How Kashmiri youth are engaging with the Indian State

From making the recent poll boycott call of the resistance leadership a success, to engage the Indian state on the streets through campus mobilisation, the young Kashmiris today are driven with ‘change the system’ than ‘share in the system’ motto.

Like vigilant sentries of some military installation, the three elders were hawking around a polling booth in Budgam’s Hushroo village on April 9, 2017. Putting up militant faces, the trio was on a self-imposed anti-poll duty during the by-election on Srinagar Lok Sabha seat. Till dusk that day, they made it sure that no one could turn up to finger their franchise.

Amid the shrilling voices of dissent emanating around them, they stood adamant on poll boycott. For those pinning the faith in the electoral politics, they had a terse message: “We have been exploited in the name of ‘honour, autonomy and self rule’ for long now. But now, we face our own rebel youth who have made a strong case for themselves.”

FPK Photo/Vikar Syed.

Such instances, says Khurram Parvez, show that every Kashmiri has become a part of the resistance movement now.

“Didn’t you see how they killed a 60-year-old protester in Panzgam Kupwara?” the rights activist asks. “It rather tells us that whenever Kashmiris get any chance, they exhibit their resentment.”

Perhaps in today’s Kashmir, where the equations stand changed “like never before”, those aged guards of Hushroo village gave a glimpse of the Valley’s new age rage on the ground. Most of these young guns—still ineligible for driving licenses—were behind the implementation of the poll boycott call coming from the defiant Hyderpora, the resistance signpost of the joint resistance group since the 2016 smoldering summer.

But enforcing the boycott had its own bloody costs. Some eight dissenters aged between 12 and 25 were shot dead while enforcing the boycott call in Kashmir’s largest province previously tagged for its subdued militant impulse.

FPK Photo/Vikar Syed.

By evening that day, when the off-colour election commissioner began detailing the deadly defiance in a presser, both the pollsters as well as pundits were ridiculing Delhi’s long-held claim: participation in elections was Kashmiris’ endorsement of Indian sovereignty over the state.

That day, Srinagar parliamentary constituency—housing around 1.3 million voters—ended up polling a paltry 7 percent votes to the embarrassment of Delhi. Even the belligerent studios left nothing unsaid: In Kashmir’s recent poll history, the ‘democracy’ never fared so low.

But unlike those faraway analysts who dubbed the verdict as the fear-induced historic low, the outcome was not a surprise for those who understand both the genesis as well as the genetics of the Kashmir imbroglio.

FPK Photo/Vikar Syed.

People wanted to avenge the National Conference in the last assembly elections and they used PDP as an alternative, reckons Raouf Rather, a sociology scholar at the Kashmir University. “But now,” the scholar continues, “as PDP itself stands tarnished, people have opted for a complete boycott.”

Also, the growing hatred for the Indian rule among the well-read Kashmiri population indicates that the future of electoral politics in the disputed territory is very bleak now, the scholar says.

In Srinagar’s Press Enclave, however, scribes have their own take on democracy and its course in the restive Valley.

After holding the 1996 assembly polls at gunpoint, argues Shams Irfan, Delhi used to refer to the elections in Kashmir as a verdict in favour of the Indian sovereignty, thus damaging the aim of the whole process. This Indian argument, the journalist argues, disheartened the Kashmiri people to the extent that the word ‘election’ now gets on their nerves.

“Now when the Kashmiri people have rejected the election process,” Irfan says, “why can it not be considered as a referendum against the Indian rule in Jammu and Kashmir?”

But as Delhi is yet to acknowledge the demand of “referendum”, the pro-India politicians—in the face of rising young rebellion—are evidently losing their ground with each passing day in the Valley. An example of this is the recent poll verdict, says Raouf, the scholar. “For how long, can the people be deceived? They have finally decided to act. ”

FPK Photo/Vikar Syed.

Clearly the Indian state is now pitted against the angry young generation of Kashmir, says a reputed professor of the Islamic University of Science and Technology, “who believe in the stones as well as in words”. It takes a statesmen like political conduct to motivate these no-nonsense dissenters, the professor argues. “The present youth dominance might be a passing phase, but I am worried about the prospects of the next generation, exposed to the worst possible brutality. The very idea—how will they act?—is as disturbing, as it can get.”

