Khalid Abbas, Senior Software Engineer based in Bangalore is worried about the success of the e-business he is about to launch, due to the frequent internet bans. Unofficial data reveals that in the past three months internet has been blocked more than two dozen times in various parts of Kashmir valley, mainly down in the four districts of Southern Kashmir, Pulwama, Kulgam, Islamabad (Anantnag) and Shopian. Khalid, 29 is a resident of South Kashmir.
Since 2010, agencies in India have fixed their gaze over the four districts of the Southern Kashmir –Islamabad (Anantnag), Shopian, Pulwama and Kulgam. Post 2010, there has been a drastic rise in the number of local youth taking up arms from here. Encounters between Militants and Government forces are a daily news and the local population does not shy away from expressing their support for the Militancy. People say: a new wave of local militancy is gathering magnanimous strength in South Kashmir, as many say due to the geographical location and the easy connectivity between the four districts down South.
The Likes of Commanders like Bashir Lashkar from Kokernag, Ayatullah Khumani from Singam, Altaf Kaczroo from Quimoh, Yasin Itoo of Budgam, Ashraf Khan of Kokernag blew new life into militancy and saw new generation of young Kashmiris including Burhan Wani, Dawood Sheikh, Majid Zarger picking up arms to lead what Media men call as “New Age Militancy.”
Before 2010 the theatre of militancy was in North Kashmir, Many experts claim that there are no specific regional factors. The fallout of protests of 2008, 2010, and left an angry Valley in general. “South Kashmir has always been the focal point of all the movements. In 1931, this region played a significant role in the people’s uprising and then from 13th – 15th October 1946, The Kissan Conference was held here,” Says Rao Farman Ali, a South Kashmir based writer who has authored four books on Kashmir. He feels that the discrimination of successive regimes towards the southern part of Kashmir has pushed people to the wall.
Here in Heff Shermal area of Southern Kashmir, thousands of people have gathered to bid farewell to Saddam Padder who had appeared in the list of most wanted Militants prepared in the Indian Army in May this year. Heff located more than 18 Kilometres away from the district headquarters is a home to more than 17 Militants out of which some have already been killed. Saddam Paddar was laid to rest in the graveyard where at least 15 Anti India Militants have been buried. “This area has had a history of being pro resistance, even during the Ikhwan era, this area was a safe belt for Militants,” Ghulam Mohammed Dar, an elder from the village says. Ghulam Mohammed says he has been a witness to the funerals and the coffins of all the men buried in the graveyard. “Our Third generation is suffering now, getting maimed and murdered. I am a witness to the brutality, I have seen disfigured bodies, parts missing from the bodies, history is buried in my eyes,” claims Dar.
THE NEW AGE MILITANCY
The roots of the Kashmir issue date back to 1947, the partition of British India into the new states of India and Pakistan. Kashmir today stands divided between India and Pakistan, with a de facto border known as the Line of Control. The two nations have fought three wars over Kashmir, in 1947, 1965 and 1999. The armed Movement against Indian rule in Kashmir started around late 1988. Unofficial estimates suggest that since then more than 90,000 people have been killed in Kashmir. There have been charges of Rapes, Custodial killings, enforced disappearances, arson, torture against more half a million soldiers deployed in the region. The Soldiers have also been accused of carrying out fake encounters and using maximum possible force against the civilian population. The Civilian population also accuses the soldiers of having the impunity in the cases of mass murders like in Bijbehara, Gaw Kadal, Sopore and many other places.
“To the minds of new generation of Kashmiris, 2008 and then 2010 played a significant role,” Rao Farman Ali feels. Rao says that new generation of Kashmir which was in the initial stage of learning was unfortunately first introduced to ‘Machil Fake Encounter.’ The Machil encounter staged in 2010 in Northern Kashmir killing three Kashmiri civilians triggered protests throughout the Kashmir valley that eventually left 113 people dead, the first victim was a 14 year old boy returning from his classes in Srinagar’s downtown named Tufail Ahmed Matoo. The Incident further reinforced anti India sentiments of the younger generation and brought about a fresh wave of dissent. “This was the time when India lacked the political will to resolve the dispute and it was this time that Political solution was gradually losing credibility among younger generation of Kashmir,” Rao Farman Says.
