The Changing Aspirations of Kashmiri Youth
By Anwesha Ray Chaudhuri
The paper aims to study the changing aspirations of the Kashmiri youth. This is interpreted as a transition of gun totters to peaceful protesters. The paper will begin with study of the trajectory of youth picking up guns to replacement with stones. Next the paper will explore the change in ideology from past to present followed by the advent of social media and networking, globalization and changing world political scenario. Lastly it will study the political vision encompassed by the youth for Kashmir. The paper will conclude that aspirations have morphed and changed the way they are expressed but underlying desire for political freedom still thrives which resonates in the demand for “Azaadi”.
Background and Context
Years 2008, 2009 and 2010 were watershed years in history of Kashmir Valley when large number of youth took over the streets with flags and head bands, stones in their hands demanding freedom from India. The image above portrays for a moment the past, when armed insurgency was at its peak. At present guns have been replaced by slogans and stones to defy authority and mobilise masses.
The Kashmir Issue has spanned decades and one of the longest and bloodiest conflicts today. Starting as a bilateral issue after partition of the subcontinent in 1947, the conflict has evolved in many ways with growing discontent of the 1980’s that introduced additional factors like non state armed actors , violence in name of religion, socio-economic factors and range of interests like accession to Pakistan and independence from India. These notions increasingly turned Kashmir region into a complex and multidimensional issue over the years.
All throughout the course of narration of history and facts since 1989, an unchanged factor has been the youth as the front runner of the movement. The youngsters with strong conviction to free Kashmir had taken up arms to protest then and now stones against perceived misrule and injustice inflicted on them. The transition from grenade hurlers to stone pelters, definitely indicate the changing nature of the conflict as well a change in hearts and minds of people. It remains to be tested whether the change has been complete or superficial in nature. This paper tries exploring that change while studying the changing aspirations of the Kashmiri youth that can be interpreted from transition of gun totters to peaceful protesters.
Outbreak of Insurgency
Towards the end of the 1980’s political scenario underwent a change in the valley. What was an underlying suppression of political and democratic space, took shape of armed struggle in the region, where no amount of economic package or provision of jobs could allay the alienation set in the mind of the people. India’s ham handed policies, blatant manipulation of electoral process and heightened sense of insecurity against Pakistan set the ball rolling for political violence. Without detailed narration of the political circumstances of that time, it is stated that Kashmir was left without a leader to guide the state post Farooq Abdullah’s dismissal. Naturally the onus of carrying forward political interests fell on the next generation of Kashmiri youth. The youths attempt to capture state power through constitutional means like elections was scuttled by large scale rigging who then sought power in bullets to deliver what ballots had failed to deliver. Hence, was born a generation of youth who eventually crossed over to Pakistan for arms training in 1987-88.
The winter of 1989 in Kashmir Valley saw the emergence of armed uprising against Indian rule with support from Pakistan. A violent campaign of insurgency and counter insurgency marred the nineties till 2000 with many killed and disappeared after taken into custody. Kashmiris wanted independence and at that point from India after political unfolding of the 1980’s. But instead became pawns in India-Pakistan tussle. The victim hood still persists with Pakistan tacitly supporting militancy in the region and India quelling the movement with brute force. Yet, hope still persists for independence or at the least greater autonomy within India.
Violence partially declined in the region after 2003, when Pakistan decided to cut support to the militant outfits fighting in the region. Since then India-Pakistan have met several times to find a solution to the status quo. The wait continues for Kashmiris while it has made a transition from insurgency to non violent protests on the streets.
The youth then and now, have shed blood to realise their dream of attaining freedom from every day torture, suppression and humiliation. In the face of militancy every youth was a suspect and that continues till date, though militancy has waned. Process of sending in troops by India continues parallel to the changing scenario.
The first phase of militancy was spearheaded by the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and mobilisation of the masses. Resort to violence with objective of paralysing state apparatus and institutions that had rendered Kashmiris of political space to achieve their aspirations became common. Violent protests and strikes on India’s Republic Day and Independence Day were observed. Demonstrations were also held against symbols representative of Indian presence in the valley. Politics as a tool of expression was heavily undermined and all political activities came to standstill with rampant killings of local leaders of pro-India political parties.
