In 2014, Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly elections saw an unexpected voter turnout of 65.23% which was not only highest in the valley but also higher than the average voter turnout of whole India. Despite the call to boycott elections by the separatist factions, such a big turnout surprised the world. European Union in its message had said, “The high voter turnout figure proves that democracy is firmly rooted in India. The EU would like to congratulate India and its democratic system for the conduct of fair elections, unmarred by violence, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir”. The rise of Bhartiya Janata Party in Indian general elections had created a sense of fear among Kashmiris, which had always demanded to scrap Article 370 – which gives special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. BJP had won 3 seats and the People’s Democratic Party had won another 3. PDP had been known for its soft-separatist stance. The huge turnout in assembly elections and support to PDP can be attributed to the Kashmiri people wanting to prevent BJP, and its speculative future alliance with National Conference, from coming to power. When PDP made an alliance with BJP in March 2015, Kashmiris certainly felt betrayed. Many youths who had campaigned for PDP in general elections later joined militancy. PDP has lost its parliamentary seat of Sringar in the by-election.
Since late 2015, Kashmir has witnessed an increase in the militancy in association with Islamist radical groups. Analysts like Prem Shankar Jha had correctly termed it “second Kashmiri intifada”. Young Kashmiris have been observing the sharp increase in the attacks on the Muslims elsewhere in India and around the world, and in this case assertion of Muslim identity became very important for young Kashmiris living under ‘foreign’ occupation. These youngsters had seen and suffered continuous human rights violations by Indian security forces. Disappeared people and unidentified graves are very much fresh in the memory. Whatever, the Indian government and its agencies assert, Kunan and Poshpora remains a truth for the young and vulnerable. The series of mishandled situations in Kashmir, by the new alliance, has only acted as a spark to the fire. These factors accompanied by a sudden vacuum of a political dialogue, the lack of economic opportunities and the resulting frustrations have created a fertile ground for recruitments by radical groups.
Protests that erupted since Burhan Wani was killed in an encounter and an insensitive reaction to them by Indian forces have only exacerbated the situation. During the protests, more than 100 people including 2 police personnel were killed. According to the reports, injuries amounted to over 19,000 people (~15,000 civilians and ~ 4,000 security) including 117 civilians who were likely to lose their eyesight. Indiscriminate use of “non-lethal” pellet guns killed 10 civilians and injured around 3000 including hundreds of eye injury.
Farooq Ahmad Dar – a 27-year-old shawl weaver from Kashmir’s Budgam was used as a human shield (against stone pelters) by the Indian army. Dar was picked up by the forces after he had ‘casted vote’ in April 2017 by-election which had seen just 7% voter turnout (a sharp decline from 2014). Major Leetul Gogoi, the person behind the incident, was later awarded army’s Commendation Card for his sustained efforts in counter-insurgency operations. Farooq Ahmad Dar to this day faces boycott from other Kashmiris and has become exemplary for other Kashmiris about the people support India and still get betrayed.
More and more youngsters are joining the militancy as the situation worsens. Shopian, one of the most prosperous districts of Kashmir, had seen a decline in the militancy since 2005 but it has again seen the resurgence of militancy in past 2 or 3 years. Only in last 18 months, 58 youngsters from the district have joined militancy of which 21 were killed last year. Situation elsewhere in Kashmir is no good either. What’s unique with the new miltants in Kashmir is that they are as young as 12 to 16 years in age and elder ones are educated, tech-savvy and aware.
Asifa, an 8-year-old nomad girl in Kathua, was raped and killed in January this year. Seven of the accused are associated with right-wing Hindutva organization. Activists from Hindu Ekta Manch have been protesting the arrest of the accused and lawyers associated with right-wing organization prevented the Jammu and Kashmir Crime branch from filing the charge sheet in the Court, this Monday. Asifa and Dar, as Kashmiris see, are the victim of their Muslim identity. The attacks on civilians by the Army in Kashmir and impunity to Hindutva hardliners in Kathua, further increase the sense of Muslim victimhood which can very well be harvested by Islamist extremist organizations. Moreover, Kashmiris are also disturbed by the declining Muslim population in Jammu region. Sense of Muslim victimhood also explains why many new entrants into militancy come from socially and economically well-off backgrounds. While political Islam inspires Kashmiri nationalism significantly, it still has a subsidiary role. Call of azadi (liberation) from India can be heard at every corner of the Kashmir today, and it is in everyone’s best interest that the latest uprising not be hijacked by the Islamists.
Mehbooba Mufti has recently asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to find a way to peace in the valley. A renewed dialogue, halting attacks on the civilians, generation of employment, and a sense of communal justice are the answers. Kashmir is a ticking bomb, and the Asifa’s case might just be the litmus test.
Hanzala Aman is a columnist writing for HW News Network. The views, opinions, positions or strategies expressed by the authors and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, positions or strategies of HW News Network or any employee thereof. HW News Network makes no representations as to accuracy, completeness, correctness, suitability, or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use.