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May 12, 2018

A new turn in the freedom struggle


May 12, 2018

The freedom movement in Indian Occupied Kashmir has traditionally attracted young people – especially those who fail to obtain gainful employment even though they are educated.

Some youth face discrimination at the hands of the security forces, become disgruntled with India, and end up joining militant groups. But lately, a new trend appears to have emerged whereby intellectuals, such as university professors and college teachers, have also started joining the struggle. One such incident took place on May 5, when Dr Rafi, a professor of sociology at Kashmir University, suddenly disappeared. Two days later, people got to know that he had joined the Hizbul Mujahideen and was killed along with his four comrades in a skirmish with the Indian forces.

When the professor disappeared, his family and friends initially thought that he had been picked up by the Indian security forces – as had been the case with many others. Nobody had expected that a calm and taciturn fellow would be willing to fight against the occupying forces. Reports revealed that he died after an intense fight when his group was surrounded by Indian forces. On May 6, a news report revealed that a shootout at Shopian had claimed the lives of six freedom fighters, including Usman Padar, who was considered to be one of the last members of the Burhan Wani brigade.

Belonging to Srinagar, Dr Rafi was highly educated and had qualified for multiple scholarships from India’s University Grants Commission. He had done his PhD in sociology and Kashmir University had selected him to teach at its sociology department. Despite all these achievements, his willingness to take up arms against India is a matter that requires discussion. It seems that when a government or state adopts a policy of terror, it doesn’t just target extremists but also affects those who are close to them, such as their families, friends, and relatives.

When the news of state terror comes to the fore, people react angrily and even peace-loving and hard-working individuals find themselves obliged to take revenge from the oppressive state. This appears to be the case with Dr Rafi. He was apparently distressed by the continuous stream of deaths of the people he knew. He is reported to have become bitter and vengeful. Though Dr Rafi was known to be reserved, the murder of his two close relatives prompted him to take up arms and eventually sacrifice his own life.

A similar name had appeared a couple of months ago when Mannan Bashir Wani, who hailed from Kupwara, Indian Occupied Kashmir and was a researcher at the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), joined the Hizbul Mujahideen. In January 2018, Mannan’s decision to join the Hizb was announced on the organisation’s social media. Mannan was the son of Bashir Ahmed Wani and was pursuing his PhD in applied geology. His younger brother, Mubashshir, is an engineer. Just like Dr Rafi, Mannan had also won several accolades for his academic performance. The question that now arises is: why has Shopian has become known for extremism?

With just 300,000 people, this beautiful district is laden with ice-capped mountains. Around 95 percent of the population lives in rural areas, which probably explains why it is easier to plan secret activities there. Last year, the largest number of encounters took place in Shopian, with dozens of militants killed. The Indian police claim that only around 50 to 60 young people joined the militants whereas only about two dozen were killed. Independent sources are of the view that the actual numbers are much higher. In the occupied valley, a large number of young people who have worked for the Indian defence and educational institutions are now joining the freedom struggle.

For example, Abid used to work for the National Defence Academy of the India forces and acquired technical education in Indian Punjab. In addition, there are countless youths who initially became victims of the atrocities committed by the Indian Army or police and then took up arms against the Indian state. When state institutions use ‘national security’ as an excuse to bend the law, they became self-appointed arbitrators of justice. This has an extremely negative impact on their public image. When state functionaries turn their guns on innocent people and make them feel inferior by humiliating them, even law-abiding citizens turn against the state.

Moreover, when these young people are dubbed traitors and ‘foreign agents’, the hatred against the state intensifies. State officials indiscriminately accuse people of committing treason and try to prove their links with foreign countries. Even peace-loving people who are just interested in claiming their rights become hostile towards the state. If check posts are established in every nook and corner; people are deprived of their rights to move freely; and their loyalty to their country is repeatedly questioned, it will invariably result in hostility towards the state.

As a result, people who are ready to take up arms against the state will increase in number. The people of Indian Occupied Kashmir– especially in Anantnag, Kulgam, Pulwama and Shopian – have become constant victims of state terrorism. All this has prompted not only the educated youth but also teachers to become active in the freedom struggle. Social media is also playing a role in this movement. Now, whenever a state functionary misbehaves and mistreats someone, people can easily record the incident and post the video on the internet.

If the Indian officials believe that imposing a ban on newspapers, magazines, and radio and TV channels will keep people ignorant, they are seriously mistaken. In the 21st century, such attempts are futile and pointless. Social media exposes any lies that are being propagated by the state within a matter of minutes. No state or state institution should expect to nurture fundamentalism and an anti-rights agenda at the official level and then hope that people will remain peaceful and harmonious by tolerating all excesses committed by it.

When people are not allowed to raise voice for their rights, extremism prevails. Just last month in April, a soldier in the Indian Army disappeared. Soon after, news about his decision to join the Hizbul Mujahideen surfaced. His real name was Idrees. But after joining the Hizb, he became Hamza Hizbi.

It was reported that he had been transferred from Kashmir to Jharkhand against his will, prompting him to become a deserter. Similarly, many young Muslims have come from other parts of India to Kashmir to join the Hizbul Mujahideen. For example, Qamruzzaman from Assam became Abu Huraira when he joined the Hizb. He had completed his higher education in the US.

If these incidents continues to occur, the Indian state must reconsider its policies. It remains to be seen when India and other South Asian states change their policies of traitor-mongering and focus more on granting people their fundamental rights of dissent, self-determination, and freedom of movement and assembly.

The writer holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham, UK and works in Islamabad.

Email: [email protected]

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