This young generation of Kashmir had participated in the mass protests of 2008 and 2010 and many of them were booked under the Public Safety Act (PSA), which is used to imprison people without any due process. Amnesty International calls the PSA a “lawless law” and has been campaigning for its revocation. The youth after being profiled at the Police stations, were frequently harassed by the state. Dawood, a young boy from one of the most volatile regions of South Kashmir, Quimoh was a school going kid when he was picked up by the Government forces for the first time. Following that Dawood was picked and harassed constantly by the Government forces and then Dawood picked up gun one day. The Story of Dawood is the story of many young Militants in Southern Kashmir and the stories of their transition from a mere protester to a Militant have been documented by many prominent writers from the valley.
When the local young Hizb commander, Burhan Wani, (who was alleged to be the inspiring force for youngsters to join militancy) was alive reports said 16 youth took to militancy in 2013, the number was 53 in 2014, it rose further to 66 in 2015, 80 in 2016. The number of local Militants active in Southern Kashmir by July this year was 112 while the overall numbers have swelled up to 282 Militants, as per the latest reports available. The Indian Government has been going hard on the armed groups and had also said that militancy will be wiped out by the end of this year. Going by the Policy of iron fist, the Indian Government forces were able to hunt down more than 220 Militants the last year which included top brass commanders from South Kashmir including Bashir Lashkar, Waseem Shah, Junaid Matoo, Ayub Lelhari, Majid Zargar and many more.
After the Killing of Burhan Wani on 08 July 2016, Kashmir was again hit by a cycle of protests and South Kashmir was the focal point of the Anti India Protests. The 2016 uprising, when it raged, managed to transgress the boundaries set by earlier Uprisings of 2008 and 2010, vis-à-vis, region and gender. Demonstrations and rallies were held in places, once considered as the fortress of the ruling People’s Democratic Party. The constituencies that recorded above 90 percent voter turnout now came out on the streets decrying the occupation and its symbols.
Kulgam district which in 2014, witnessed a polling of 60 percent; was the prominent venue for hundreds of pro-freedom rallies attended by tens and thousands of people in the summer of 2016.
As the state unleashed its repressive state apparatus, the storm of protests began to wane and then the catastrophe of figures began. 15,000 additional troopers, at least 10,000 arrested, at least 95 murdered, more than 2000 target blinded, at least 15,000 injured, harvest burnt, villages bunkered, cities and towns that have tried to emerge and flourish since 2014 catastrophic floods were destabilized. When Indian State seemed to be losing its grip over Kashmir, it responded with what many termed as the, “worst crackdown in decades.”
“The Indian State has falsely assumed ‘compensatory justice’ to be the solution to Kashmir issue. But they should rather focus on punitive justice to the people ho have faced injustice at the hands of Government forces” Rao Farman Ali says. But then it’s laws like Armed Forces Special Powers act (AFSPA) that licenses the soldiers to kill and have a safe run, Rao claims. On the AFSPA, Amnesty International in its report in 2015 said that the impunity is a long-standing problem in Jammu Kashmir. “The lack of political will to account for past and present actions of the security forces, including the state police, is fortified by legislation and aggravated by other obstacles to justice, especially for those who lack financial resources or education,” the report read.
Last year, a video surfaced over the Internet in which a man was tied to the army jeep and used as s human shield against the protesters during elections in Central Kashmir. In the Video, announcements of people being warned that “this will be the fate of stone-Pelters” could be heard in the background. The army major, who was in the eye of a storm for tying a Local man to a jeep to use him as a human shield, has been awarded the army chief’s commendation card.
“The Tech Savvy Generation uses the social media to socialise such incidents and anger always has a limit, I believe it has now reached its threshold, it may burst anytime like Lava,” Khalid believes. He was visiting Kashmir this summer after many years and was “amazed” to see the new phenomenon down south. “When we were growing up, we used to run away from the spots of firing, encounters, but now the protesters run to the encounter sites to save and safeguard the Militants which is a dangerous phenomenon,” Khalid who lives two miles away from Khudwani area Says.