People’s support to the youth spearheading these outfits was overwhelming, who were raised to pedestal as they created political space in Kashmir and restored pride of the valley. The discredit to pro-India political parties (like National Conference, Congress etc) and electoral process was necessary for Kashmiris to win over the much awaited freedom that they had dreamt of but had been crushed time and again with false promises and lies.
The next decade, up until 2003, saw a mosaic patterned movement for independence where dominating chips were Islamisation of the movement with support from Pakistan, followed by Pan Islamic agenda with foreign guerrilla fighters or Mujahidins calling the shots rather than local youth. Finally, due to political avenues of negotiations with government of India and opposition to guns, it ultimately culminated into a phase of revival of political process in the valley. The government by then had already resorted to use of force and military tactics to quell the uprising.
A point to be noted here was the increasing and popular disillusionment with militancy and criminalisation of the whole effort. The fervour it started with was slowly dying down as well. Much anticipated dependence on Pakistan and other international actors also floundered over the years. Though Azaadi was not around the corner, the passion to strive for it was a driving force all through with or without any external interventions.
What one derives from above is that the armed movement splintered on ideological grounds from where it had started with a unified/unilateral goal of freedom. It became rife with personality clashes, ideological differences and criminalisation of militants. The bullets had backfired and entire generation of youngsters were brutalized and also went astray in face of violence which led to desensitisation of population in near course.
Meanwhile Indian State was able to curb secession of Kashmir. But political process like negotiations and talks between separatists and the government failed and once again reached a stalemate. The pro freedom sentiments had not really subsided though people especially the youth seemed to have resigned to their fate momentarily. A sense of alienation continued to grow over the years though democratic process bore fruit few years after with state assembly elections of 1996 flagging the beginning. But, that eventually lost whatever value it had with unfolding of political events in later course as the paper refers to in the following section.
Following the events of the previous years, Kashmir saw a changing discourse of militant activities which also coincided with the revival of democratic political process like elections as observed by political analysts. But did it bring about change in the outlook of the people and their demands from the earlier years? The answer I shall argue is in affirmative but the underlying aspiration to freedom did not fade, it oddly became stronger.
The year of 1996 to be specific saw the state assembly elections and return of mainstream political party in power with hopes for a new beginning. A state torn by decade long cycle of violence and bloodshed needed comprehensive policies targeted at different population especially the youth. Youth were the vanguard of the movement and lured by power and money in face of growing economic dissent and opportunity, had resorted to militancy. Despite surrender or not joining armed movement, suspicion remained which fuelled current sense of frustration and alienation.
The coming years till present as predicted did not turn out to be different from the militancy period (1990 through 1995). Violence was low but political process had once again hit rock bottom and come to standstill with people participation steadily decreasing. Growing disenchantment with democracy was palpable in public once again when the government failed to provide adequate civic, administrative, economic and political support, people demanding freedom.
Couple the above with gross human rights abuses predominantly by Indian security forces, and also by Jihadi militants who cared little for the people and their aspirations by then, pushed public resentment further. By then the movement had acquired a different tone that it had started with. Growing Islamic fervour also began to affect the way the movement was seen outside Kashmir, while providing the state a reason to globally delegitimise the movement. Pakistan as a friend and saviour had also started losing its strong hold in those years due to its strong Islamic stand and backing of the militant movement like it did in Afghanistan during the Mujahidin period. Such view negated Kashmiri ethos for independence and also confirmed that Pakistan lacked will to talk Kashmir.
But all was not lost. The civil society had begun to come terms with the reality and tragedy that was Kashmir, especially the youth. With international consensus on human rights and need for peace globally, can a generation be completely oblivious to the necessity of a tranquil nation? Add to that, economic reforms of the Indian Government of the early 1990’s and expanding globalization process, it changed the way that Kashmiri thinking was moulded in earlier times. Kashmir saw rise of votaries of “peace with honour”. The shift was evident in Kashmiri demands for addressing basic rights issues like repealing of draconian laws, demilitarisation, unemployment, and other social ills became more rampant than pushing for freedom. This is ?? can be seen in interviews held by different websites (like kashmirspeaks.com) with Kashmiri youth from different age groups ranging from 15-35 (several others have also done such surveys/interviews as well) where the youngsters shared their stances, outlook, dreams and concerns at present. The majority had shared views on living a normal life like their counterparts elsewhere in the world and also move away from over politicisation of their home state. Education was given major emphasis and that more needed to be done for better system and society in Kashmir. When asked on future of Kashmir, the replies did toe the lines of independence for Kashmir one day. But, before that can be achieved, a society free from corruption, violence, nepotism needed to be developed which unfortunately depends on resolution of the Kashmir issue.
