kulgam mournersSrinagar(By Gowher Geelanni): Almost on a fortnightly and weekly basis we get to hear about the fierce encounters between the gun-wielding Kashmiri youths and government forces in one or the other part of the Kashmir valley, mostly in south Kashmir districts of Pulwama, Shopian and Kulgam.

Boys fighting the Indian rule in Kashmir are mostly in their teens or the early 20s. Many of them are educated; some even belong to families with reasonable socio-economic status.

Routinely, people in thousands attend their funerals. In far-off places, even funeral prayers in absentia are performed. Mourners raise ‘anti-India’ and ‘pro-Freedom’ slogans and return home with moist eyes.

There is spontaneous shutdown for three days period of traditional mourning in the affected areas. Wailing women sing songs of ‘freedom’ to eulogise the boys who prefer the AK-47 rifle on their shoulders over prospective academic careers.

According to a report compiled by a local news gathering agency, the three districts of South Kashmir (Kulgam, Pulwama and Anantnag) have already witnessed 20 days of shutdown thus far, beginning January 2016. After every killing in the encounter, people in these districts suspend their business for days together.

Moreover, both factions of the pro-resolution alliance All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) issue fiery statements to pay glowing tributes to the boys lost to the conflict.

Prominent socio-religious organisations again remind us that they “will take the freedom struggle to its logical end.” They also accuse the Indian government of choking all democratic spaces for dissent in the restive region.

Militant organisations announce posthumous rewards and citations in favour of the boys for their “bravery and fighting spirit”. Most of the local boys bear allegiance to Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, Kashmir’s largest guerrilla outfit.

And once the mourning period ends, people attend to their routine chores. Almost everything is forgotten until there is news about yet another encounter in some other part of Kashmir.

In all this, there are three key issues to ponder over for the Kashmir society.

One, how does romanticising the teenaged gun-wielding Kashmiri boys help resolve the Kashmir issue? Two, what are the ramifications and what about the future of Kashmir’s generation next in an atmosphere of political uncertainty? Three, who is the end-beneficiary in linking Kashmir’s youth to global jihad? In other words, who is the driver of the conflict?

From the state government’s perspective, it is just a law and order problem which will be severely dealt with. But for Kashmir’s society, it should be a matter of grave concern.

How many boys are joining the ranks of militants? Is it alarming?

According to senior police officers, there were about 62 new recruits last year, taking the overall number of militants active in different parts of Kashmir to about 150. Most of them are joining the Hizb. Beginning this January, 13 more youth have joined militancy.

South Kashmir, according to the J&K Police, is fast becoming a hub of the new age militancy.

After the outbreak of a popular armed rebellion in Jammu and Kashmir in the late 1980s, north Kashmir’s Sopore town earned sobriquets like ‘Chota Pakistan’ and ‘militant hotbed’. Two-and-a-half decades later, south Kashmir’s town of Tral is being considered as the fortress of Kashmir’s new face of militancy.

One of Kashmir’s leading political scientists says that “there is a politics of statistics in Kashmir while the element of empathy is missing.” He warns against putting everything into the Hindu-Muslim basket, as he argues that political movements can easily be made secular.

For security agencies, the new age militancy in Kashmir is ideologically driven. They say that Kashmir’s new militancy functions independently without any substantial support from Pakistan. These boys joining the ranks of militants derive their main strength from religion and global jihad. The boys are ideologically ambitious. They are also of the view that internet is playing a critical role in their indoctrination while the “greed of martyrdom” also plays its part.

That said, in absence of any empirical study it is difficult to assess whether linking local militancy to global jihad is a fair analysis.

The bitter fact is that the institution of dialogue stands discredited in Kashmir. The process of engagement lacks both visibility and credibility.

A key Kashmir watcher is bang on target while saying that “Kashmir is a ticking bomb” and therefore dialogue has to begin with those who are most alienated.

It is no rocket science that youth are looking at role models. There is romantic idealism. In absence of any credible consultation process, Kashmir’s youth is angrier than before. But is romanticising and glorifying the gun-wielding Kashmiri youth in Kashmir’s long-term interest? Or is it a worrying trend for our society?

Yes, it is also a fact that Kashmir’s new age militancy is smarter than before. The militants are tech-savvy and in many ways harmless to the local populace. But the question is: should we celebrate the killing of our youths? Or mourn their physical absence from their old parent’s lives?

Jammu and Kashmir Police are worried about the growing trend of people attending the funerals of militants in thousands, which has forced them to issue an advisory that “civilians residing within the radius of two Kms of an encounter site should stay inside their homes and make sure their children are indoors too.” Police have also declared assembly of five or more people near the encounter site illegal under the provisions of Section 144 of CrPC.

In the final analysis, Kashmir’s new age militancy is a combination of various factors. It is the anger of the dispossessed. It is the deep rooted anti-India alienation. It is the desire for expression of love for ‘freedom’? It is also the desire to fight the political invasion of Kashmir. It is the absence of political will to resolve Kashmir politically? It is the absence of leadership. It is also manifestation of religious and intellectual radicalisation in some way. It is bit of everything.

Therefore, there is a need for introspection. And an urgent need to build a counter narrative. If the narrative of victim continues to remain our main contention, Kashmir is bound to end up on the losing side. Collectively, the Kashmir’s civil society, intelligentsia and academia has to think how can we save human lives in Kashmir? How can we build a case for a credible dialogue to fight the political status quo on Kashmir? If we fail our youth now, we will continue to pay heavy cost which we can least afford.

In short, it is a very scary situation. For all of us who care. Let’s think before it is too late.

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