishment at the centre has to deliver to compensate the horrible wrongs done against the masses since decades.