Social Media Survey: What Does it Indicate?
Supporting the above findings is the recent perception survey of media impact on Kashmiri youth, where the study found that the new generation of Kashmiri youth are an “inward looking generation” where by their political interests focus on developments within Jammu and Kashmir. According to the results majority about 70-90 percent of the youth watch local, state-run and private channels including international and Indian, seeking news on Kashmir. Even survey of social networks and blog sites like facebook, blogspot, wordpress etc showed espousing cause of Kashmir Dispute, majority spelling separatist discourse while few being pro-India.
What was dominant was disconnect with India i.e. poor interest in developments within India and lack of alternate ways to understand India for its legacy or a land of opportunities for their future. This had majorly to do with Kashmir’s historical realities and the unfulfilled promise of right to self-determination and partly due to experience of highhanded policy of state machinery in day to day life in the form of security forces whom they see as occupying forces and abusers.
On the contrary, disconnect with India was complemented with a sharp decline in interest in Pakistan. Unlike earlier insurgency period, where the youth saw Pakistan as the friend, patron and supporter, it does not garner such lure or interest for this generation. This has to do with deepening realisation that Pakistan lacks the military might or political will to take over India and may use Kashmir merely as a pawn to bleed India though Kashmir might look to Pakistan for moral support at times of adversity.
Interestingly, with this new generation of children of conflict who like to lead social and normal life like others, a new emerging trend is perceptible. The youth are turning to Islam in many ways. Key finding is that a lot of youth are listening to religious sermons, frequency of visiting mosques has gone up and large number of religious places of worship has mushroomed in last few years. Some of those supporting independence for Kashmir also believe in promulgation of Islamic government/rule. Islam has traditionally been a strong factor for political mobilisation in Kashmir, most visibly since the early 1930s in the wake of Quit Kashmir movement against the Dogra rulers. The armed insurgency has been no exception in this regard except for the fact that within Kashmir too, Islam saw its political significance on the rise along with the prominence of armed ‘jihad’ in the outside world. Even as the jihadist element declined later, the use of Islamic symbols as tools of political mobilisation has continued to be in vogue. This was visible in 2008 land row controversy where several Islamic symbols like flags and especially slogans had religious overtones.
Now, the question remains what kind of Islam are the youth turning to? While not a lot of study has emerged in regard to the changing trends if any in how Islam is being practiced in Kashmir, there is little doubt that the Indian state is spending its energies in accentuating the traditional socio-religious fault lines in the Kashmiri society apparently with an aim to dilute, or even delegitimize, the demand for independence by choreographing sectarian conflict among various Islamic sects and beliefs. This is corroborated by a sudden, overt assertion by groups invoking Sufi/syncretic cultural heritage of Kashmir on one hand and the puritanical orders like Ahle-i-hadith and Tablighi Jamaat on the other.
On the other side of ideological expression an alternate mode of expression is making its presence felt, that of cultural mode. Though the number of youth turning to this mode are by and large few, they are using popular medium like films, documentaries, arts, music, novels, poetry etc express their anguish, fear, dreams and aspirations. Several names can be mentioned to this effect like MC Kash (rap artist), Basharat Peer (author of Curfewed Night, a best seller), Mirza Wahid (author of the novel The Collaborator) and few more. As mentioned earlier, their number being less, the impact on a conflict driven society is difficult to measure.
Political Vision for Kashmir
Although we see a perceptible change in the way the youth have transitioned from gun totters to advocate of peace and stability, the question remains what do their political vision hold for Kashmir? This is important because the aspirations of the youth are entwined with the political future of the region. These two cannot be treated as mutually exclusive factors, though views may differ from case to case.