Already Kashmir’s young are braving bullets to rescue insurgents from army cordons. And, the way the youth are responding to the emerging situation clearly shows that somehow they have learned to rise above the vintage separatist trigger to register their protest.

Lately when disgruntled schoolboys and girls with bunny-bags slung over their shoulders came out of their campuses, the anti-India voices resounded for hours in Kashmir’s trade heartland—Lal Chowk—followed by the Aazadi choir. As the classic clash of stone and smoke ensued, a girl holding a basketball in one hand and a stone in another, was caught on camera.

The moment her image went viral on social media, many argued, it heralds a new era in Kashmir’s street rage.

“We don’t demand Aazadi on behest of any Hurriyat leader,” a fiery schoolgirl told the scribes covering the dissent assembly, “we ask for it—because, it’s our right.” No sooner she was done with her media byte, the girl joined her mates to rain kicks on an armoured jeep. Both the onlookers as well as those who saw the Kashmir’s dissenting daughters on virtual media had a thought to offer: “These betiyas have shown Mehbooba Mufti—the chief of Unified Command—her right place, despite the ‘all for the girl power’ Chief Minister wooing them with goodies like Scooties!”

Such a protest was indeed a “verdict of the Kashmiri people”, believes Khurram, stressing that all Kashmiris are against the Indian rule.

“It is now between the entire Kashmiri, versus India,” the rights activist says.

This strong anti-India sentiment in the Kashmiri youth is being backed by their elders, the lawmaker Er. Rasheed asserts. “I firmly believe that the youth get political education from their elders, which they exhibit on the streets,” the MLA Langate says.

In the South Block, Valley’s peaking dissent has already triggered a wave of unease. As counter-mechanism, a press report suggests, Delhi has come up with an old antidote: freezing funds of the pro-freedom camp.

Interestingly, foreign funding is Delhi’s old war cry against Kashmir’s pro-freedom camp. Even recently, both the Delhi politicians, and the news anchors connected “unrelated dots” between the street protests and funds. In Kashmir, however, the common retort over such outlying conclusions remains: Delhi is either deliberately buying lies on Kashmir or the pro-India politicians feed it wrongly.

Amid this growing unease, Governor NN Vohra’s recent Delhi summon unwittingly underlined ‘some-desperate-move’ on the radar. But as the proverbial iron-curtain prevails over the minutes of the Vohra-Modi meeting, the political watchers believe that getting firsthand information from its “constitutional spy” in the Valley apparently hints at the BJP-led NDA government’s altering posture on Kashmir—where so far, says Rasheed, the ‘Doval doctrine’ was being followed in “letter and spirit”.

And then, there are political deadlines to meet. Set to tame the valley’s tiger that, many argue, was never so wild, these political ticking clocks have already created a lot of buzz. Home Minister Rajnath Singh sets a one year timeline against Mehbooba Mufti’s 90-day stage to restore the calm. However, the coming events have already cast their shadows.

That Delhi once again means martial business in Kashmir over dialogue appears certain. Be it the army’s chopper-driven combing exercise in Shopian’s 27 villages, or the return of CASO, the counterinsurgency machinery now stands oiled like never before in Kashmir’s recent past.

In Srinagar, where Mufti Jr. is back with her summer darbar, despite her ally BJP’s grouse, the security grid is busy chalking out a new strategy to deal with the protests, especially the one led by the students.

Already, the technology used by the young lot to express their views, has been put under a partial gag. By downing the Server 31 times since 2002, the state has clearly signaled that it makes no peace with Kashmir’s social media handling. This bossy treatment has already backfired. Despite the fresh embargo, Kashmiris have found a way out through proxies and VPNs to continue using the social media.

Dissent voices continue to stay vocal — even after the State crackdown, detaining thousands since the last year, when the adored guerrilla’s killing triggered the signature summer revolt. This is happening despite the state opening many fronts to deal with the young, who many say, are driven with change the system motto than share in it.

Perhaps that’s why the Budgam trio was behaving like hawks outside a polling booth at Budgam’s Hushroo village on April 9. They asserted that they were never so clear in their lives: “Last time, when we fell in lines before the polling booths, we tried to defeat the shroud thieves — only to elect those who went on to steal the eyes of our children!”

How Kashmiri youth are engaging with the Indian State
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