On June 22, 2015, the trend of civilians rushing to encounter sites began in Khudwani area of Kulgam district in South Kashmir. 23-year-old civilian, Asif Ahmad, was killed when civilians tried to march towards the encounter site to engage the Government forces to give a chance to two trapped Militants to escape. Official Records says In Kulgam in South Kashmir, a district that saw intense protests and heavy casualties in 2016, 20 youth have gone missing during or after the uprising. Instead of creating fear, encounters enact the idea of martyrdom in the Valley. They are usually followed by the vast public funerals that have become a familiar sight by now. At the same time, the demonstrations have changed the dynamic between civilians and Government forces.
In Kashmir today, at least 75 per cent of the Militants are locals. The fact that locals have outnumbered the Militants from Pakistan is a cause of concern for Government forces. This new breed of Militants is trained in the dense forests of South Kashmir. These youngsters all turning into well-trained tech-savvy homegrown Militants is really challenging. Unlike the older brand of Militants, these new men deliberately put up their photos, audios and videos over the social media which gets a lot of attention from the civilian population. There has been a severe drop in the number of Militants from Pakistan over the past year, but the number of locals joining Militants has caused a great deal of concern for the security forces.
Lt. Gen. D.S. Hooda of Indian Army, told the Associated Press earlier this year that that soldiers have little hope of competing against the Militants for public sympathy. “It’s a big problem, a challenge for us to conduct anti-Militancy operations now,” said Hooda. “Frankly speaking, I’m not comfortable anymore conducting operations if large crowds are around. Militarily, there’s not much more to do than we already have done … We’re losing the battle for a narrative.”
The mourning for Militants’ is also seen as a major political statement in contemporary Kashmir, as thousands of people attend the funeral processions for both local and Pakistani Militants who die fighting Indian soldiers. During several recent gunfights, moreover, civilians diverted the soldiers’ attention from the procession in order to help the Militants escape unscathed. These trends have alerted Indian agencies.
Despite constant warnings, the involvement of young boys and girls in the stone-pelting and other massive protest demonstrations speaks volumes about the present scenario of the valley. The youngsters are coming out openly in defiance of Cordon and search operations and anti militancy operations to give a chance to Militants to escape. In the past few months, stone throwing has become a norm in Kashmir to engage the cordoning Army men to give a chance to trapped Militants to escape. A report released by Intelligence agencies of India the last year claimed that ‘Stone-pelters helped 25 Militants flee since 2016.’
Aaqib, 23 from Khudwani area in South Kashmir is one such young protester who goes both to the encounter sites as well as the funerals of the Militants. Aaqib like hundreds of youth from the village run their way to the encounter sites. “We do not fear death, we have seen enough of politics now, Politics has terribly failed to resolve the Kashmir issue,” Aaqib says. He adds that the youth anywhere do not plan to go to the encounter sites, it is just very normal or routine to us now to rush to the funerals or the encounter sites anywhere in the South Kashmir.
“The children in Kashmir were in their early learning stage when the incident of Tufail Mattoo happened and then there was no political outreach. Every Government promises amnesty to the protesters, which has not happened so far. The Juveniles are booked under the draconian PSA and then kept confined along with the adults influencing their behaviour to a sharp extent. The anger went directionless,” Rao Farman says. Plus the Friday factor post 2010 has kept the rural youth engaged. Rao believes that the policies of Indian state like the Roshni Act, Railways and other policies have equally contributed to the mass involvement of Public in the protests throughout Southern Kashmir.
“The South Kashmir was never the fortress of electoral process. It was just that the pro establishment PDP came with the cap of soft separatism soon after the Sadbhavana programme of Indian Army in 1998. In 2014 also they asked people to vote to keep the right wing elements away from the Muslim Majority of Jammu Kashmir to which Southern Kashmir came out to vote. But the coalition of PDP after winning the elections with the right wing parties just added to the anger in South Kashmir,” Rao says. He says that the Roshni Act of 2001, has reduced agricultural occupation from 83% to 22% in South Kashmir. The Idea behind Roshni Act was to sell the state land at market rates to the people who had illegally encroached upon it. The Act generated shameful revenue of Rs 1254 in district Islamabad (Anantnag), Rs 1478 in Kulgam, Rs 27429 in Pulwama and Rs 5300 in Shopian. The lands were though transferred to the influential or political works in the rural South, even playgrounds were not spared. Rao feels the occupation of playgrounds has also left the youth with no choice, but to join protests.
