By Mohammed Sirajuddeen
The ire against oppression in the ‘conflict zones’ is championed by energetic youth. During a visit to Palestine last year, I came to know that the entry to historic ‘Al Aqsa’ mosque was restricted by Israeli authorities to prevent what was termed as ‘disturbance’. I learnt that at certain point of time the Security establishment in Israel banned young people from crossing the Al Qalandiya military checkpoint. This was based on the ‘fear’ that the Palestinian Youth instigated protests in occupied Jerusalem. If we look at the pattern of state repression in Kashmir, the case is not too different. Most of the victims of security excesses include the young blood. In recent decades, extermination of the ‘Young Kashmir’ is a policy of Government which the strategists think is an apt method of plucking away the seeds of discontent. In a July 2014 upsurge against Israel in Kashmir, the police shot dead a teenage boy, a ninth-grade student from a village of Srinagar. Though this is not a new phenomenon as far as Kashmir is concerned, such experiments recently are exemplified in what the authorities call ‘stray fatalities’ – for example, Kaneeza, the child who was killed in Kupwara to a direct hit and Amir Nazir Wani, the fifteen year old boy, who was shot down by the Security Forces in Pulwama. Both the tragedies happened in March 2017.
It was in this context I started pondering how the young minds in Kashmir think of the disciplinary state apparatus looming on their fate day and night. My conversation with Mohammed Muzammil and Aejaz Ahmad Dar, two young Kashmiris in their mid twenties from Pulwama district, is unique in this context. In the light of ensuing face-off between the militants and the security forces right in front of their eyes, they share their views on pertinent questions with respect to conflict in Kashmir during our walk in Pulwama town last month. Their views break the dominant perception that generates biased frames on the Kashmir question.
Conversation One with Mohammed Muzammil
Mohammed Muzammil completed engineering in Electronics and Communications from JK Board of Technical Education. During the 2016 unrest, he felt that Kashmir was becoming a jail. Saddened by the government decision to scrap internet communication networks and transport facilities for months, Muzammil says it was a period of darkness. The volatile situation in Kashmir had affected their family business and the security forces had broken the window of his home, while many family members were attacked during search operations which he calls the operation ‘thod phod’. Muzammil believes that it was India that made Burhan a hero. The government, according to him, wanted to show the world that Kashmir is a citadel of terrorism and when the government felt that the youth in Kashmir was increasingly getting attracted to militancy, they killed Burhan. Muzammil feels that the government is perplexed with the ‘after effects’ of Burhan.
Mohammed Sirajuddeen: What is your take on the Azadi movement?
Mohammed Muzammil: I need freedom from both India and Pakistan, an independent Kashmir as existed before 1947.
MS: How do you see militancy in Kashmir?
MM: Nothing is going to happen through militancy. Muslims are targeted everywhere in the name of terrorism and gun. Militancy legitimizes the public perception that Muslims in Kashmir are terrorists. Militancy skyrocketed after the fall of Burhan. According to Greater Kashmir, 49 young Kashmiris have joined militancy after that. Sixty percent of the militants are well educated. The Burhan episode gave a moral victory to militants in Kashmir. Today his followers have increased. The encounters became a norm in Shophian, Pulwama, Anantnag, Kulgam, and everywhere else. I began to observe the militancy since 2007. They used to target the Army, Police, and CRPF. They used to attack the Police parties and convoys on highways. A section of youth thinks that it is the only way for freedom as many are fed up with state repression.
MS: How will you locate yourself as part of India?
MM: India says secularism is its ideology, but it is a failed experiment. Kashmir is a case of occupation by India. We Kashmiris have a tradition of self rule. We have great scope in tourism, an industry that won’t decline with recession. India does not care about massive unemployment. If we achieve freedom, we have the resources to generate employment through sectors like water resources and hydroelectric projects. India could not win the heart and minds of Kashmir. By frequent frenzy attacks on Kashmiris in different parts of India, India has proven that Kashmiris are unsafe not only in Kashmir but in India as well.
In January 2015, I was travelling to Hyderabad. I needed a halting place. I went to a hotel which is opposite to the kidney hospital in Hyderabad. When asked for a room, the receptionist asked my name and by coming to know that I am a Kashmiri he said in contempt, ‘Aapko dekh kay mujhe susu aagayi’.
This attitude haunted me a lot and I decided not to stay there. On December 2016, I visited Secter 18 , Noida, regarding my family business. When I reached Noida, my friend there advised me to change my ‘beard shape’ and warned that it would be problematic. My family is always worried whenever I go out of Kashmir as my parents are updated with the attacks on Kashmiris in India. Culturally and geographically, we are different from India.
MS: How will you achieve Azadi?
MM: We have full scale support only from Pakistan and now with some international attention partial support is coming from Muslim countries. There is a need to expose Indian Army’s gross human rights violations both inside and outside India. By peaceful methods and by unifying different variants of azadi, the movement has to be consolidated. It’s high time that the facts should be projected to the whole world, by telling the true trajectory of the Indian occupation in Kashmir. Social media is now increasingly used for spreading our message. An internationally supervised plebiscite is the need of the hour. In spite of reviving the spirit of the movement, militancy at the same time restricts other ways of voicing concerns and provides reason for the state to bring more oppression.
MS: What is the role of religion with respect to the Kashmir conflict?
