It has been more than three weeks since the beginning of protests in Kashmir. Compared to the mayhem that was witnessed for first two weeks after Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani’s killing, a relative calm, though loaded with a deep sense of angst, has been ruling the streets. For all these days, South Kashmir has been locked in a curfew, though defied at many places, and Srinagar has seen some relaxation along with North Kashmir. But it is a very cold summer in an otherwise humid and hot month.
The government has been grappling with the challenge of restoring normalcy and has so far failed to establish a connection with the people who elected it to power in 2014. On the top of that, Iftikhar Misgar, the National Conference leader who recently contested a by-election against Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti from the Anantnag assembly constituency, has ended ties with the mainstream politics and has joined the pro-freedom chorus. His “chosen new path” could set a new trend, which many others in their restive areas may be forced to follow. Policemen have already been facing the heat of anti-India anger in the South, and relatives of some have already tendered apologies in mosques.
The pattern of the protests, galvanised to a great extent by the militants, is almost the same as of 2010. But the intensity is of a different nature. As Kashmir erupted after the killing of a militant commander, the protests soon turned political in nature and have been dominated by the slogan of “Azaadi”. With South Kashmir leading the current phase of unrest, central and north regions have not remained as subdued as it appears. The border town of Kupwara and some villages, which in the urban language has been part of “Indian discourse”, has seen massive protests, and several civilians have been killed and many more injured. As of now, there seems to be no respite, and there is no way to predict how this will end.
As Kashmir moves on to have a summer that will see the end of businesses, tourism and closure of educational institutions – besides the loss of over 55 civilians and more than 3,000 injured, of whom many may not be able to live a normal life – the situation has also thrown up a challenge for the resistance leadership. Mainstream parties have preferred to be out of the scene and have not played any significant role in dousing the fire or even advising New Delhi as to how to deal with the situation. Notwithstanding the fact that the resistance leaders – Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Mohammad Yasin Malik – are either under house arrest or in jail, so far, if the curfew is relaxed in certain areas, it is their programme that keeps Kashmir shut.
But what is significant is that in this phase of unrest, “the boys” have taken over the control. When the joint leadership announced a relaxation in their strike after 2pm, the shops could not open as “the boys” resisted the call. Not only did they defy the “instructions”, there are recurring complaints that even a 10-year-old boy can stop any vehicle (which obviously is on the road because of some emergency). Moreover, there are posters appearing in localities on behalf of “new groups” issuing threats. There are also reports of stone pelting on a bus that was carrying the students who appeared in the Common Entrance Test (CET) for professional courses. This certainly poses a serious challenge to the leadership that has been identifying itself with what is happening on the ground.
It is not the question of “what can we do in this situation” as some of the leaders have been heard saying. Leaders have to lead and not be led by the people. Whichever way the leaders have led the people, they have followed them and perhaps that is the reason behind today’s political turmoil. But that does not mean that the situation should be left to be tackled by anarchy. The leadership cannot absolve itself by saying, “please give us suggestions”. It is to be left to their wisdom and strategy as to how to deal with the crisis. It is worth mentioning here that despite the criticism on social media, Syed Ali Geelani, the most influential leader, issued a statement on July 11 – two days after the trouble started – asking the young boys not to attack police stations. “Police and other forces are looking for an excuse to kill the youth. I urge the youth to not to attack police stations as forces get an excuse to open fire on them,” he had said. And it certainly had its own impact. Because the concern was about losing the lives of civilians about which the state does not show remorse.
The unfortunate situation in which we have been living has taught us many lessons from time to time. Hundreds of families have been left in distress. In the fresh cycle of violence, we have lost 55 people. The anger that is visible on streets needs a direction – a political one. The agitation in 2010 had taught us some lessons, which need to be taken into consideration before taking the next step.
While the governments in Delhi and Srinagar have the primary responsibility to own the killings, reach out to people, and stop looking at the situation as a law and order problem, the resistance leadership too has the responsibility to handle the situation without taking it to a point of no return. They should not wait for Lashkar-e-Taiba to come to their rescue and ask people to follow their (Hurriyat) programme. Kashmiris have resilience, and they have shown that time and again, but that does not mean that New Delhi should continue to ignore the political reality. As a country it cannot allow the place to burn like this and look at force as its only option. That has not worked in the past and won’t work in the future.
The author is a veteran journalist from Srinagar and the editor-in-chief of
The Rising Kashmir