The mentioned survey report and also personal interview conducted to this effect show that majority still support Azaadi or independence. The understanding of a desired political future may vary as stated earlier but overall view may be captured through the prism of rights. What is implied here is not just a failure of the ruling establishment to address what was promised but also overwhelming importance given to territorial sovereignty of India and Pakistan has stripped the Kashmiri people of their basic rights as human beings. A change in political status quo of Kashmir dispute vis a vis Pakistan was also desired. That brings to fore, the need to explore the question of Azaadi in right light which would include freedom from all kinds of human rights abuses, freedom of speech, restoration of peace and prevalence of democratic space along with other endowments of a functional and stable society. Otherwise, the ghastly summers of 2008, 2009 and 2010 will be repeated in the near future. Those three years saw more blood spill than had in preceding years which says that some things need immediate redress and not empty promises.
In time of writing this, the interlocutors report is/was finally out in the public domain. The exhaustive report compiled over a year’s travel by government appointed interlocutors after 2010 uprising, has recommendations put together to solve the impasse in the region and meant to find a settlement for the issue. The report has stretched importance to governance, economic issues, role of media and intra-cultural exchanges but glossed over an important aspect of consensus building, voice of the youth or youth as an independent factor to Kashmir. This shows how youth as a generation in Kashmir has been sidelined in matters of utter importance yet they are the ones languishing for government policies in the valley.
To conclude, we have seen from the above study that this generation of youth is different from their predecessors who found rationale and justice in the gun during the 1980s and 90s. They were politically alienated and also inspired by developments around the world including Islamic Revolution in Iran and victory of Mujahidins in Afghanistan. They believed that like these liberation movements, Kashmir was next in turn. Their movement had an ideological sustenance in these developments. On the contrary, the new generation looks within for substance and reaching their goals and aspirations. They not only voice their resentment in pitched battle with security forces on the streets, they also mobilise themselves with slogans and banners. That apart, they express their views and protests through articles, music, social networking sites, and blogs. They also use other means like political debates and informed opinion to show their views.
Their anger is spontaneous but not completely irrational. It has been building up since several years and no amount of economic package or confidence building measures could inhibit that. It flared for the first time in 1989, then again in 2008 with land transfer. This was followed with well participated assembly elections. But 2009 Shopian rape and murder case kindled protests again along with botched up investigations. It again confirmed people’s doubt in institutions of justice followed by mayhem of 2010, a year that saw broad day light killing at the hands of government forces of more than 120 protesters and bystanders, most of them youth. The government’s callous and insincere response along with use of brute force opened up a new front which reminded of old days of insurgency. Add to it Kashmir’s historical realities and the unheeded political aspiration of freedom, the deep and old aspirations continue to thrive even as Kashmir lies in heart of a changing discourse.
- Chhadha Behera, Navnita, “State, Identity and Violence : Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh”, in chapter 7, “Insurgency in Kashmir Valley”, Manohar Publishers, 2000, New Delhi, pp 164-165
- More on autonomy see 1952 status of JK in Indian Constitution Article 370 where it was included that JK may be treated as part of Indian Territory but power of parliament to make laws for the state will be limited to the conditions of the Instrument of Accession and special status granted to the state under the constitution
- Peer, Basharat, “Kashmir: autumn’s final country”, in www. India-seminar.com,/2011/617/617_basharat_peer.htm,accessed on 29/5/2012
- Ibid, pp 253, ch 9
- Chhadha Behera, Navnita, “ State, Identity and Violence : Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh”, in chapter 7, “Insurgency in Kashmir Valley”, Manohar Publishers, 2000, New Delhi, p. 199
- Mushtaq, Suzeina, “Kashmiri Youth: Dreams and Concerns”, in www.kashmirspeaks.com, accessed on 10/5/2012
- A Perception Survey of Media impact on the Kashmiri Youth by Navnita Chadha Behera, Institute For Research on India & International Studies, 2012
- Home Ministry Survey Report, by Navnita Chhadha Behera for IRIIS and Tehelka, 26th January 2012 by Riyaz Wani accessed on 4/2/2012
- Wani, Riyaz, “ The Fight for Kashmir’s Soul”, in “Tehelka Magazine”, vol 9, Issue 13, 31/ 3/2012 , available on http://www.tehelka.com/story_main52.asp?filename=Ne310312Fight.asp, accessed on 26/3/2012
Anwesha Ray is an independent researcher. She has obtained her Masters International Studies and Diplomacy from from the School of Oriental and African Studies UK.