This is an excerpt from the introduction to the anthology Of Occupation and Resistance: Writings from Kashmir, edited by FAHAD SHAH
Once militancy took root in the Valley, it continued unabated, with a few exceptions in the years to come. The sentiment of the resistance movement prevailed across Jammu and Kashmir. At one point in time, blasts and encounters occurred almost every day. The first few years of the 1990s were the most brutal in the history of the conflicted Valley. After the 1996 assembly elections, when people were forced to vote at gunpoint, the National Conference Party and counter-insurgent groups ruled the state. People lived with trauma and threat – treating the injured, mourning for the dead and searching for those who had disappeared.
This was the story for more than a decade. A shift in the nature of resistance has been seen in the past few years; the generation that was born during the start of the war has been able to glean the nuances of the homeland’s political situation. Most of the youngsters from this generation, born between the late 80s and early 90s, choose stones over guns.
They throw stones at the Indian forces.
To this shift too, India has responded with brute force. Young people are continuously arrested and tortured. The circumstances are such that the young populace may well wish to turn the clocks backward, opt for the choices made by their predecessors 24 years ago, and take up arms. What happened in 1988 might happen again; there has been no justice and the legitimate demands of people have been ignored every time. Since the armed resistance started, around 70,000 people have been killed;30 thousands have been injured; 10,000 have been involuntarily made to disappear; and orphans, widows and several others languish in jails. Thousands of unmarked mass graves have been found.
In August 2012, the Sopore police station was attacked with grenades. The state police blamed the Lashkar-e-Toiba for the attacks and investigations found that the grenades were lobbed by minor boys. The police said they had identified the boys as the CCTV footage clearly showed them throwing grenades at the police station. The superintendent of police in Sopore, Imtiyaz Ahmad told a national daily that they picked up two of the boys, aged 12 and 13 years, for questioning.
The blast of 1988 was followed by two decades of intense militancy. Now the grenade blasts of 2012 could well be followed by another phase of violence, where more young cadre could be recruited. This phase of militancy could be worse than the last one; its impact and outcome could be more widespread.
This could be the most intense phase of the Kashmir conflict, as the young boys are more passionate than their predecessors. They have been a part of the 2008 and 2010 mass protests, and have witnessed India’s indifference to and dismissal of these struggles. Moreover, the present generation is also better educated. While the establishment may claim that most of the young men who have taken up militancy have left academic pursuits to join the ranks, the truth is a lot of them had been studying for courses, trying to earn a Master’s degree in computer applications, physics or business management. Indeed, a boy who the police claimed had joined the Hizbul Mujahideen in 2011 was a school-going lad of 16. The police’s theory therefore that the youth who protest or throw stones are ‘misguided’ or illiterate breaks into pieces.
If we look closely at the movement and understand it deeply, the resistance in Kashmir lies among the people, with the people. Pakistan did lend a helping hand to armed militancy in the late 1980s, but the contemporary situation is different. No sane mind can call it a Pakistan-run movement.33 Several Kashmiris might want Kashmir to merge with Pakistan, but on the whole they accept that there should be a referendum and the people should decide the course of events.
To further dilute the independence movement of Kashmir, the government of India has been trying to convince and coerce some individuals within the moderate Hurriyat Conference to contest elections. One of the leaders, Sajad Lone, who was pro-freedom, did contest Indian parliamentary elections in 2009 and lost. Now he is preparing for the next assembly election. Many politicians – mainstream and separatists – privately confirm that Indian agencies have been secretly financing political parties to contest elections, who in turn use that money to lure Kashmiris to vote. The money is also used to fragment the social fabric of the Valley, so Indian rule can be further strengthened.
Many youth have sensed this, and they are taking control of the situation. After decades of being led by pro-resistance and mainstream leaders, Kashmir now is directed by its youngsters. These boys and girls have understood the larger politics of Kashmir and are conceptually sound. They are minute in number but their presence is everywhere. And the ground wing of this ideologically rich group could be described as the stone throwers.
In September 2012, in Varmul (60 kilometres from Srinagar), a lad was arrested by the police in the morning allegedly for stone throwing. Later a group of boys manhandled a policeman and kidnapped him. For five hours he was nowhere to be found and the boys demanded the release of the lad in exchange for the policeman. The boys did release the policeman eventually. This is India’s biggest worry right now, as it is not easy to tackle young, angry blood. Because of youth power, Kashmir could be on the brink of something momentous.
At 8 am, on 9 February 2013, India hanged Mohammad Afzal Guru. He was convicted for attacking the Indian parliament in 2001, after an unfair trial.
I went to Guru’s home a few days after the hanging to meet his loved ones. Nobody from his family had been informed about the rejection of the mercy petition by the Indian president or the hanging. A letter had been sent at the nth minute via speed post informing kinsfolk about Guru’s impeding execution; the letter reached days after the hanging. Since he had not been informed, Guru’s 13-yearold son, Ghalib, couldn’t even meet his father before the execution.
Following Guru’s death, the government anticipated an outcry in Kashmir. Such expectations weren’t unfounded, and Kashmir would have witnessed huge demonstrations, had the state government not imposed strict curfew from the early hours of the morning, which stretched on for a week. Kashmiris woke up to find themselves held captive in their homes. While in several localities people tried to break curfew, and protests broke out in some regions, by and large Kashmir became the largest prison on earth once more.
Guru’s hanging will have repercussions at a larger level in future. As in the case of Maqbool Butt’s execution in 1984, it’s likely that the youth of Kashmir will spearhead the azadi movement and enhance its scope and scale.
Guru’s hanging is also likely to strengthen the independence movement of Kashmiris, since it has been proven beyond doubt that India is indifferent to Kashmir’s interests, and unresponsive to the calls of a people asking for the right of self-determination.
When I walked the streets of Kashmir and talked to different people after Guru’s death, I was privy to strong anti-India discourse, more emphatic than any of the statements uttered before Guru’s hanging. A senior journalist, a friend, while talking about the situation in Kashmir, said that the Valley felt like a pressure cooker. Dissent and anger are building within the region and nobody quite knows when the lid will burst.