Sunday’s bloodbath in South Kashmir had been lying in wait. Everyone knew that Kashmir was a powder keg like never before. The silence on the spring day was eerie and when it broke, by the end of the day at least 17 families were shouldering biers.
Three soldiers were also killed, taking the toll to 20, thus making April 1, the bloodiest day so far. It was the cruellest joke for April 1 and what makes it worse is the obfuscation, the lies and denials.
What Kashmir is unable to bear is the steady march of young and educated boys into the maw of the conflict. This is no time to venerate a heart-gutting loss as resistance but time to think long and hard.
Kashmiris have for centuries shown the world what resistance looks like and the last 27 years stand testimony to that. If 13 people were killed it because they had chosen the path of violence to challenge Indian rule in Kashmir. But four more lost their lives as they emerged in solidarity and came in the way of the bullets. In 2016, this resistance meant that over 150 people were injured or blinded by deadly pellets.
They say South Kashmir is the hotbed of militancy and its fervours for volunteerism for militancy is alarming. That is why that the ranks of militants, mostly locals, are swelling, and the challenge is taking on new dimensions. For the government forces, the only job they think they have is to kill them, reduce the footprint and then claim normalcy. That, however, is the theory that has been proven wrong time and again.
If killing militants brings about so-called normalcy, then their numbers would have gone down. The reality is that the involvement of society, the consolidated anger against India and repeated calls for a political resolution have been resounding with much force. Every time Kashmir reaches the brink, the usual response from the state is that it is Pakistan-sponsored terror. Even the mass uprising that has run for over six months in 2016 was “credited” to Pakistan that “patronized” mischief-mongers.
Sanction for violence as a way to end the conflict has grown. This outlook is creating the space to make it a legitimate way to fight the Indian state
When the National Investigation Agency rounded up a dozen middle-rung leaders of the Hurriyat Conference last year, the outcome was connected to the reduction of stone-pelting incidents. If that were the case, Kashmir would not have been in pain the way it is now.
South Kashmir has become a fertile ground for rediscovering the armed resistance. The figures that have been often quoted in the past few months suggest that it is proving to be a new recruitment sanctuary for militancy. They don’t go to Pakistan for training but manage it here. There must be a support base and handling but that is not the question that warrants an answer. What is important is to understand is why such a large number of youth have chosen this path. If Burhan Wani was the poster boy of militancy, he was killed, and the trend should have stopped there.
In 2017, the government forces launched “Operation All Out” to flush out militants and killed a record number of them. By that logic South Kashmir should have been militancy-free. That is not the story. In the past few months there has been a surge in recruitment. The point I have repeatedly been making in my columns is that sanction for violence as a way to end the conflict has grown. This outlook is creating the space to make it a legitimate way to fight the Indian state.
When the armed rebellion broke out in late 1989 there was an outburst then too to a simmering discontent. It was fed by a denial of political rights and the lack of resolution to a long pending dispute. Notwithstanding the fact that Pakistan has been playing a role in furthering anti-India sentiment, the underlying reality is that people have themselves invested hugely in the struggle.
The transition from violence to non-violence in the late 1990s, albeit with intermittent militant intervention continuing, was something that came as a realization that violence may not get Kashmiris and Kashmir anywhere. The brief reprieve that gave breathing space to peace moves with the involvement of India, Pakistan and a majority of Kashmiri leaders gave rise to hope there would be a resolution to the dispute. That, however, was derailed given the inherently intransigent approach that Delhi has been adopting.
The prime concern today is that Kashmir’s youth are being consumed in this battle and it has taken more than one shape. There is no doubt that Kashmir’s struggle is political but the fight within is now with the elements that are borrowing international concepts that have been alien to us.
To fight each other on those strong ideological lines is another major challenge society is facing. Who will save our youth from this grind of violence that only takes their lives? The primary responsibility lies with New Delhi that must not push people to the wall and accept Jammu and Kashmir as a political reality. Mainstream political parties have run from the scene and are devoid of any influence; it is a stark reality that their stock has considerably shrunk. The people may have elected them but when it comes to representation or exercising moral influence, they have lost it. The military’s approach and counting the dead as a solution has failed in the past and it nurtures the idea of militancy further.
For the political leadership such as the Hurriyat Conference and others, shirking their responsibility is no way to confront this situation. Since they are leading the people under a new banner, they will have to chalk out a course that saves our youth. Condemnations alone will not suffice. It is not about South Kashmir only, but a response from the people has been the same across the entire Valley.
New Delhi must understand that the muscular response has not yielded anything. It might suit the current government headed by the BJP politically, but it has lost its moral ground as it takes pride in sending body bags back to homes in Kashmir. An honest engagement at all political levels, including with Pakistan, is the only way to see the tulips blooming in Kashmir and not blood-soaked soil.