MM: Militants take guns for the sake of ‘Allah’ because they want Islamic rule in Kashmir. India is against Muslims. India’s laws, institutions, and police are biased against Muslims. Muslims are getting killed for their food choices both inside and outside Kashmir. While India persecutes Muslims for eating beef, it is the largest exporter of beef. In my own experience, India is biased. Having a beard is considered as a ‘stereotype’; it is seen as a symbol of terrorism. When I was travelling back to Kashmir (15 December 2016 Air India Flight), I saw Kashmiri travelers at the Delhi airport reurtning from Saudi Arabia after Umrah. They were being continuously checked. One of the ‘Umrah’ travelers told me that having a ‘beard’ and ‘topi’ is sufficient for casting a suspicsion. Moreover, there are many examples of violence on Muslims in the Indian sub-continent from Babri Masjid to Gujarat to Dadri that show India’s intolerance.
Conversation Two with Aejaz Ahmad Dar
Aejaz Ahmad Dar experienced the trauma of conflict since childhood. In early childhood, he wanted to join militancy without knowing the crux of Kashmir problem. He used to hear the news of encounter and ‘shahadat’ on All India Radio, telivision, and in local news papers. When Aejaz grew up , he started seeing things from a ‘different’ perspective. He classifies the period of conflict in two categories.
Mohammed Sirajuddeen: What according to you happened in the first phase which started in 1989?
Aejaz Ahmad Dar: This period witnessed brutal killings, disappearances, and torture by the security forces as well as anarchy and loot by Ikhwanis, creating a lot of fear among Kashmiris. There was a complete restriction on the freedom of expression. Security forces used to pick up anyone randomly. No one could stop them. In childhood, I had seen a couple of fake encounters, search operations, and crackdowns. The government strategy during this period was to stand behind at the behest of the security forces. Militancy was at its peak and a large section of the youth was joining Mujahideen ranks.
MS: What about the second phase?
AAD: In the second phase, I felt that the government changed its strategy. A liberal attitude came. Firstly, the Special Task Forces’ (STF) power was limited and they lost their earlier aura. Secondly, the role of the Army was reduced. Earlier, the Army used to pick up people randomly. Enforced disappearnces were common. In the second phase, we witnessed a harmonious and softened attitude of the authorities. In contrast to preceding years, the suspected people were given counseling and were allowed to move freely. The coming of IT revolution exposed things in Kashmir. Successfully handling things, the government achieved the decline of militancy. Since 2004-05, tourism industry started blooming. In contrast to the earlier period, surveillance got reduced. But at the same time we witnessed increasing crimes on Kashmiris in Indian mainland.
The relative freedom and liberal attitude of the government since 2002 to 2006 had created a sense of fearlessness among Kashmiri youth. This gave a space to augment the earlier memories of brutal state repression that got streamed through new means as a response whenever the state tended to be hard. The horrible memories of the past were ignited by the controversial governmental acts such as the Amarnath Shrine issue. It was for the first time in the history of Kashmir that the culture of stone pelting came in.
The era of repression came back in 2008. The hanging of Afzal Guru aggravated the discontent. For India, Afzal Guru is a terrorist. If Afzal was not hanged, hundreds of lives could have been saved in Kashmir. Unemployment, corruption, and frustration are rampant among the young population in Kashmir. There is no platform to dilute these social anomalies.
MS: What is your vision of Azadi?
AAD: I don’t want ‘azadi’ by bloodshed. I am against militancy. Militancy is the product of brutal ‘state terrorism’. I welcome ‘azadi’ by dialogue and deliberation at the benevolence of India. If India frees ‘me and my land’ voluntarily, I will be happy. But personally I believe that India will not do this at the service of the Kashmiri people. India has to decide whether to hold Kashmiris at the gun point or make us happy by acts and deeds. I believe that if there is no positive attitude on the part of India, Kashmir will remain as a boiling pot for ever… Who can erase our miseries? We will be condemned to live like this…
MS: How will you characterize the Mujahideen?
AAD: ‘Mujahideen’ are holy, brave, and true people, who have genuine feelings for Kashmiris. They sacrifice their life for Kashmir. Some time I think that they are the victims of a ‘false strategy’, ‘wrong influence’, driven by ideologies of various kinds.
In majority of the cases, currently young people join during teenage. This has dual dimensions. Firstly, they are the soft targets for security agencies and secondly, by liquidating young people the Indian state is performing a psychological warfare on Kashmiri Society. At the same time, there is opaque false consciousness that is built in our society that the future is possible by aiding the ‘Mujahideen’ at the socio economic and political level.
At a more degenerated level, along with becoming an easy target for the security forces, many opportunistic elements in Kashmir’s freedom movement make use of them for narrow political gains. On the other side, the security forces kill them for promotions, rewards and recognitions. Many opportunistic people in ‘tehreek’ depend on the monetary benefits from PoK. This is a reality which I cannot prove. This nexus functions at a higher level. Corrupt bureaucracy, the police, and the opportunists in the ranks of ‘freedom fighters’ are working together to ‘mobilize’ and ‘demobilize’ innocent Kashmiri youth caught in conflict. Every Kashmiri is not anti-Indian but the majority do not want to be a part of India. There is a stark cultural difference, along with a religious difference.
Mohammed Sirajuddeen is a doctoral researcher at the Centre for Political Studies, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India. He may be contacted at email@example.com.
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