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June 6, 2018

Why have all these young men picked the gun? — I

Top Story

June 6, 2018

Rafi Bhat

For the last many years now, a debate has been going on in Indian, Pakistani and Kashmiri circles about the young educated Kashmiris joining armed resistance and giving up their lives. After the martyrdom of Prof Rafi whose journey in armed resistance lasted for only 36 hours, this debate has intensified and people on various sides of the divide are trying to paint this phenomenon according to their own liking and disliking.

Indians for instance portray these entire gun bearing young men as terrorists who are misguided, radicalised and are at war with civilised and democratic India. This, of course, is a discourse used by all tyrants and oppressors and there is nothing new in this perspective.

Another opinion on this is of the international community. A bitter reality of today’s world is that human rights and civil liberties have been disdained. Now policies of states no longer get formulated on high moral stuffs like human rights, ethics and human dignity. Nowadays before framing policies, the magnitude of trade, the benefits of economy and hugeness of markets are examined.

It essentially means, Kashmir as a small land with its underprivileged inhabitants hardly figure in these dogmas. Hence international community also echoes the voice of mighty Indian market on Kashmir and Kashmiri youth and these educated young boys in the sight of colossal international community also fall as unlawful.

The most catastrophic facet of this new trend is for us; the Kashmiris, whose exquisite treasure is being looted, whose shining stars are fading and whose fathers are being forced to shoulder the coffins of their young sons. Someone has rightly said that small coffins are much heavier to shoulder and Kashmiris are being compelled to lift this very heavy load on daily basis.

From 2016, we have received coffins of around 600 young boys, girls, and children. Some of them had guns kept on their chests but majority had marks of bullets and pellets on their bodies especially eyes. Blood of Kashmiris is being spilled all over without any remorse and even blame is laid on the poor victims. So in this situation what should be our response as Kashmiris? What do we think of this new trend of young educated youth joining armed path and sacrificing their lives?

I being one who resorted to armed struggle with my other colleagues in 1988, to make world listen to Kashmiri cry for freedom, was first to announce a unilateral ceasefire in 1994. Numerous internal issues apart, this decision of mine had outside connotation too. The persuasion of international community including USA and European Union to give peaceful means a chance became a stimulus for me to take that rather tough and controversial decision. Against all odds, even putting my life in line of fire, I took decision and received 600 body bags of my colleagues killed by Indian forces in return. This was ample incitement for me to denounce my own decision as I realized the hollowness of international pledges but I stood to my ground, adhered to my path and tried to promote a resistance based on non-violent means.

In 2004, I started a movement known as signature campaign throughout Jammu Kashmir. I visited thousands of villages and towns took signatures of 1.5 million Kashmiris longing for a peaceful resolution of Jammu Kashmir dispute. In 2007, I under took another long journey named as Safr-i-Azadi through the villages and towns of Jammu Kashmir, again visited thousands of places and promoted peaceful resistance.

During both these long programmes I and my colleagues interacted with thousands of youth, we found some kinds of a soothing anger, a silence before the storm sort, and we got worried about the future of non-violent resistance. I tried to ring an alarm bell. I still remember that in 2008, during my address “if I could change the world” at the India Today conclave I told the gathering of influential Indians and big voices from the international community that putting the resolution of Jammu Kashmir issue on a back burner will prove disastrous and push another generation of Kashmiris to armed path.

My exact assertions were: “What has this ‘passing of the baton’ meant? For 60 years, three generations of Kashmiris have suffered this conflict and the injustice that it represents. We have seen our nation divided and disputed between India and Pakistan. Kashmiris are the people from whom everything was taken and still our voice, our aspirations, are yet to be heard and accepted as legitimate and fair. I cannot describe to you what it is like to be born in a conflict-zone in which your future is absolutely uncertain. Three generations of Kashmiris have suffered this in different ways. We have seen our society and our social fabric transformed by the forces of heavy military occupation, state manipulation and violent conflict. For 60 years, my people have persisted in an epic of struggle and sacrifice to win our dream of independence and to achieve a peaceful and certain future. We have paid a very heavy cost. We have seen our non-violent struggle crushed by violence and its adherents tortured and locked behind the bars for decades.

My own generation finally lost faith in the effectiveness of nonviolent struggle and felt compelled to pick up the gun in 1988, for the same convictions our parents held. My entire generation got almost entirely wiped out. A Kashmiri funeral became one of the old burying the young. This tragic conflict gave us cruel gifts: thousands of orphans and widows, political prisoners, and martyrs graveyards. While JKLF put down the gun and returned to a non-violent struggle more than 14 years ago – still the bloodshed and violent state oppression continued. And in the midst of all of this, a new generation of Kashmiri children was born and raised in the boiling cauldron of violent conflict. Today’s youth in Kashmir possess an even deeper sense of anger and an even more intense sense of injustice than my generation felt 20 years ago. Thousands upon thousands sacrificed their lives. There are thousands of stories –– each one of them could justify a revolution.”

Imagine this I said in March 2008, and barely some months later we all saw a new revolution on the streets of Kashmir. A transformation of its kind from armed to unarmed resistance, exemplary peaceful people’s revolution. As usual India chose to iron out this non-violent gesture. More than 72 innocents fell to the bullets. Thousands of peaceful protesters put in jails and torture centers, thousands injured, young boys and their families humiliated.

Year 2009 was again same, 45 killed and hundreds injured. In 2010 we received 128 body bags of innocents with thousands injured and jailed and 2016 was much worst. It was a replica of what was done prior to 1988, with Kashmiri youth, no political space, ban on political dissent, those who showed some courage to protest being arrested, tortured, humiliated and their families; mothers, sisters and elderly fathers forced to receive selective abuses at police stations.

This lack of political space forced a whole generation to arms in 1988, and as they say history repeats itself exactly after 20 years, same was being done to new generation of Kashmiris.  

Author is Chairman JKLF. Ideas expressed in the write-up are personal

To be continued

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