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Fifth column

July 18, 2016

Notes from the valley


July 18, 2016

This past week has been unprecedented in redefining the mood of Kashmir. The massive outpouring of grief and anger at the death of Hizbul Mujahideen commander, Burhan Wani, has no parallels in Kashmir’s living memory. It is uncanny that more than half a million Kashmiris, most of them below their thirties, travelled tens of miles amid threats to their life from the Indian paramilitary forces to catch a glimpse of the slain commander and offer janaza prayers.

As the crowds swelled beyond the confines of the local Eid Gah grounds in Wani’s hometown Tral, janaza prayers were performed more than 50 times to accommodate the sea of people.

Having lived here in the early 1990s, when the popular armed resistance started, I find the passion, resolve and fearlessness of the present generation of Kashmiris unprecedented and unparalleled. In the 1990s, I have been to numerous protest demonstrations including the infamous Bijbehara Massacre of October 22, 1992 when the Indian forces killed around 50 innocent civilians, but nothing matches the fearlessness of today’s Kashmiri youth regardless of whether one can justify the rationale of their modus operandi.

For the past week, I have seen hundreds of boys as young as ten or even younger challenging, taunting and chasing the paramilitary forces with nothing more than a few stones.

For their stones, these boys have received mass brutality as the official forces often attack them with bullets aimed to kill, pellets on their faces causing blindness and partial damage to their vision. Thousands have been detained illegally (most of them have not been charged so far) and tortured in police stations across the Kashmir valley.

What has surprised me is that despite massive killings – so far around 40 youth have been killed – and thousands injured, scores with debilitating injuries, these youth continue to take fatal risks. Two days back when I tried to counsel a group of youth about the dangers of provoking the paramilitary forces, I was taunted and a few emotional boys even described me as a “PDP mukhbir”, a pejorative term used for members of the ruling pro-India People’s Democratic Party of Mehbooba Mufti who is in alliance with the right-wing BJP that also rules India with Narendra Modi as its leader and the prime minister of India.

Known for her public dramas to gain public sympathy, Mehbooba Mufti is often seen crying in mosques or Hindu temples in officially released propaganda photos that are widely published by the pliant local media. Her rhetorical so-called ‘soft separatism’ is fast losing appeal as her murderous assault on Kashmiri lives unravels. Despite widespread support from the Indian security agencies and Hindu extremists, Mufti is losing her PR battle among the masses. There is widespread hatred and anger against her and her supporters.

This can be gauged by the public reaction against the murder of Aamir Nazir Lattoo, a 22-year-old post graduate student at the Aligarh Muslim University, who was killed by the Jammu Kashmir Police in Bijbehara, Mufti Sayeed’s hometown. When the local imam, Zialul Haq Nazmi, came forward to lead the janaza, he was stopped by the youth and forced to leave. Nazmi’s ‘crime’ was that earlier this year he had performed janaza of Mufti Sayeed, the former chief minister and the father of the current chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti.

The talk on the ground is about renewing the armed struggle that had almost finished thanks to Pakistan’s collaboration with India during the Musharraf years, but which got revived locally after the 2010 Intifada, popularly known as Ragdo. Over this past week I have interacted with scores of youth, mostly teenagers, and their only response to the current crises is armed struggle.

The youth are desperate for a break in the status quo regardless of the price. As the brutalities continue, the fifth generation is also prepositioning for a response. Earlier today, I asked the six-year-old nephew of my friend whose father incidentally is a Mehbooba Mufti supporter about his future plans as the situation continues to deteriorate.

His refrain was to acquire a gun to fight the army when he grows up. “But they won’t be able to kill me as I will learn how to dodge the bullets”, he added.

The writer is a journalist, author, andcommunication and security specialist. He lives between London, Lahore and Srinagar in the Indian-occupied Kashmir, and is currently stuck in Indian-occupiedKashmir. Twitter: @murtaza_shibli


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