Umar from Pulwama says it is tough for the youth of Kashmir to get the Freedom struggle and the sacrifices out of their memory. “My shop is in the Karimabad locality and whenever i go to my shop, i have to pass besides the Karimabad graveyard where people who once were a part of us, played with us are laid to rest, It reminds me of our cause and reaffirmation to the goal, they sacrificed their lives for,” Umar says.
BREAKING SOCIAL TABOOS
In July last year, I was on the way home after covering the funeral of a young Militant in South Kashmir; I stopped by to meet a lady in her mid 30s returning after attending the funeral of the slain militant. The women here have went beyond the social taboos and the existing scenario in Kashmir has led to this defiance and attending these funerals is nothing but an attempt to send a message out to the people who have deceived us in the name of elections, in the name of change and development. The lady told that “I campaigned for Mehbooba Mufti, did whatever I could, I saw her as a women, who could understand the pain of a women who have suffered endlessly during these years, but she failed me too. My husband had complaints against me when I used to attend her rallies, but I defied him every time, my husband and I go along to every funeral now, we take our auto and the whole family boards the vehicle, we do not miss any funerals in this area.”
Many of the rural women in South Kashmir now on the front lines come from outside the traditional activist circles. Within the Villages, there was a break of the taboo of fear, the taboo that women shouldn’t go out in the streets on demonstrations. Social media use has spread rapidly, and across age groups. WhatsApp and Facebook in particular have provided an alternative to the politically managed media, and lowered the barrier to participation. Women are able to both gather information and make their voices heard.
“I used to like India; I thought we would be better off with India in terms of economy, growth, development. This perception changed, I was wrong to not realize that Right to Life is more important than anything else,” Khalid feels.
He narrates an incident of how the equation between Kashmiris and Armymen has turned to be that of the herd and the shepherd, “I was travelling back the last week from Kashmir, we were made to stop for almost half an hour without a reason. The army men in dark helmets, with Kalashnikovs laden on their shoulders and bamboos in their hands were not making the public vehicles wait for clearance to their own vehicles. I was already late to the airport, but who would argue with the Army?”
Khalid feels that the credibility of dialogue is lost amongst the young Kashmiris because of the Vested Interests of the principal parties to the dispute. Moreover he thinks that Kashmir issue has unfortunately become an issue of Ego to both India and Pakistan and an election issue to political parties in both the nations.
There have been dozens of incidents when young boys have overpowered Forces and and snatched their service rifles from them. Militants have been using this strategy for the last few years, taking weapons from the police or paramilitary troops and later giving them to their new recruits. It also shows the growth of the Militancy as an indigenous movement, as the border with Pakistan has become less and less porous over time.
The Indian state Forces reacted to the growing restlessness among youth with a policy of clampdown on Kashmir with an iron grip. They have been killing Militancy constantly and arresting people which many analysts believe will just reduce the supporters of India in Kashmir. “They will lose the hearts and minds of people, if they go on with their hard stance upon Kashmir,” says a central worker of People’s Democratic Party who wished not to be named. Moreover he feels that in the absence of any political solution, the youth have become restless and their anger against the state has intensified and so has their love for the armed struggle.
Qazi Ahmed Yasir, the Mirwaiz of South Kashmir feels that South Kashmir like any part of Kashmir has drifted away from Indian mainland and the policies of Indian state are to be solely blamed for that. “The People of South may have voted, but they are only for Azadi, they have always been so. The More they (India) continues to use the iron fist, the further Kashmir will drift away from the hands of India,” Mirwaiz Yasir feels.
“The regional government’s clampdown on dissent, combined with the disappearance of opportunities to engage the Kashmir youth and then the lack of any political solution to provide respite to the ordinary people in Kashmir has deteriorated the situation further. Unless India changes tactics — and sooner – Kashmir will continue to slip away.” he says.
Author: Qazi Shibli
Qazi Shibli is a News Editor with ‘The Kashmiriyat.’ A Documentary maker and writer, Qazi Shibli is a Journalism graduate from Bangalore University.